Higher, Louder, Faster!
an editorial etude for solo cello (1987)
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31 January 1997
Paul Recital Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City, New York
Robert LaRue, cello
Higher, Louder, Faster!, a concert etude for solo cello, is a short, ironic piece about Juilliard. Written while the composer was still a student there in 1986, it is dedicated to Bernard Rands. Subtitled 'An Editorial,' it is a composer's-eye view of the conservatory experience: a juxtaposition of Hagen's take on the ideals of 'virtuoso' performance training (as summed up by his title) and the imperatives of a newer, less traditional aesthetic. Mercifully, it is not a rehash of post-adolescent, graduate school unhappiness. Instead of revisiting his fish-out-of-water claustrophobia -- a creative nature enclosed in the sweltering, hothouse atmosphere of intense reverence for the past and a preoccupation with the 'living tradition' -- Hagen extracts a wry, affectionate revenge. For here it is the performer who finds himself out of his element, presented with a schizophrenic work whose carefree, insouciant character is all but incompatible with intricate passagework of calculated, wholly deliberate awkwardness. (Higher, Louder, Faster! is notable for its return to an original purpose of the concert etude: to extend -- not merely to reinforce -- instrumental technique.)
Confronted with passively aggressive, purposefully unidiomatic writing, the performer attempts to preserve the veneer of the imperturbable virtuoso (to whom all technical demands, no matter how outrageous, are mere nothings). The listener may choose to enjoy the composer's gleeful, poker-faced subversiveness, or to rejoice as the performer grows up a bit, casts off inhibitions, and learns to love rough edges and rawness again.
The etude received its long-delayed first performance in Paul Hall at -- fittingly enough -- the Juilliard School, on January 31, 1997
— Robert La Rue, 1997