Concert Programs

USC Thornton Symphony concert program

March 8, 2024
7:30 p.m.

Carl St.Clair, artistic leader and principal conductor of the USC Thornton orchestras, leads the USC Thornton Symphony in Jennifer Higdon’s blue cathedral and Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, op. 40.


blue cathedral

Jennifer Higdon
(b. 1962)

Ein Heldenleben, op. 40

Richard Strauss

Composer Notes

Jennifer Higdon
Jennifer Higdon is one of America’s most acclaimed and most frequently performed living composers. She is a major figure in contemporary Classical music, receiving the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto, a 2010 Grammy for her Percussion Concerto, a 2018 Grammy for her Viola Concerto and a 2020 Grammy for her Harp Concerto. In 2018, Higdon received the Nemmers Prize from Northwestern University which is given to contemporary classical composers of exceptional achievement who have significantly influenced the field of composition. Most recently, the recording of Higdon’s Percussion Concerto was inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. Higdon enjoys several hundred performances a year of her works, and blue cathedral is today’s most performed contemporary orchestral work, with more than 600 performances worldwide. Her works have been recorded on more than seventy CDs. Higdon’s first opera, Cold Mountain, won the prestigious International Opera Award for Best World Premiere and the opera recording was nominated for two Grammy awards. Her music is published exclusively by Lawdon Press.
-Jennifer Higdon

Program Notes

blue cathedral
Jennifer Higdon
Blue…like the sky. Where all possibilities soar. Cathedrals…a place of thought, growth, spiritual expression…serving as a symbolic doorway in to and out of this world. Blue represents all potential and the progression of journeys. Cathedrals represent a place of beginnings, endings, solitude, fellowship, contemplation, knowledge and growth. As I was writing this piece, I found myself imagining a journey through a glass cathedral in the sky. Because the walls would be transparent, I saw the image of clouds and blueness permeating from the outside of this church. In my mind’s eye the listener would enter from the back of the sanctuary, floating along the corridor amongst giant crystal pillars, moving in a contemplative stance. The stained glass windows’ figures would start moving with song, singing a heavenly music. The listener would float down the aisle, slowly moving upward at first and then progressing at a quicker pace, rising towards an immense ceiling which would open to the sky…as this journey progressed, the speed of the traveler would increase, rushing forward and upward. I wanted to create the sensation of contemplation and quiet peace at the beginning, moving towards the feeling of celebration and ecstatic expansion of the soul, all the while singing along with that heavenly music.
These were my thoughts when The Curtis Institute of Music commissioned me to write a work to commemorate its 75th anniversary. Curtis is a house of knowledge–a place to reach towards that beautiful expression of the soul which comes through music. I began writing this piece at a unique juncture in my life and found myself pondering the question of what makes a life. The recent loss of my younger brother, Andrew Blue, made me reflect on the amazing journeys that we all make in our lives, crossing paths with so many individuals singularly and collectively, learning and growing each step of the way. This piece represents the expression of the individual and the group…our inner travels and the places our souls carry us, the lessons we learn, and the growth we experience. In tribute to my brother, I feature solos for the clarinet (the instrument he played) and the flute (the instrument I play). Because I am the older sibling, it is the flute that appears first in this dialog. At the end of the work, the two instruments continue their dialogue, but it is the flute that drops out and the clarinet that continues on in the upward progressing journey.
This is a story that commemorates living and passing through places of knowledge and of sharing and of that song called life.
This work was commissioned and premiered in 2000 by the Curtis Institute of Music.
-Jennifer Higdon
Ein Heldenleben, op. 40
Richard Strauss
Richard Strauss wrote Ein Heldenleben in 1898. It is a fifty minute, through-composed tone poem. The piece was premiered in March of 1899 by the Frankfurter Opern und Museumsorchester, the resident orchestra of the Oper Frankfurt, with Strauss conducting the piece himself. He dedicated Ein Heldenleben to Willem Mengelberg and the orchestra he conducted, the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Mengelberg was a Dutch conductor widely regarded as one of the greats of the 20th century.
The instrumentation of Ein Heldenleben is particularly interesting. The orchestra called for is much larger than a typical orchestra. Strauss calls for three flutes, piccolo, three oboes, english horn, two clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, three bassoons, contrabassoon, eight horns, five trumpets, three trombones, tenor tuba, tuba, percussion, two harps, and strings. Strauss implements all of the rarer orchestral instruments, such as contrabassoon and tenor tuba, while also increasing the number of typical woodwind and brass instruments. This powerful instrumentation gives the piece a very unique sound.
Ein Heldenleben translates to “A Hero’s Life.” The piece focuses on the story of an unnamed hero. It is suspected that Strauss himself is the hero in question, although he never confirmed this. He did not provide a lot of answers about the meaning behind the piece. It seems like he wanted people to find the meaning for themselves. What is known about the piece is that each of the six movements are titled in relation to the theme of the hero. Throughout the piece, Strauss uses motifs to represent certain characters, such as the hero.
The first movement is simply titled “The Hero.” At the very beginning, we are introduced to the hero’s theme, played in unison by the horns and cellos. At the end of the movement, there is a dramatic grand pause, the only extended silence in the whole piece. The next movement is titled “The Hero’s Adversaries.” The adversaries are thought to be Strauss’s critics and are represented by the woodwinds. One critic in particular, Doktor Dehring, even gets his own ominous motif played by the tuba and tenor tuba. The third movement, titled “The Hero’s Companion,” is a portrait of Strauss’s wife, Pauline de Ahna. Strauss uses a solo violin to represent her. The fourth movement, titled “The Hero’s Battlefield,” is the first time the piece goes into 3/4. The scene of battle is set by fanfares played by the trumpets. In the next movement, “The Hero’s Works of Peace,” the tone shifts to be much quieter. In this movement, Strauss quotes music from his earlier works, such as Don Juan, Also Sprach Zarathustra, and Don Quixote. The final movement is titled “The Hero’s Withdrawal from this World and Completion.” The piece ends with a final statement of a slight variation of the initial theme and a serene major conclusion that represents the hero’s completion.
-Sean Cooney (BM ’24)


Violin I
Veronika Manchur, concertmaster
Soomi Park, assistant concertmaster
Anna Renton
Robert Henson
Yu Gong
Marena Miki
Abigail Park
Maya Masaoka
Eric Cheng
Diana Dawydchak
Violin II
Kaiyuan Wu, principal
Laura Gamboa
Soomi Park
Ariana O’Connell
Sarah Yoo
Agatha Blevin
Sofia Llacer Chamberlain
Sarah Beth Overcash
Sunwoo Lee, principal
Daniel Miles
Nicolas Valencia
Cecile McNeill
Paulina Flores
Katherine Brown
Ziyan Zeng
Joseph Kim, principal
Olivia Marckx
Maddie Bolin
Samuel Guevara
Shuo Ma
Taewon Park
Avery Weeks, principal
Xinyun Tu
Eric Windmeier
Julien Henry
Lillian Young
Ethan Moffitt
Paulina Delgadillo
Carter Williams
Susanna MacDonald

* denotes principal on Strauss
+ denotes principal on Higdon
Gaby Beltran*
Alicia Kim
Ellen Cheng
David Ramirez+
Alicia Kim
David Ramirez
Lauren Breen*+
Alex Changus
Chase Klein
English Horn
Sonia Matheus
Chase Klein
Anders Peterson+
Chanul Kim
Elad Navon*
Andrei Bancos
E-flat Clarinet
Anders Peterson
Bass Clarinet
Yoomin Sung
Cal Lieungh+
Chris Lee
Jerver Hernandez*
Chris Lee
Taki Salameh
Lauren Goff*
Evelyn Webber+
Kira Goya
Rebecca Baron
Steven Phan
Jean Smith
Joe Oberholzer
Abraham Murillo
Caleb Durant
Kobina Sampson-Davis*
Jessica Farmer
Svend Lykkegaard
Emily Nastelin
Jazzmine Van Veld+
Pablo Castro*
Stephen Hannan+
Bass Trombone
Kevin Truong
Tenor Tuba
Arisa Makita
Derek Zimmerman
Leigh Wilson
Brandon Lim*+
David Lee
Preston Spisak
Marcos Salgado