On Tuesday, April 29, the New York Choral Society will present the New York premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s The Singing Rooms as well as Gustav Holst’s The Hymn of Jesus at Carnegie Hall. Music director David Hayes will lead the chorus, the New York Choral Society Orchestra and soloist Jennifer Koh. Amanda Coleman spoke with Mr. Hayes about the upcoming performance.
Amanda Coleman: The New York Choral Society’s April concert will feature the New York premiere of Pulitzer-Prize winning composer Jennifer Higdon’s The Singing Rooms. Please tell us your impressions of Ms. Higdon and this piece.
David Hayes: Jennifer Higdon is one of the most accomplished American composers working today. Her many honors, including the Pulitzer Prize for her Violin Concerto, speak not only to her compositional artistry, but also to the engaging nature of her music. The Singing Rooms is indicative of this: it has an inner complexity and musical logic that is never overshadowed by the essential communicative nature of the work. An audience will immediately be drawn into her sound world and presented with a work that stimulates the ear as well as the mind and imagination.
AC: Have you collaborated with Ms. Higdon in the past?
DH: I have known Jennifer since we both entered the Curtis Institute of Music as classmates in 1986. Over the years, in addition to becoming good friends, she has written four choral works for The Philadelphia Singers (of which I am also the Music Director); in addition, I have collaborated with her by workshopping her Pulitzer Prize-winning Violin Concerto with Hilary Hahn and the Curtis Symphony Orchestra as well as preparing The Philadelphia Singers for the world premiere performances of The Singing Rooms with Christoph Eschenbach and The Philadelphia Orchestra.
AC: Can you please tell us some of the history of the piece? What does the title mean?
DH: The Singing Rooms began with a conversation between Ms. Higdon and violinist Jennifer Koh. Originally it was intended to be a work for violin solo and mixed chorus. After initial discussions about the possibility of creating it as a work for The Philadelphia Singers, it finally came into being as a commission from The Philadelphia Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra for large orchestra, chorus and violin solo. I know of no better way to describe the significance of the title than that of the composer: “This is a house where the violin sings, the choir sings, and the orchestra sings. Every room is its own sound world. Not an ordinary house, this is the house that we all inhabit: that of life. The beauty of poetry and music is that each person brings their own experience to these art forms, and each reader takes away the message of the poet, mixed with their own story…but we all share these stories…”
AC: Violinist Jennifer Koh will join the New York Choral Society for The Singing Rooms. Please tell us a little about working with her.
DH: I’ve known Jennifer Koh since she was a young violinist at Curtis. Her extraordinary vision and openness to presenting not only new music, but also the music of the past in exciting and vital ways is a real inspiration. We worked together closely on the world premiere of The Singing Rooms but, as I was charged with preparing the chorus for the world premiere, I never had the opportunity of conducting the work in performance. So, it is a special treat to be giving the New York premiere and finally having the pleasure of conducting a performance of this wonderful work with Jennifer Koh.
AC: Do you do anything special right before a concert?
DH: The one thing I try and do is locate an isolated space to be alone and quiet for an hour or so before performing. I don’t like to eat much before a performance – just some carbs (and caffeine!) for energy – and then lots of hydration. After a performance, I’m usually ravenous; so, a hearty meal is often in order!
The New York Choral Society performs at Carnegie Hall, 57th Street and 7th Avenue, on April 29 at 8:00 PM. Tickets range from $30 to $80. To purchase, please call CarnegieCharge at 212-247-7800. Tickets may also be purchased at www.nychoral.org or www.carnegiehall.org, or at the Carnegie Hall box office.
Amanda Coleman is a publicist at Dan Dutcher Public Relations.