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Gunther Schuller

Publisher: AMP

Concerto for Alto Saxophone (1983)
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
19 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Alto Saxophone
Programme Note
Gunther Schuller Concerto for Alto Saxophone (1983)
Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra

I wrote my Saxophone Concerto in 1983 at the instigation of Kenneth Radnofsky, in honor of his teacher, Joseph Allard, who was active in New York (at The Juilliard School), in Boston (at the New England Conservatory), and at many other music schools. He was the superb, inspiring mentor of hundreds of clarinetists and saxophonists. I first heard of Joe Allard when he played with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, and I have known him personally since the mid-1940s. The deep respect and love that all his students have for him is evidenced by their collective commission of the Concerto.
It is in three contrasting movements, of which the second, Arioso, is for saxophone and strings only. This movement carries the further markings Molto adagio—Quasi recitativo—Sempre flessibile, and it exploits the lyric character of the saxophone. The outer movements, on the other hand—the first, con moto, and the last, Lively—explore some of the more virtuosic and technical aspects of the instrument, including a number of excursions to the instrument’s altissimo range, which has been explored only in recent decades. The third movement, a kind of rondo, interposes two lyrical episodes between the main thematic statements. These episodes feature a chamber music-like texture for a few solo instruments, including celesta in the first and harp in the second. The third ‘episode’ is turned into a solo cadenza for the saxophone.

Kenneth Radnofsky and the Pittsburgh Symphony gave the first performance of the Concerto on January 18, 1984, under the direction of Gunther Schuller

The splendor of the music was a welcome change from the usual fragmented, screeching avant-garde music one usually hears at a contemporary music concert. Here was a well-crafted new work with a deep respect and understanding of traditional classical music but sprinkled with enough modern sounds to show it is not imitative of the past. …The concerto opens in a pensive and percussive manner and then turns lyrical, mellow and sensitive. It’s all very peaceful. The second movement has some arresting music for the basses and cellos before moving on to songful and beautiful melodies of repose. The final movement begins with steely and strident sounds for the brass and percussion, then moves on to some mellow sax music. Some give-and-take between the muted trombone and sax follow, and after that the finale is a mixture of strident and mellow sounds. Radnofsky and Schuller have combined in a musical treasure which deserves the widest possible exposure, both in recording and live performances with symphony orchestras. This is definitely a work I would like to hear again.
Carl Apone, The Pittsburgh Press,19/01/1984
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