April 11, 2018

Jennifer Higdon Awarded 2018 Nemmers Prize in Music Composition

Northwestern University recognizes composer with $100,000 prize

  • Nemmers Prize honors contemporary classical composers of exceptional achievement
  • Higdon’s accolades include Pulitzer Prize in Music and two Grammy awards
  • Concerts of Higdon’s music to be performed by Bienen School students
  • Northwestern residencies planned for October 2018 and February 2020

Jennifer HigdonJennifer Higdon, one of America’s most frequently performed living composers, has been awarded the $100,000 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition from the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University.

Established in 2003, the Nemmers Prize in Music Composition honors classical music composers of outstanding achievement who have significantly influenced the field of composition. In addition to a cash award, the prize includes a performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Previous winners of the biennial award include John Adams (2004), Oliver Knussen (2006), Kaija Saariaho (2008), John Luther Adams (2010), Aaron Jay Kernis (2012) Esa-Pekka Salonen (2014), and Steve Reich (2016).

“I am extremely honored to be the recipient of Northwestern University’s 2018 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize and, to be included in this list of previous winners, is truly humbling. It will be a pleasure to spend time with the students and faculty sharing experiences and making music. I am deeply appreciative of this opportunity in such a prestigious school of music,” Higdon said.

Higdon’s first on-campus residency, scheduled for October 15-20, 2018, will feature multiple performances of her music by Bienen School students. She will also lead coaching sessions with Bienen ensembles and chamber groups, conduct lessons and seminars with composition students, and participate in an interdisciplinary panel discussion on LGBTQI in the arts, among other activities. Higdon’s second Bienen School residency is scheduled for February 2020.

“The Bienen School of Music is honored to name Jennifer Higdon winner of the 2018 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize,” said Toni-Marie Montgomery, dean of the Bienen School. “Ms. Higdon is a prolific and widely performed American composer who has written in a wide range of musical styles for both instruments and voice.  She will bring a multi-faceted perspective to her work with our performance and composition students. The Bienen School faculty and students look forward to many exciting and enriching activities during Jennifer Higdon’s residencies over the next two years.”

Jennifer Higdon

Pulitzer Prize and two-time Grammy-winner Jennifer Higdon (b. Brooklyn, NY, December 31, 1962) taught herself to play flute at the age of 15 and began formal musical studies at 18, with an even later start in composition at the age of 21. Despite this, Jennifer has become a major figure in contemporary classical music and makes her living from commissions. Her works represent a wide range of genres, from orchestral to chamber, to wind ensemble, as well as vocal, choral and opera. Her music has been hailed by Fanfare Magazine as having “the distinction of being at once complex, sophisticated but readily accessible emotionally,” with the Times of London citing it as “…traditionally rooted, yet imbued with integrity and freshness.” The League of American Orchestras reports that she is one of America's most frequently performed composers.

Higdon's list of commissioners is extensive and includes The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Chicago Symphony, The Atlanta Symphony, The Cleveland Orchestra, The Minnesota Orchestra, The Pittsburgh Symphony, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, as well as such groups as the Tokyo String Quartet, the Lark Quartet, Eighth Blackbird, and the President’s Own Marine Band. She has also written works for such artists as baritone Thomas Hampson, pianists Yuja Wang and Gary Graffman, violinists Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Jennifer Koh and Hilary Hahn. Her first opera, Cold Mountain, won the prestigious International Opera Award for Best World Premiere in 2016; the first American opera to do so in the awards’ history. It sold out its premiere run in Santa Fe, as well as in North Carolina, and Philadelphia, becoming the third highest selling opera in Opera Philadelphia’s history.

The 2017-18 concert season has included the successful premiere of her Low Brass Concerto with the Chicago Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra, her Tuba Concerto with the Pittsburgh Symphony and Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and Harp Concerto for Yolanda Kondonassis with the Rochester Philharmonic and Harrisburg Symphony.

Upcoming commissions include a chamber opera for Opera Philadelphia, a string quartet for the Houston-based Apollo Chamber Players, a double percussion concerto for the Houston Symphony, an orchestral suite for the “Made In America” project, and a flute concerto for the National Flute Associations’ 50th anniversary.

Higdon received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto, with the committee citing Higdon’s work as “a deeply engaging piece that combines flowing lyricism with dazzling virtuosity.” She has also received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts & Letters, the Koussevitzky Foundation, the Pew Fellowship in the Arts, the Independence Foundation, the NEA, and ASCAP. She has twice won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition: first for her Percussion Concerto in 2010 and also for her Viola Concerto in 2018. Her orchestral work, blue cathedral, is one of the most performed contemporary orchestral works in the repertoire with over 600 performances thus far. Her works have been recorded on over 60 CDs.

Higdon received a Bachelor’s Degree in Music from Bowling Green State University, an Artist Diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. She currently holds the Rock Chair in Composition at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Her music is published exclusively by Lawdon Press. For more information visit www.jenniferhigdon.com  

Nemmers Prizes

The Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition recognizes composers who show the highest-level of achievement in a substantial and continuing body of work. Nominations are solicited worldwide and the winner is determined by a committee comprising individuals of widely-recognized stature in the music community.

In addition to the Nemmers Prize in Music Composition, Northwestern University awards the Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Economics, the Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics, the Mechthild Esser Nemmers Prize in Medical Science, and the Nemmers Prize in Earth Sciences. All five Nemmers prizes are made possible through bequests from the late Erwin Esser Nemmers, a former member of the Northwestern University faculty, and his brother, the late Frederic E. Nemmers. Each prize is given every other year.

For more information on the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition, visit the Bienen School of Music website.