Jennifer Higdon "Blue Cathedral" for orchestra

Jennifer Higdon, Blue Cathedral

San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Stephane Deneve (Conductor)

PROGRAM NOTES: “blue cathedral”
Blue…like the sky. Where all possibilities soar. Cathedrals…a place of thought, growth, 
spiritual expression…serving as a symbolic doorway in to and out of this world. Blue 
represents all potential and the progression of journeys. Cathedrals represent a place of 
beginnings, endings, solitude, fellowship, contemplation, knowledge and growth. As I 
was writing this piece, I found myself imagining a journey through a glass cathedral in 
the sky. Because the walls would be transparent, I saw the image of clouds and blueness 
permeating from the outside of this church. In my mind's eye the listener would enter
from the back of the sanctuary, floating along the corridor amongst giant crystal pillars, 
moving in a contemplative stance. The stained glass windows' figures would start
moving with song, singing a heavenly music. The listener would float down the aisle, 
slowly moving upward at first and then progressing at a quicker pace, rising towards an 
immense ceiling which would open to the sky…as this journey progressed, the speed of 
the traveler would increase, rushing forward and upward. I wanted to create the sensation 
of contemplation and quiet peace at the beginning, moving towards the feeling of 
celebration and ecstatic expansion of the soul, all the while singing along with that 
heavenly music. 

These were my thoughts when The Curtis Institute of Music commissioned me to write a 
work to commemorate its 75th anniversary. Curtis is a house of knowledge--a place to 
reach towards that beautiful expression of the soul which comes through music. I began 
writing this piece at a unique juncture in my life and found myself pondering the question 
of what makes a life. The recent loss of my younger brother, Andrew Blue, made me 
reflect on the amazing journeys that we all make in our lives, crossing paths with so 
many individuals singularly and collectively, learning and growing each step of the way. 
This piece represents the expression of the individual and the group…our inner travels
and the places our souls carry us, the lessons we learn, and the growth we experience. In 
tribute to my brother, I feature solos for the clarinet (the instrument he played) and the 
flute (the instrument I play). Because I am the older sibling, it is the flute that appears 
first in this dialog. At the end of the work, the two instruments continue their dialogue, 
but it is the flute that drops out and the clarinet that continues on in the upward 
progressing journey.

This is a story that commemorates living and passing through places of knowledge and of 
sharing and of that song called life.
This work was commissioned and premiered in 2000 by the Curtis Institute of Music.

--Jennifer Higdon


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