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City Scape

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Jennifer Higdon
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Leonard Slatkin, conductor/Lang Lang, piano, performs Tchaikovsky May 17 - 19, 2007
© Richard Freed
City Scape, composed in 2002, was commissioned by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, which gave the work's premiere under Robert Spano on November 14 of that year. The work enters the repertory of the National Symphony Orchestra in the present concerts.

The score, dedicated to Robert Spano, calls for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, snare drum, 2 bongo drums, floor tom, brake drum, crash cymbals, sizzle cymbal, suspended cymbal, Chinese suspended cymbal, temple blocks, temple blocks, crotales, guiro, tambourine, marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel, 2 triangles, large tam-tam, water gong, harp, and strings. Duration, 31 minutes.
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Jennifer Higdon's orchestral piece Machine was one of the more striking of the Hechinger Encores, the brief works commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra and introduced during the three seasons 2001-2004. Following that work's premiere under Giancarlo Guerrero in March 2003, it was given further performances during the orchestra's Residency in Tennessee that spring and in Young People's Concerts at home. In October of the same year Leonard Slatkin and the NSO gave the Washington premiere of Ms. Higdon's Concerto for Orchestra, which had been commissioned and introduced by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Another work commissioned by the NSO, Ms. Higdon's Piano Concerto, will be presented in a future season, while in the present concerts Mr. Slatkin and the orchestra are giving the Washington premiere of another substantial work by this powerfully communicative composer.

Just a month before the NSO's performances of the Concerto for Orchestra, that work and City Scape had been recorded for Telarc by Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, who had commissioned the latter work and had already recorded Ms. Higdon's blue cathedral. The response to these works certified Ms. Higdon's position as one of the most widely recognized American composers of her time, and since those NSO performances in 2003 she has been busier than ever—as a teacher at Philadelphia's famous Curtis Institute of Music, "in residence" at other renowned institutions and festivals, and responding to a constantly growing list of commissions.

The month after the NSO performed the Concerto for Orchestra, the Ying Quartet introduced Ms. Higdon's Southern Harmony. In the following summer, Christoph Eschenbach and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra introduced her brief Loco at the Ravinia Festival. Again in the realm of chamber music, there were An Exaltation of Larks, for the Tokyo Quartet, and two works for the ensemble "eighth blackbird." Michael Christie conducted the Brooklyn Philharmonic in the premiere of Ms. Higdon's Dooryard Bloom; Douglas Boyd and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra introduced her Oboe Concerto; her Percussion Concerto was jointly commissioned and performed by the orchestras of Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Dallas; the Pittsburgh Symphony gave the premiere of her Trombone Concerto; her Kelly's Field had an effective premiere at the Midwest Band Clinic last December. Earlier this year the Orlando Chorale introduced her choral work somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond;the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra gave the premiere of Light, and only last week JoAnn Falletta and the Virginia Symphony gave the first performance of another brief piece, Spirit.

Among works awaiting their respective premieres at present, in addition to the Piano Concerto, are the Concerto 4-3, commissioned jointly by the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Wheeling Symphony (to be performed with the bluegrass trio "Time for Three"), and The Singing Rooms, a work for violin, chorus and orchestra (specifying Jennifer Koh as the soloist) commissioned jointly by the Philadelphia, Minnesota and Atlanta Symphony orchestras.

The Atlanta orchestra's commission for the present work specified a piece in several movements which might, as Charles Ives wrote of his Holidays Symphony, "be performed separately, or lumped together." Debussy laid down similar flexibility, in somewhat softer terms, for his Three Nocturnes and his Images for Orchestra. Ms. Higdon's response to the Atlanta commission was a tripartite work aboutcities; in composing City Scape she drew specific inspiration from her memories of Atlanta, to which her family had moved shortly after her birth and in which she lived for ten years. She has provided the following note of her own for this week's performances.
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City Scape is a metropolitan sound picture written in orchestral tones
Every city has a distinctive downtown skyline—that steely profile that juts into the sky, with shapes and monumental buildings that represent that city's particular signature. The steel structures present an image of boldness, strength and growth, teeming with commerce, and the people who work and live there. This is the first movement, SKYLINE,
In contrast to the metallic and concrete structures lie the parks, both large and small, filling acres of sometimes just a few square feet. Feeding this greenery and sometimes lush carpet are tributaries, hidden streams, small creeks and occasionally rivers. The waters represent constant change, under calm surfaces and over powerful currents, doing so with exquisite beauty. This is RIVER SINGS A SONG TO TREES.

The final movement, PEACHTREE STREET, is a representation of all those roadways and main arteries that flow through cities. (Peachtree Street is the main street of downtown Atlanta, the city of my childhood.) Every main street that runs through a city is loaded with the energy and bustle of commerce, reflecting the needs and wants of its citizens through business. Because there is so much diversity in city streets, I've created a movement that explores the diverse sections of the orchestra, their relationships, and the way they combine in creating a larger voice.

JENNIFER HIGDON