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Jennifer Higdon, Pulitzer Prize and GRAMMY® winner, is one of the most performed living American composers working today. She has been the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim, Koussevitzky, and Pew foundations, as well awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Commissions have come from a wide range of performers: from the Cleveland Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra, to the Tokyo String Quartet; from soloists such as violinist Hilary Hahn to Santa Fe Opera and Opera Philadelphia. She makes her living from commissions and serves as composer-in-residence with various orchestras throughout the country. She holds the Rock Chair in Composition at The Curtis Institute of Music.

Higdon’s philosophy in composing is simple: make sure the music communicates. It is her goal to write music that speaks not only to the seasoned professional performer, but also to audiences that come to this music with all types of understanding, from the first-time listener to the most sophisticated Classical connoisseur. For her, music is purely a reflection of life and should be enjoyed as such.

Enjoy Higdon’s chamber music albums released under Naxos, one of which is newly released in July. Be sure to also check out other recently released, equally exciting American Classics albums, featuring the best American composers and artists.

Naxos 8.559752
HIGDON, J.: Early Chamber Works – Sky Quartet / Amazing Grace / Viola Sonata
Serafin String Quartet, Abramovic, Stomberg

This program provides a unique opportunity to hear première recordings of her earlier chamber music. The String Trio was written while Higdon was a developing young composer, and the influences of Prokofiev and Copland can be heard in the Sonata for Viola and Piano. The beauty and immensity of the Western US sky was the inspiration for Sky Quartet, while Dark Wood explores the soulful and virtuoso character of the bassoon.

Naxos 8.559298
HIGDON, J.: Piano Trio / Voices / Impressions
Meyers, Weilerstein, Kitchen, Kleinbart, Huang, Smith, Cypress String Quartet

In her Piano Trio, Higdon explores the relationship between sound and color, and the potential for such elements to convey different moods. The three movements of Voices depict contrasting states of mind, from highly agitated to serene. In Impressions for string quartet, the composer returns to the world of impressionist painting as her source of inspiration.

Other Recent Releases from the American Classics Series

Naxos 8.559758
COPLAND, A.: Rodeo / Dance Panels / El salon Mexico / Danzon cubano
Detroit Symphony, Slatkin

While Copland’s hugely successful celebration of the American West, Rodeo, has become an American classic, Dance Panels is barely known despite working beautifully as a concert work. Based on popular Mexican melodies, the glittering, even exotic El Salón Mexico is one of Copland’s most frequently performed works. Of his rhythmically complex Danzón Cubano, inspired by a visit to a dance hall in Cuba, in which there were two orchestras playing at both ends, the composer himself wrote: “I did not attempt to reproduce an authentic Cuban sound but felt free to add my own touches of displaced accents and unexpected silent beats.” GRAMMY® Award-winning conductor Leonard Slatkin’s recording of Copland’s Lincoln Portrait (8.559373–74) received “the kind of performance that brought tears to my eyes” (Audiophile Audition).

Naxos 8.559750
GERSHWIN, G.: Rhapsody in Blue / Strike Up the Band: Overture / Promenade / Catfish Row
Weiss, Fullam, Buffalo Philharmonic, Falletta

George Gershwin fired up the New York music scene with his mélange of alluring tunes and refinement of the jazz vibe. His Strike up the Band Overture opened a flashy broadway hit and, inspired by a train ride, the composer heard his masterpiece Rhapsody in Blue as a “musical kaleidoscope of America”. Promenade was reconstructed from a 1937 film score, and Catfish Row was Gershwin’s concert suite from the opera Porgy and Bess. Acclaimed as a “bold, gutsy performance with plenty of pizzazz” and with “impressive brilliance and depth”, JoAnn Falletta’s previous Gershwin volume can be found on 8.559705 or Blu-ray NBD0025.

Naxos 8.559743
ADLER, S.: Cantos III, VI A, X, XVI, XIX and XXI / Close Encounters / 5 Snapshots
Fulmer, Kelly, Eldan, Muroki, Iznaola, June Han

The winner of many prestigious awards for composition, Samuel Adler is also Professor emeritus at the Eastman School of Music. His Canto series was written to meet the challenge of providing concert etudes for every orchestral instrument. This program presents the complete Cantos for solo string instruments, exploring the great possibilities in each instrument from virtuoso feats to lyrical poignancy, ‘moody’ pensiveness to sharply observed wit and humor. The duet Close Encounters expresses ecstatic feelings of love, while the string trio Five Snapshots reflects contrasting scenes of nature. Samuel Adler’s Of Musique and a selection of other chamber works can be found on Naxos 8.559602. His Fifth Symphony can be heard on 8.559415.

Naxos 8.559749
DAUGHERTY, M.: Mount Rushmore / Radio City / The Gospel According to Sister Aimee
P. Jacobs, Pacific Chorale, Pacific Symphony, St. Clair

GRAMMY® Award-winning composer Michael Daugherty explores three icons of “The Greatest Generation”, a turbulent period of adversity and achievement in the United States of America spanning the Great Depression of the 1930s through the Second World War. Mount Rushmore is a dramatic oratorio inspired by the monumental sculpture of four American presidents carved into the Black Hills of South Dakota. Radio City is a symphonic fantasy on the legendary Arturo Toscanini, who conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra in live radio broadcasts heard by millions across America. The Gospel According to Sister Aimee is an organ concerto inspired by the rise, fall and redemption of religious celebrity Aimee Semple McPherson. Under the masterful baton of music director Carl St Clair, the renowned Pacific Symphony is joined by Pacific Chorale, one of America’s greatest choirs, and GRAMMY® Award-winning organist Paul Jacobs.

Naxos 8.559737
ELLINGTON, D.: Black, Brown and Beige / Harlem / Three Black Kings / The River Suite
Buffalo Philharmonic, Falletta

Edward Kennedy ‘Duke’ Ellington wrote some of the twentieth century’s greatest Big Band music, but he also wrote in a variety of forms. The boisterous and evocative Harlem pays tribute to Ellington’s roots, Black, Brown, and Beige sets work songs and spirituals, whilst the suite from The River shows his genius in writing for the stage. Three Black Kings, scored as a ballet, was left unfinished at his death, but shows no lessening of invention. Ellington’s arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s Take the ‘A’ Train became famous around the world after the outbreak of World War II, and ranks among the most widely recorded standards of all time.

Naxos 8.559744
FAIROUZ, M.: Native Informant / Tahwidah / Chorale Fantasy / Posh / For Victims / Jebel Lebnan
Hughes, Kravitz, Barton Pine, Krakauer, Thompson

Mohammed Fairouz is one of the most frequently performed, commissioned, and recorded composers of his generation, melding Middle-Eastern music and poetry with Western structures to deeply expressive effect. Native Informant, written for leading international soloist Rachel Barton Pine, embodies Arabic fiddling motifs as well as songful excitement, underpinned by a lament for the victims of the Egyptian Revolution. The lullaby Tahwidah and the song cycle Posh evoke tenderness and loss, whilst Jebel Lebnan was commissioned by the Imani Winds and musically chronicles events from the Lebanese Civil War and their effect on the current face of Lebanon.

Naxos 8.559733
FUCHS, K.: String Quartet No. 5, "American" / Falling Canons / Falling Trio
O'Riley, Trio21, Delray String Quartet

Kenneth Fuchs is one of America’s leading composers and his music is performed worldwide. After writing Falling Man, a work for baritone voice and orchestra based on the post-9/11 novel by Don DeLillo, Fuchs explored the principal theme in his rigorously developed Falling Canons for solo piano. Falling Trio grows out of the same theme, and from its ethereal opening presents a series of seven fantasy variations. String Quartet No 5 is an exciting, large-scale work that explores the contrapuntal possibilities of a single ‘American’ theme.

Naxos 8.669028-29
GORDON, R.I.: Rappahannock County [Opera]
Walters, Sherman, Tuell, Moreno, Moore, Virginia Arts Festival Orchestra, Fisher

Inspired by diaries, letters, and personal accounts from the 1860s, Rappahannock County is a music-theatre work which movingly and dramatically commemorates the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. The location of the Rappahannock River as a border between north and south is a metaphor for the region’s many conflicts. Performed by a cast of five singers who play over 30 rôles, the piece brings this dramatic historical period to life in songs which express the devastating impact of the Civil War on all of the people who endured it. Ricky Ian Gordon’s music has been described as ‘caviar for a world gorging on pizza’ (The New York Times), and Rappahannock County has been commended for its ‘effusiveness and accessibility’ by The Washington Post.

Naxos 8.559691
SOUSA, J.P.: Music for Wind Band, Vol. 12
Royal Swedish Navy Band, Brion

John Philip Sousa’s swift rise to fame and greatness came at a time when band concerts were the most important aspect of musical life in the US. The works on this recording range from the early Revival March of 1876 and the stirring Right Forward March from Sousa’s time as conductor of the US Marine band, to the “up-to-date” 1920s fox-trot Peaches and Cream and the 1923Leaves from My Notebook, dedicated to the Campfire Girls of America. Music from Sousa’s operetta Chris and the Wonderful Lamp can be found alongside his medley of tunes from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, which includes many of the hit tunes from this operetta, while The Honored Dead was performed at President Ulysses S. Grant’s funeral.

Naxos 8.559731
Vocal Recital – Between the Bliss and me… Songs to Poems by Emily Dickinson
Faulkner, Fischer, Hoiby

The poetry of Emily Dickinson (1830–1886), now considered to be one of the greatest American writers, expresses a profound depth of feeling which has long been an inspiration to composers of art songs. Eight of the finest in this genre explore Dickinson’s universal themes of love, death, immortality, and man’s relationship with nature, from Aaron Copland’s famous evocative settings, to songs from Scott Gendel’s ASCAP/Lehmann prizewinning cycle Forgotten Light. Lee Hoiby’s profoundly moving contributions are his last recording as a pianist.

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