Jennifer Higdon

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Tuesday, June 12, 2018

On today’s date in 2002, a high profile musical event occurred at Philadelphia’s new Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. The city was hosting the 57th National Conference of the American Symphony Orchestra League, and the Philadelphia Orchestra was celebrating its 100th anniversary with eight new commissions, all to be premiered in the Orchestra’s new Verizon Hall.

On June 12th, the new piece was a Concerto for Orchestra by a 39-year-old composer named Jennifer Higdon. Higdon’s “Concerto” opened the Philadelphia Orchestra’s program, followed by Richard Strauss’s big tone-poem “Ein Heldenleben.” Both pieces were performed before an audience of orchestral professionals from around the country—not to mention Higdon’s proud mother.

Higdon, understandably a little nervous, quipped to a newspaper reporter covering the event, "You'll know my mother because she'll be the one crying before the piece starts." Higdon needn’t have worried. Her “Concerto for Orchestra” was greeted with cheers from both its audience and performers—the latter in typically irreverent fashion, as the performers dubbed the new piece “Ein Higdonleben.”

Higdon, the only woman among the eight composers commissioned for the orchestra's centennial project, calls herself a "late bloomer" as a composer. She taught herself the flute at age 15 and didn't pursue formal music training until college. She was almost finished with her bachelor's degree requirements at Bowling Green State University when she started composing her own music. She now teaches at Philadelphia’s prestigious Curtis Institute of Music, and is regarded as one of America’s most promising composers.