Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Higdon is the recipient of a $50,000 prize given every two years for achieved excellence in original music composition.

AUSTIN, Texas —The Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music at The University of Texas at Austin will host Philadelphia-based composer Jennifer Higdon as the recipient of the school’s 2018-2019 Eddie Medora King Award.

Higdon will be in residence at the Butler School Sept. 29 – Oct. 4. Ensembles performing her music during that time are projected to include the Butler Opera Center, Chamber Singers, New Music Ensemble, Symphony Orchestra and Wind Ensemble. She will also spend intensive time with composition students and will attend and coach rehearsals of her works.

Photo credit:  J. Henry

“The Butler School of Music community is thrilled that Jennifer Higdon will be the next distinguished living composer to be honored with the Eddie Medora King Award,” says Director Mary Ellen Poole. “Not only is her music powerful, gorgeously evocative and deservedly recognized by the profession's highest accolades, but she is exactly the kind of example we want to put in front of our students: an authentic, generous, endlessly curious human being who has taken full responsibility for her own professional journey. We can't wait to hang out with her next fall.”

Higdon’s first opera, Cold Mountain, won the prestigious International Opera Award for Best World Premiere in 2016, the first American opera to do so in the award’s history. She received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto, with the committee citing her work as “a deeply engaging piece that combines flowing lyricism with dazzling virtuosity.” Higdon has received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts & Letters, the Koussevitzky Foundation, the Pew Fellowship in the Arts, The Independence Foundation, the National Education Association and the American Society of Composer, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

The 2017-18 concert season saw the premiere of her Low Brass Concerto with the Chicago Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra, her Tuba Concerto with the Pittsburgh Symphony and Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and her Harp Concerto for Yolanda Kondonassis and the Rochester Philharmonic and Harrisburg Symphony. She currently holds the Rock Chair in Composition at The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

Higdon joins a distinguished list of Eddie Medora King Award recipients, including Chen Yi (1999), John Corigliano (2001), Joan Tower (2005), John Adams (2007), Kevin Puts (2013) and Jake Heggie (2016).

Interviews, master class and rehearsal observations and concert tickets can all be arranged through:

Jenny Catchings, Communications Coordinator

Butler School of Music | (512) 471-1139 |

Q&A with Jennifer Higdon

You came to music relatively late for someone so accomplished, teaching yourself to play the flute at 15 and beginning work in composition at 21. Did you feel any advantages from taking on these challenges with more maturity?

I used to think it was a disadvantage, when I was in school, because I always felt like I was trying to catch up with my colleagues. Now, though, looking back I realize it was an advantage because I was more mature and very determined because I knew this was what I wanted, and it felt like such a new adventure that it was inspiring. I don't think I stood out for having lots of natural talent, but I was a hard worker, and that really made a difference.

What do you hope students get out of working with you during your residency?

It is always my hope that I can inspire and move the students in some way. And I have to say, I always find great inspiration in working with students.

Your opera Cold Mountain was based upon the best-selling novel of the same name by Charles Frazier, which had already been adapted to film. What drew you to this story, and what can opera do in terms of narrative and storytelling that film cannot?

I searched for quite a long time to find a story that I felt would work as an opera (and it has to be something that a composer is willing to live with for a long time, because writing an opera is a multi-year process of living closely with the characters and their personalities). I read tons of books and thought about all the movies that I had seen, but when I read the first several pages of this novel, I knew immediately, just on a gut level, that this was the story. Looking back on it, I realize that part of that feeling came from having grown up near Cold Mountain itself (in East Tennessee); the language, the landscape, and the people felt very familiar. And the story itself seemed to have good dramatic elements, as well as characters that were interesting, and who evolved as the story unfolds. Love and Death...they make a great set of ingredients for opera.

I don't know exactly how to explain that Cold Mountain as an opera necessarily does things that the film does not. I just think of it as a different mode of storytelling. So much can be created through music, and the beauty of the voice singing is just magical. Opera is definitely different than film and different than the written word in a novel, but I believe it's equal to the expression.

What interests you about Austin TX?

I think Austin is just amazing...I always have a sense of a lot of art, a lot of thinking outside the box, and just an openness to new things. It's a community that feels vibrant.

What advice do you have for young, aspiring composers?

Compose a lot, do your best to hear your pieces played (the most effective learning you can experience), get to know performers (they'll really be your allies throughout your composing life), and listen to as much music as you can!