It’s not often that a composer of classical music describes her work as “a little bit of rock and roll.” But then, On A Wire, composed by Jennifer Higdon for eighth blackbird and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, is not a typical concerto. The Grammy- and Pulitzer-winner’s piece includes six solos rather than one (three of them “very flashy” and the other three “lyrical, beautiful,” according to eighth blackbird pianist Lisa Kaplan, who studied at CCM along with the group’s other founders). Higdon’s composition requires all six members to perch over a grand piano, vibrating different strings using bass bow hair, before moving to their primary instruments—piano, flute, clarinet, violin and viola, cello, and percussion. “I thought about who was tallest and who could reach farthest in the piano,” Higdon says. “I actually stood over my piano at home, making sure there was enough room for the bodies.” And that’s just the first section. The remainder of On A Wire challenges and showcases each member of the Grammy-winning sextet, already among the world’s most accomplished musicians, while highlighting Higdon’s remarkable ability to compose a piece that is both sonically interesting and infinitely listenable. Put it this way: It is classical music that even a rock and roll fan will enjoy.
Photograph courtesy Cincinnati Symphony OrchestraOriginally published in the January 2012 issue.
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