Higdon And Stravinsky Add Modern Feel To Illinois Symphony Orchestra Concert | WGLT

Higdon And Stravinsky Add Modern Feel To Illinois Symphony Orchestra Concert

Jan 23, 2020

The Illinois Symphony Orchestra brings the audience music of a living composer Saturday in Bloomington. Charlie Schlenker talked with Music Director Ken Lam about the work "To The Point" by Jennifer Higdon.

Higdon is a Grammy and Pulitzer-winning composer. Lam said her works are very accessible and American in spirit.

"She is one of the most performed American composers these days. And her music is very attractive to listen to. Yes, it's not without its difficulty. It's intricate. But, as with Aaron Copland's music, you listen and it comes off as American music. And Higdon's music sounds like that too," said Lam.

He said it has great energy. One word he has heard to describe it is pointillistic.

"If you look at some minimalist composers, there is a repetitiveness of little units in this piece. Certainly you can go to the works of John Adams. But there is also a lot of energy and the harmony also reminds one of some aspects of Aaron Copland because of the openness of it," said Lam.

Lam said you can hear elements of the composer Roy Harris or even a little Charles Ives in the harmonies of Higdon.

Also on the concert program is Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante. Lam said the Sinfonia Concertante was one of Mozart's favorite works. In that era composers would write the piece and then sketch out a cadenza, a place where the soloists could improvise or riff on the themes in the rest of the work. In this case, Lam said Mozart wrote every note in the cadenza.

"As if to say 'don't mess with my piece!' This is the way I want it to go," said Lam.

The viola is also tuned higher than standard in this piece. Lam said that elevates the sound and makes it brighter. He said the viola was Mozart's favorite instrument.

Igor Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks is also on the program. It is an homage to Bach's third Brandenburg Concerto.

Lam said Stravinsky used the same instrumentation as Bach, but then departs.

"Like a cubist painting. He sort of chops it up and the nose is put at a different angle and the eye, and so on," said Lam.

The concert is Saturday evening at Second Presbyterian Church in Bloomington. 

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