The Interlochen Center for the Arts presents the works of two modern composers at several upcoming Interlochen concerts. The Northern Michigan music events featuring Interlochen Arts Academy band, choir and orchestra will perform pieces by Nico Muhly and Jennifer Higdon. MyNorth Media’s entertainment writer Ross Boissoneau gives us the background on these renowned composers.
Interlochen Arts Academy band, choir and orchestra perform works by Nico Muhly and Jennifer Higdon
How They Got Their Start
Raised in a household that extolled the virtues of the arts (his mother a painter and teacher at Wellesley, and his father a documentary filmmaker), Muhly sang in a church choir and began piano studies at 10. After graduating from Columbia as an English major, he attended Julliard where he completed his Master’s in music. He has since composed and/or arranged music (including numerous commissions) for chamber ensembles, choral ensembles, orchestras, operas, films and indie rock bands. He has embraced subject themes ranging from Renaissance astrology to the ethics of artificial intelligence.
Higdon took up the flute at 15 and three years later became a music major at Bowling Green University. While there she wrote her first composition, a two-minute piece for flute and piano. She earned her Master’s and Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of Pennsylvania and an Artist Diploma in Music Composition from The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She has written commissions for numerous orchestras as well as composing for various ensembles. She received the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2010 for her Violin Concerto, with the Pulitzer Prize Committee calling it “a deeply engaging piece that combines flowing lyricism with dazzling virtuosity.”
Influences and Inspirations
Muhly: British composers (Henry Purcell), American minimalism (Philip Glass, Steve Reich), Anglican choral music, indie rock
Higdon: Pop icons the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Marley; bluegrass; John Adams, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber
Both composers are very prolific and write for a variety of instruments and ensembles. With more than 80 original works created for the concert stage, Muhly has composed chamber music, orchestral music, sacred music, opera and ballet. He has also written for theater and film, contributing scores for the 2013 Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie, directed by John Tiffany; and for the films Kill Your Darlings, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, and the Academy Award-winning The Reader. He is the youngest composer ever commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, where he is currently working on Marnie for its 2019-20 season.
Higdon’s oeuvre encompasses chamber music, vocal and choral music, orchestral, string, wind ensemble and band, and opera. Her orchestral work “blue cathedral” is one of the most performed contemporary orchestral compositions by a living American, boasting more than 600 performances worldwide since its premiere in 2000. In addition to her Pulitzer Prize, Higdon’s “Percussion Concerto” won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition in January 2010.
Christopher Gruits, the executive director of Interlochen Presents, said the purpose of the shows is to provide students and audiences alike the opportunity to discover composers they may not be familiar with and show how they are related to music they may already enjoy. “I think it’s really important to provide context. In other art forms, people will take in new (material) and not question it,” he said. In classical music, however, audiences are typically more comfortable with what they already know. “We want to take them on a journey and invite them in.” The composers will be in residence to discuss their pieces and their inspirations in pre-concert talks.
In addition to Higdon and Muhly, pieces by composers such as Brahms, Crumb, Schoenberg, Corigliano and Whitacre will be among those performed.
“Higdon has written music that is approachable without being dumbed-down, and is both modern and romantic without descending into pastiche.” – Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare Magazine
I find in Muhly “a curious ear, a restless listening, and a maker of works. He’s doing his own thing.” – Philip Glass
Dates & Time
Orchestra April 22, Band April 23, Choir April 29, each at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets to the Interlochen concerts are $12 for adults, $7 seniors and youths for each show. Available at tickets.interlochen.org.
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