Jennifer Higdon: An Exaltation of Larks / The Lark Quartet

The very significant poetic side of American composer Jennifer Higdon’s music is confirmed on this new album from Bridge Records. The performances are by the Lark Quartet in An Exaltation of Larks (2005), Scenes from the Poet’s Dreams (1999) where the quartet is joined by pianist Gary Graffman, and Light Refracted (2002) with clarinetist Todd Palmer joining the Larks.

I enjoyed these pieces the first few times I listened to them, taking in Ms. Higdon’s works as purely absolute music – without any implied references outside of the music itself. But it was after I got a chance to sit down and read the composer’s notes about each piece that they really came to life for me. Being aware of the imagery behind the music is essential to its full enjoyment. Take the opening work for example, An Exaltation of Larks for string quartet. I was not aware that one meaning of the word “exaltation” is “a flight of larks”, nor that a lark has a particular song that is delivered only in flight. Even without hearing Ms. Higdon’s music, is it easy to imagine how this knowledge would dramatically enhance your enjoyment of it. “Racing Through Stars”, “Summer Shimmers Across the Glass of Green Ponds”, and “I Saw the Electric Insects Coming” are titles from Ms. Higdon’s Scenes from the Poet’s Dreams. Here again, Higdon brings a panoply of vivid and evocative sounds to the service of her imagination.

Listen to the music sample offered here – the opening minutes of An Exaltation of Larks to get a feeling for Jennifer Higdon’s idiom. With an understanding of the inspiration, listening to this music is very rewarding.

Album Overview

Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962) is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Grammy award, and is one of the most performed living American composers working today. Ms. Higdon’s upcoming work includes an opera on Charles Frazier’s book, “Cold Mountain”, for Santa Fe Opera and the Opera Company of Philadelphia. This recording feature three recent chamber works: In Scenes from the Poet’s Dreams (composed for the performers who play it here) the piano left hand (virtuoso Gary Graffman) takes a prominent part in the unfolding of this highly contrasted work, bearing unusually descriptive titles: “Racing Through Stars”, “Summer Shimmers Across the Glass of Green Ponds” etc.. Light Refracted is a meditation on light. The composer describes a first movement “that reflects on our inner light, and how we take that light in; and a second movement that is the opposite, our projection of light out to the world.” She also writes about An Exaltation of Larks: “The first time someone told me that a collection of Larks is called an “Exaltation”, I immediately thought, ‘What a sound an exaltation of larks must make!’–How to capture the beauty of the idea of exalting and singing? A string quartet seemed perfect!” This disc marks the debut of the Lark Quartet on Bridge.


Composer: Jennifer Higdon

Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Higdon maintains a full schedule of commissions and her music is known for its technical skill and audience appeal. Hailed by The Washington Post as “a savvy, sensitive composer with a keen ear, an innate sense of form and a generous dash of pure esprit,” she is one of America’s most frequently performed composers.

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Performers: The Lark Quartet

The Lark Quartet continues to delight audiences with its energy, passionate commitment and artistry since its inception in 1985. The Lark has a distinguished tradition of working closely with today’s most celebrated composers and commissioning new works, many of which have become mainstays of the chamber music repertoire.

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Clarinet: Todd Palmer

Having been involved in an array of creative and diverse artistic presentations throughout his career, clarinetist Todd Palmer has appeared as soloist, recitalist, chamber music collaborator, educator, arranger, and presenter in a variety of musical endeavors around the world. He has appeared with many symphony and chamber orchestras including those of Houston, Atlanta, St. Paul, Cincinnati, …

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Piano: Blair McMillen

Blair McMillen has established himself as one of the most versatile and sought-after pianists today. The New York Times has called his playing “lustrous,” “riveting,” and “brilliant…..prodigiously accomplished and exciting.” Known for imaginative and daring programming, he plays a repertoire that spans from late-medieval keyboard manuscripts to the 21st-century’s avant-garde and indie-classical.

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Other Performers: Gary Graffman, piano


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