Bill Snyder had played this piece right after his interview with Toshi last Tuesday morning. It's beautiful! For more information hear is a sneak peak at the Program Notes on it from the upcoming October 10th Concert.
Jennifer Higdon is a native of Brooklyn, grew up in Atlanta and rural Tennessee, and currently lives in Philadelphia. She wrote blue cathedral (her spelling, all lower case) in 1999 on a commission for the 75th anniversary of the Curtis Institute of Music; it was premiered by the institute’s orchestra in March 2000. Since then, on its way to becoming a classic, the work has been performed by more than 150 orchestras. She had a “late start” with no involvement in music until she began teaching herself to play the flute at the age of 15. She majored in flute performance at Bowling Green State University and then earned an artist’s diploma in flute from the Curtis Institute. She received a doctorate in composition from the University of Pennsylvania.
The work has the standard orchestration with some fascinating additions, including crotales, marimba, tam-tams, vibraphone, glockenspiel, bell tree, sizzle cymbal, suspended cymbal, chimes, triangles, bass drum, and eight crystal glasses tuned by adding water (à la glass harmonica); and at the end of the work most of the musicians play about 50 Chinese bells (“Chinese Health Reflex Balls”).
Higdon wrote the work during a time of personal devastation and transformation, indicated by the inscription “in loving memory of Andrew Blue Higdon.” She explains the genesis of the piece: “The recent death of my younger brother, Andrew Blue, made me reflect on the amazing journeys that we all make in our lives, crossing paths with so many individuals…. In tribute to my brother, I feature solos for the clarinet (the instrument he played) and the flute (the instrument I play). Because I am the older sibling, it is the flute that appears first in this dialogue. At the end of the work, the two instruments continue their dialogue, but it is the flute that drops out and the clarinet that continues on in the upward progressing journey.”
Yet, blue cathedral is not mournful, but has an uplifting quality, with a bit of wistfulness. The flute and clarinet duet leads to the exuberant energy of the percussion section in the middle of the work and then is joined by the brass and strings. The horns have a beautiful chorale before the flute and clarinet soloists recall their earlier conversations over the glass accompaniment. The musicians not playing then sound the Chinese Health Reflex Balls used in acupressure. An altered piano then sounds 33 times, reminiscent of a clock chiming in the distance, once for each of her brother’s years.
The work is named not only for her brother, but blue, like the sky, where all possibilities can soar, and cathedral, a place of thought, growth, spirituality, and a symbolic doorway. “I found myself imagining a journey through a glass cathedral in the sky. … The listener would float down the aisle, slowly moving upward at first and then progressing at a quicker pace, rising towards an immense ceiling which would open to the sky. … I wanted to create the sensation of contemplation and quiet peace at the beginning, moving towards the feeling of celebration and ecstatic expansion of the soul, all the while singing along with that heavenly music.”
Program Notes by Joy S. Perry