Eighth Blackbird Soars with Jennifer Higdon's Concerto Influenced by Birds In Flight

Nov 20, 2017

Jennifer Higdon’s concerto, On a Wire, was inspired by images of birds, as well as the innovative versatility of the musicians of Eighth Blackbird, the contemporary soloist ensemble. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more.

Join us for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert on WRTI 90.1 with Host Gregg Whiteside on Sunday, November 26th at 1 pm to hear Eighth Blackbird and The Philadelphia Orchestra perform Jennifer Higdon’s On a Wire.

Radio script:

You know in the fall when you have birds flocking, you see them going in waves. I actually mimic that with the gestures with the ensemble, and also the orchestra.

[Music: Higdon: On a Wire, Eighth Blackbird]

Susan Lewis: That’s the sound of a piano. Top up, it’s surrounded by musicians who have momentarily put aside their other instruments to play "‘bowed piano."

Jennifer Higdon: Each one of the players has a bow that they string under the strings of the piano and they pull it.

SL: Composer Jennifer Higdon wrote On a Wire for the six-member group, Eighth Blackbird. Violinist Yvonne Lam in this piece also plays viola.

Yvonne Lam: I will do whatever is asked of me by composers. We think of us primarily as performers not instrumentalists.

Composer Jennifer Higdon
Credit Candace diCarlo

SL: Performers who routinely play from memory and often move about the stage—creating new musical possibilities.

JH: It let my imagination fly free.

SL: Higdon was guided by imagery of birds—how they sit, how they move, how they soar.

JH: You know in the fall when you have birds flocking, you see them going in waves. I actually mimic that with the gestures with the ensemble, and also the orchestra; that magic thing you see where they go up and it’s like one entity breathing, and then they sink back down…. I think this piece represents for me the joy of new music! 

SL: One orchestra, and six ensemble soloists on flute, clarinet, viola, cello, percussion and piano, free to play, to move, to fly.