When most people think of classical music, they think of pieces written by male composers who lived centuries ago like Beethoven, Bach and Brahms. But, today, compositions by a young, female composer are getting a lot of attention, including a Pulitzer Prize. Composer Jennifer Higdon won the Pulitzer for her collaboration with violinist Hilary Hahn on a violin concerto - a piece featuring a solo violin played in front of a full symphony orchestra.
Writing a violin concerto is an especially daunting task to take on, given that so many great composers of the past wrote them. Higdon says she drew on Hahn's strengths as a violinist when coming up with her violin concerto, incorporating Hahn's ability to change quickly from note to note and the resonant sound of her instrument.
Both Hahn and Higdon also pay a lot of attention to what audiences think of new pieces. Higdon says that if the audience looks detached or bored during a section of one of her pieces, she knows she needs to re-write it to hold their attention. Hahn says it's important to that her music come across to the audience the way she intends it to, which can often be a challenge.
"I mean, people do want to hear the pieces they know, but a lot of people want to hear things they don't know. And I try to not specialize. I try to just play as many different things as possible, because I feel like it enriches me as a musician if I do that." - Hilary Hahn, violinist
"You kind of have to take a leap of faith. You start writing, and hope that the ideas will come, and you try not to think about the fact that history is sitting on your shoulder, basically." - Jennifer Higdon, composer
"Some modern music, it's a little like, oh, that's very interesting, you know, but it's sort of unsettling. And she's actually doing stuff with the language that we really know, but just saying new things." - student, Curtis Institute of Music
1. What is classical music?
2. What instruments are found in a symphony orchestra?
3. What does a composer do?
1. Have you ever tried to create something original that many people had done before? What was challenging about the process? How did you make your work your own?
2. Whether you are writing a story, making a movie, acting in a play: how do you keep your audience’s attention?
3. What kind of music did you grow up listening to? How do you think that influences your musical taste?
4. Have you ever played a musical instrument? What was difficult about it? How did listeners respond to your playing?