Press Room

Curtis Sym Orch & Hilary Hahn play Higdon’s Pulitzer winner at Carnegie

The Curtis Institute of Music presents the New York premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Violin Concerto, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Music, at Carnegie Hall on February 15, 2011. The concerto’s dedicatee, Curtis alumna and two-time Grammy Award-winner Hilary Hahn (’99), will perform the work, which was co-commissioned from Higdon, a faculty member and alumna, by Curtis in collaboration with several major American orchestras. The concert by the Curtis Symphony Orchestra also includes Hindemith’s Konzertmusik for brass and strings and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. Juanjo Mena, chief conductor designate of the BBC Philharmonic, will lead the performance.
Now holder of the Curtis Institute’s Rock Chair in Composition, Jennifer Higdon (b.1962) is one of a long line of Curtis graduates to become a major voice in contemporary composition; her fellow alumni include Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, and Ned Rorem.  One of the most prolific and frequently performed American composers alive today, Higdon is having a momentous year.  Two months before becoming only the fourth woman to win the Pulitzer, the nation’s most prestigious classical music prize, her Percussion Concerto was awarded the Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition; as the New York Times observed, “Higdon’s vivid, attractive works have made her a hot commodity.”
When violinist Hilary Hahn, recently named Gramophone magazine’s Artist of the Year, first enrolled in Higdon’s 20th-century music class at Curtis ten years ago, neither could have predicted what a fruitful relationship theirs would be.  Yet Higdon explains that she wrote the Violin Concerto with her former student in mind and that the piece was intended to “show off her gifts”; it was Hahn who gave the work its world premiere performance last year, before recording it for Deutsche Grammophon with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, on a disc which quickly climbed to the top of the Billboard and charts.
One of many recent works in which Curtis has played a commissioning role, the Violin Concerto is cast in three movements, of which the first – “1726” – is an allusion to the school’s street address, as well as to the profusion of featured sevenths, seconds, and sixths.  Pulitzer officials described the work as “a deeply engaging piece that combines flowing lyricism with dazzling virtuosity,” and the critical response has been nothing short of sensational.  “It is simply one of the best contemporary works I recall hearing,” writes Well-Tempered Ear, while adding, of Hahn’s performance, “You can’t imagine anyone doing it better.”  The London Times pronounces the concerto a “complex, assured, and relentlessly virtuosic work” that “enchants the ear”; Times reviewer Hilary Finch marvels that “Higdon seems to have absorbed and assimilated something from almost everything that exists in the violin repertoire – and yet she speaks with a fresh and confident voice of her own.”  The Boston Globe praised both composer and interpreter, noting: “the Higdon Concerto is very finely crafted indeed. …Hahn is excellent, the part ideal for her meticulous tone: fine-grained and silvery,…emphasizing Higdon’s cosmopolitan eloquence,” while the Washington Post was similarly impressed:
“The violin concerto made a case for itself eloquently, from the moment the first movement opened.  … Higdon is a terrific composer; and this piece…shows her ability to tailor music to a particular soloist.  Hahn played with a clean radiance that lit up the music, but Higdon wrote pretty great music for her to illuminate.”
In short, as the Well-Tempered Ear concludes, “the Jennifer Higdon–Hilary Hahn composer-performer partnership could change music history.”
Higdon’s concerto will be heard between two classics of the 20th-century orchestral literature: Hindemith’s Konzertmusik (1926), which evokes a German military band, and Shostakovich’s powerfully subversive Symphony No. 5 (1937), written at the height of Stalin’s reign of terror.
All three works will be directed by the Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena, who takes up his new appointment as chief conductor of England’s BBC Philharmonic in fall 2011.  He is currently principal guest conductor of the Bergen (Norway) Philharmonic and chief guest conductor at the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa.  Since making his North American debut with the Baltimore Symphony in 2004, he has appeared annually with that orchestra, while other recent and upcoming American debuts include the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Atlanta, Cincinnati, Colorado, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Oregon Symphonies.
The Curtis Symphony Orchestra has been called “an orchestra that any city would be lucky to have as its professional ensemble” (Philadelphia Inquirer). The orchestra presents three concerts annually under the direction of eminent conductors in Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center, as well as frequent concerts at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Visiting conductors—such as Charles Dutoit, Simon Rattle, and Michael Tilson Thomas—also lead the Curtis Symphony Orchestra in readings of major repertoire. This professional orchestral training, under the direction of Otto-Werner Mueller and David Hayes, has enabled Curtis alumni to assume prominent positions in major orchestras across the United States, Canada, and abroad. 
One of the world’s finest music conservatories, the Curtis Institute of Music has been described by the New York Times as “arguably the country’s most elite conservatory” and consistently named in U.S. News and World Report’s influential college survey as the nation’s most selective institution for students seeking a Bachelor’s degree.  Roberto Díaz, president of Curtis, explains the keys to the school’s success:
“We are fortunate that we can provide full-tuition scholarships for all our students. This allows us to base admissions on artistic promise alone. Our student body is highly international but also small, which makes for an unusual and intimate learning environment. As a result, all students receive individualized attention from our distinguished faculty of active performers.  At Curtis we believe in ‘learning by doing,’ so our students enjoy continual performance opportunities – more than 130 public performances this year alone.” 
Since the school’s founding in 1924, this distinctive “learn by doing” approach has produced alumni of the highest stature, from such legends as Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein to current stars Juan Diego Flórez, Alan Gilbert, Hilary Hahn, Jennifer Higdon, Lang Lang, Ignat Solzhenitsyn, and Time for Three.  Grounded in this rich heritage, Curtis remains forward-thinking and flexible, evolving strategically to nurture the 21st-century skills that allow students to invent their careers in today’s changing musical world.
In what is now a frequent occurrence, the school has been presenting orchestral concerts at Carnegie Hall since 1929. The February performance marks the Curtis Institute’s first New York appearance of the 2010-11 season; additional dates include a recital by the school’s contemporary music ensemble, Curtis 20/21, at the Miller Theatre on May 5.  Further information about Curtis, its unique history and philosophy, and upcoming events in its current season, are available at
Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at 8 pm
Carnegie Hall, 57th St and 7th Ave, NYC
Curtis Institute of Music presents:
Curtis Symphony Orchestra
Juanjo Mena, conductor
Hilary Hahn, violin
Hindemith: Konzertmusik for strings and brass
Jennifer Higdon: Violin Concerto (NY premiere)
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5
Tickets: $16, $30, $50
Available beginning December 17 through the Carnegie Hall Box Office at (212) 247-7800 or
Curtis at Carnegie Gala: Preconcert dinner and premium concert tickets. Proceeds benefit the Curtis Student Assistance Fund. Gala tickets: information available from the Curtis Development Office at (215) 893-5279 or [email protected].


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