Composers Datebook®

Jennifer Higdon's Percussion Concerto

Composers Datebook - 20231125


On today’s date in 2005, the Philadelphia Orchestra gave the premiere performance of a new Percussion Concerto by American composer Jenifer Higdon. The soloist was Colin Currie, a Scottish virtuoso for whom the work was tailor made.

In program notes for her work, Higdon wrote, “When writing a concerto, I think of two things: the particular soloist for whom I am writing and the nature of the solo instrument. In the case of percussion, this means a large battery of instruments, from vibraphone and marimba (the favorite instrument of soloist Colin Currie), to nonpitched smaller instruments like brake drums, wood blocks or Peking Opera gongs.

“Not only does a percussionist have to perfect playing all these instruments, he must make decisions regarding the use of sticks and mallets ... not to mention the choreography. ... Where most performers do not have to concern themselves with movement across the stage during a performance, a percussion soloist must have every move memorized.”

Higdon’s new concerto proved popular with both audiences and the critics, and in 2010 the work won that year’s Grammy for best classical contemporary composition.

Music Played in Today's Program

Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962) Percussion Concerto; Colin Currie, percussion; London Philharmonic; Marin Alsop, cond. LPO CD 0035

On This Day


  • 1785 - Austrian composer Franz Gruber, in Unterwweizberg; In 1818 he wrote the famous Christmas carol "Silent Night";

  • 1856 - Russian composer Sergei Taneyev, in Dyud'kovo , near Moscow (see Julian date: Nov. 13);

  • 1896 - American composer and music critic Virgil Thomson, in Kansas City, Mo.;

  • 1924 - American jazz saxophonist Paul Desmond, in San Francisco; Desmond and composer Dave Brubeck co-wrote the popular piece entitled “Take Five” for Brubeck’s famous 1959 Columbia LP entitled “Time Out”;


  • 1640 - Burial date of English Renaissance composer Giles Farnaby, age c. 77, in London;

  • 1755 - German violinist and composer Johann Georg Pisendel, age 67, in Dresden;

  • 1901 - German composer and organist Josef Rheinberger, age 62, in Munich;


  • 1731 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 140 ("Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme") performed in Leipzig on the 27th Sunday after Trinity;

  • 1847 - Flowtow: opera "Martha," in Vienna;

  • 1865 - Brahms: "Variations on a Theme of Paganini," Op. 35, for piano, in Zürich, Switzerland;

  • 1882 - Gilbert and Sullivan: operetta "Iolanthe" at the Savoy Theater in London;

  • 1898 - Rimsky-Korsakov: opera “Mozart and Salieri,” in Moscow (Gregorian date: Dec. 7);

  • 1901 - Mahler: Symphony No. 4, by the Kaim Orchestra of Munich, with soprano soloist Margarete Michalek and the composer conducting;

  • 1951 - Lou Harrison: "Seven Pastorales, in New York City, by the Collegium Musicum, Fritz Rikko conducting;

  • 1954 - Prokofiev: opera "The Fiery Angel" (sung in French), in a concert performance in Paris;

  • 1955 - Piston: Symphony No. 6, by the Boston Symphony, Charles Munch conducting;

  • 1958 - John La Montaine: Piano Concerto No. 1, in Washington, D.C.; This work won the Pulizter Prize in 1959;

  • 1960 - Mussorgsky: opera "Khovanscchina" (in the arrangement by Shostakovich), in Leningrad at the Kirov Theater;

  • 1978 - H.K. Gruber: "Frankenstein!" a "pan-demonium" for baritone and orchestra, by the Liverpool Philharmonic, with Simon Rattle conducting and the composer as the vocal soloist; A revised chamber version of this work premiered on Sept. 30, 1979, in Berlin, with the composer conducting;

  • 1992 - Peter Maxwell Davies: "Strathclyde Concerto" No. 7 for double bass and orchestra, at Glasgow's City Hall, by the Scottish Chamber Orcherstra conducted by the composer, with soloist Duncan McTier;


  • 1720 - Handel’s Keyboard Suites, First Collection), is published in London (see Julian date: Nov. 14);

  • 1835 - Scottish-born American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, is born in a small weaver’s cottage in Dumfemline, Fife (Scotland); He funded the creation of a concert hall in New York that opened on May 5, 1891, and now bears his name; The building was originally called the “Music Hall,” but the earlier title was deemed to have too many associations tied to the “lower class” vaudeville acts typical of the British “music hall,” and was eventually changed to “Carnegie Hall,” in honor of its funder;

  • 1934 - Conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler's article "The Hindemith Case" defending Hindemith's music appears in several German newspapers; A response attacking both Hindemith and Furtwängler appears in the Nazi newspaper "Der Angriff" on November 28; Furtwängler resigns all his official German posts on December 4 and leaves Berlin for several months; On December 6 Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels denounces Hindemith as an "atonal noisemaker" during a speech at the Berlin Sport Palace.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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