Jennifer Higdon’s 2010 Pulitzer-prize winning violin concerto will feature the our concertmaster, Holly Mulcahy. The work is lyrical and fast-paced and created to showcase the soloist’s great manual dexterity. Tchaikovsky’s final completed symphony, a pathos-laden piece that deals with the power of fate in life and death.
(b. December 31, 1962 in Brooklyn)
By any measure Jennifer Higdon makes a strong case as the premier composer of the early 21st century. Lawdon Press which distributes all her music is hopping busy. Performances of her works occur all over the world every week. Critical acclaim is unstinting. Tonight’s work won her a Pulitzer Prize in 2010. Beyond merely being a favorite of the concert hall, she seems to have created single-handed a lot of buzz over new music generally. She also shows herself as well-synced with younger people. At a concert last fall she stunned the stodgy by personally requesting, please turn your cellphones ON!
When the CSO first performed a Higdon work (blue cathedral) in 2011, it was a celebration for Tennesseans. Higdon spent her middle- and high-school years in Seymour where she met her partner in business and in life Cheryl Lawson. In recent news, the couple married last August during a break in the Cabrillo Festival in Santa Cruz.
As a composer Higdon is noted for brilliant texture, novel effects, and a consummate attention to detail. In her use of the orchestra she is clearly the heir of previous masters like Ravel and Rimsky-Korsakov.
Commissioning the Violin Concerto seemed a much sought-after honor as support came from the Curtis Institute where Higdon teaches, from orchestras in Indianapolis, Toronto, and Baltimore, as well as from three private foundations. The concerto was written for violinist Hilary Hahn, a Curtis grad, who premiered it February 6, 2009, with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.
The work is in the traditional three movements, fast, slow, fast. Higdon keeps annotators honest by writing her own program notes for all her works. Quotes below are her words.
The first movement is titled 1726, the address of the Curtis Institute on Locust Street. It was “where I first met Hilary as a student in my 20th Century Music Class. An exceptional student, Hilary devoured the information in the class and was always open to exploring and discovering new musical languages and styles. As Curtis was also a primary training ground for me as a young composer, it seemed an appropriate tribute. To tie into this title, I make extensive use the intervals of unisons, 7ths, and 2nds, throughout this movement.“
The ethereal beginning, marked by the glockenspiel played with knitting needles among other unique effects, gives way to a lush musical landscape. An extended and devilishly challenging cadenza late in the movement segues back to reminiscences of the opening.
“The excitement of the first movement’s intensity certainly deserves the calm and pensive relaxation of the 2nd movement. This title, ‘Chaconni’, comes from the word ‘chaconne’. A chaconne is a chord progression that repeats throughout a section of music. In this particular case, there are several chaconnes, which create the stage for a dialog between the soloist and various members of the orchestra. The beauty of the violin’s tone and the artist’s gifts are on display here.”
The 2008 Olympics were on Higdon’s mind as she wrote the finale, “Fly Forward.” “That last movement moves very fast, so you have to imagine Hilary flying forward across the racing tape at the end of the race.”
“Concerti throughout history have always allowed the soloist to delight the audience with feats of great virtuosity, and when a composer is confronted with a real gift in the soloist’s ability to do so, well, it would be foolhardy not to allow that dream to become a reality.”
About the Soloist
After hearing Scheherazade at an early age, Holly Mulcahy fell in love with the violin and knew it would be her future. Since then, she has won multiple tenured positions in symphonic orchestras from Richmond to Phoenix and has performed on a variety of domestic and international tours including the Washington National Opera Japan tour under the leadership of Placido Domingo and the 2012 Carnegie Hall appearance with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.
She began developing her leadership skills at the renowned Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University with former Baltimore Symphony concertmaster Herbert Greenberg. In recent seasons she has enjoyed serving as guest concertmaster for the Columbus Symphony (OH), Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, and a one year appointment as interim concertmaster for Orchestra Iowa.
As an in-demand performer, Holly maintains a very busy schedule serving as traveling concertmaster for the Emmy Award winner George Daugherty’s Bugs Bunny at the Symphony program and performing with Grammy award winning Nashville Symphony and Milwaukee Symphony. She can also be seen as featured soloist on the PBS special, A Christmas Carol, The Concert.
She spends her summers at the celebrated Grand Teton Music Festival where in addition to performing in the violin section and assistant concertmaster, Holly volunteers as an active chamber musician. In the summer of 2011, she performed Pulitzer Prize winning composer Jennifer Higdon’s Piano Trio under Ms. Higdon’s direct supervision. Following the performance, Higdon said “Working with Holly Mulcahy was fantastic. She’s a superb musician and a great colleague. I always think my Piano Trio is a great test for violinists, because it has such wildly varying moods: long and lyrical lines, delicately played, and then racing and driving rhythms, moving at top speeds with intensity. Holly nailed it all splendidly. I would work with her again any chance I could. She was wonderful.”
Passionate about all things etiquette, Holly makes her home in Chicago, IL, where she maintains a reputation for planning and hosting exquisite gourmet parties. In addition to an active performing career, she is the author of Neo Classical, a monthly column on the future of classical music. She enjoys gardening, organic cooking, and spoiling her cats. A lover of all things outdoors, she aspires to start her own organic farm.
Holly performs on a 1917 Giovanni Cavani violin, previously owned by the late renowned soloist Eugene Fodor, and a bespoke bow made by award winning master bow maker, Douglas Raguse.