The Asheville Symphony has the honor of playing the North Carolina premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain Suite, and Higdon will attend the Asheville Symphony’s performances of her newly commissioned piece during Masterworks 3: American Portraits on Saturday, November 18, 2023.

Higdon will join the Asheville Symphony in the week leading up to the performance, attending rehearsals and coaching the orchestra while guiding their understanding of the piece.

She will also participate alongside Asheville Symphony Music Director Darko Butorac during pre-concert talks held an hour before both performances of Masterworks 3: American Portraits at the First Baptist Church of Asheville.

Jennifer Higdon experimented with percussion at an early age, taught herself to play the flute at 15, and began her formal musical studies when she reached Bowling Green State University. Born in Brooklyn in 1961, Higdon is now one of the most performed American composers according the League of American Orchestras, but, due to her late start in classical music, she often struggled in her undergrad days to catch up to her more advanced colleagues.

Her late exposure to traditional classical music, however, gave her a more open-minded approach towards more recently composed music.

This interest in modern composition combined with her early love of rock and folk music (think The Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc.) set the stage for Higdon’s unique style, hailed by Fanfare Magazine as having “the distinction of being at once complex, sophisticated but readily accessible emotionally” and the Times of London citing it as “…traditionally rooted, yet imbued with integrity and freshness.”

One of Higdon’s most monumental compositions is her first — and currently only — opera: Cold Mountain. Based on Charles Frazier’s 1997 historical novel (also famously adapted into an Academy Award-winning film in 2003), the opera premiered in 2015 at Santa Fe Opera and follows the same tragic story as the book; it also takes place right here in North Carolina! A prolific composer for a variety of ensembles, Higdon’s neo-romantic style is particularly appealing for America’s great orchestras. She has received commissions from several major orchestras including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the National Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, and many more — including your Asheville Symphony!

The piece you’ll hear at Masterworks 3: American Portraits, Cold Mountain Suite, is a compilation of the themes and motifs of the opera.

Our performance of the work will be the first in North Carolina, and we are thrilled to announce that Jennifer Higdon herself will be in attendance!

She had this to say about the suite: “While creating this suite, it was a wonderful challenge to determine which music to feature in order to create a dynamic and engaging orchestral work. Because Cold Mountain is about love, war, and death (imagine that in an opera!) there was a lot of dramatic music from which to pick. I chose various arias, duets, and quintets, with the idea that they would be arranged not in story order, but in a manner to create the greatest contrast for the listener… After taking 28 months to write this opera, and having lived with the characters so deeply in my heart and soul, it is truly a privilege to share this music with you.”

Experience Cold Mountain Suite on November 18 for Masterworks 3: American Portraits alongside works by other American masters of composition including Aaron Copland and William Dawson.

And don’t miss the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear from the composer at the North Carolina premiere of this incredibly moving work at the pre-concert talk before each performance!

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