The program notes for Diversions are contained in the descriptive titles of the movements: I. Recitatives and Preludes; II. Serenades and Airs; III. Rags and Waltzes; IV. Ballads and Lovenotes; V. Quicksteps and Trios.
It all started several years ago, when I received a letter from James Houlik (whom I did not know at the time), proposing that I do a piece for tenor saxophone and orchestra. I had recently become President of ASCAP, so I was very involved in the obligations and responsibilities of this position, and I had to cut back on my composing and conducting activities. I had just completed a year with many composing deadlines, including a ballet with Jerome Robbins, a flute concerto for the Chicago Symphony, etc. Therefore my initial reaction was negative. I also thought there would be few performance opportunities for such a composition, given the small number of concert soloists on the tenor sax. Some time later, I listened to a tape of Houlik which greatly impressed me. I called him to compliment him accordingly, but I still did not want to agree to do the piece. When I was subsequently contacted by him I was amazed to hear that he already had a consortium of 5-6 orchestras lined up interested in participating in the commission. So I finally agreed to accept this commission thinking that I would have at least until the next year to complete it (1991). The next thing I knew, I was being urged to complete the composition for its world premiere at the 1990 Absolut Concerto in New York. I responded to the challenge by working around the clock, squeezing in the time between my ASCAP responsibilities and travel schedule, and, over a long hot summer, I managed to complete the composition with the deadline.
The virtuosic demands on the soloist are tantamount to those of a concerto. Because of the nature and texture of the movements I prefer the less formalistic title of “Diversions.” Incidentally, although there are a number of concert works for alto saxophone, the tenor saxophone has been relatively neglected. James Houlik’s persistence made me pay attention!