Learning to compose by listening to other composers
At TimesUnion.com, Joseph Dalton reports on an upcoming concert in Philadelphia which will feature a piece by Jennifer Higdon, Concerto 4-3, a 30-minute work for string trio (soli of two violins and double bass) and orchestra, completed in 2007. It was intitially premiered by Time for Three and The Philadelphia Orchestra on January 10, 2008. The trio, Time for Three, is typically considered pop performers, with the players coming from Jazz, Bluegrass, folk and hip hop. This concert gives them the chance to blend their style in a classical venue.
Higdon was the teacher in theory and composition at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia when Time for Three were students. So, there was already a relationship established when she began the composition. The piece was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra and the musical director, Christopher Eschenbach, specifically for Time for Three. While I have not heard the piece yet (it is available for download) and you can hear portions of it here.
This is not the first concerto Higdon has written. She also has a Trombone Concerto and speaks about the process of composing it here, on YouTube. She makes an interesting point about writing concertos for instruments that aren't typically done. There is a clammering from musicians to perform these pieces. Another video talks about Time for Three and the Concerto 4-3 with snatches of the music. It's fast and tonal (in her own words). She is concerned about writing interesting music, and that is utilitarian - more functional than just the one concert where it premiers or the initial performer for whom it's written (video of Higdon discussing her techniques with a portion of the Percussion Concerto).
Higdon is currently working on a Violin Concerto for Hilary Hahn. Both are very fortunate.
If you'd like to hear more from Time for Three, you can do so here.