Low Brass Concerto

Score title

Low Brass Concerto


Jennifer Higdon

More about the composer


Program note

Normally, when people think of brass they think of power, which is not an inaccurate assessment. But brass players are quick to tell you that they also can play beautiful melodies, and do so quietly and with exquisite control. So early on in the planning process for this concerto, I decided to create music that would emphasize the qualities of majesty, grace, and power.

Writing this concerto was a tremendous challenge, primarily because where normally there is one person standing at the front of the stage, suddenly I had four. Fortunately, I’ve had the prior opportunity to write two concertos for multiple soloists. My first work was my bluegrass/classical hybrid concerto for Time for Three, Concerto 4–3, which the Chicago Symphony performed at the Ravinia Festival in 2009. The second time was writing On a Wire for the four-time Grammy winners (and Chicago-based) Eighth Blackbird. It was this last concerto that convinced an administrator with the Chicago Symphony that I might be able to write a concerto featuring the famous low brass section of this orchestra.

When I begin work on a commission, I think a lot about the personalities of the players. I have, after decades of writing music, learned that low brass players are always fun to work with. They bring an infectious joy to everything they play, which in itself is inspiring.

With all of this in mind, I decided to write a traditional work that highlights these 28 qualities, in straightforward lines and melodies. Sometimes it is the most challenging thing that a composer can do: compose a melody or chorale, with no special effects or colors, just focusing on the moving line. This is a work in one movement, with alternating slow and fast sections. There are solos for each player, as well as a few duets and some chorales. It is a musical portrait of four extraordinary players, each working individually and as a group, bringing to the front of the stage all of their majesty, grace, and power.