The Kennedy Center

Piano Trio

About the Work

Jennifer Higdon Composer: Jennifer Higdon
© Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Jennifer Higdon, born in Brooklyn, New York on New Year's Eve 1962 and raised in Atlanta and Tennessee, is one of America's foremost composers. She took her undergraduate training in flute performance at Bowling Green State University, and received her master's and doctoral degrees in composition from the University of Pennsylvania; she also holds an Artist Diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Higdon joined the composition faculty of Curtis in 1994 after having served as conductor of the University of Pennsylvania Orchestra and Wind Ensemble and Visiting Assistant Professor in music composition at Bard College; she now holds the Milton L. Rock Chair in Composition Studies at Curtis. Higdon has received grants, awards and commissions from leading organizations and ensembles across the country, as well as a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for her Percussion Concerto, and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto, composed for Hilary Hahn.

Higdon composed her Piano Trio in 2003 on a commission from Colorado's Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival; it was premiered there on July 15, 2003 by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, cellist Alisa Weilerstein and pianist Adam Neiman. The composer wrote of it, "Can music reflect colors and can colors be reflected in music? I have always been fascinated with the connection between painting and music. In my composing, I often picture colors as if I were spreading them on a canvas, except I do so with melodies, harmonies and through the instruments themselves. The colors that I have chosen in both movement titles of the Piano Trio and in the music itself reflect very different moods and energy levels, which I find fascinating, as it begs the question, can colors actually convey a mood?" Higdon found a pastoral spirit in Pale Yellow, the Trio's first movement, which begins with meditative chord streams in the piano and grows more animated as it unfolds, perhaps reflecting the spreading light at sunrise, before recalling the opening mood to come to a peaceable close. Fiery Red begins with shock-cut intensity as scales fly through all the instruments and isolated staccato notes are hammered deep in the piano. The music never relents from its breathless pace, though there are episodes where the density decreases and the intensity abates, which, with the repetitions of several passages and the pervasive thematic development, give the movement the expressive dynamic if not the conventional plan of a sonata form.