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Richard Rodney Bennett

Publisher: Novello & Co

Saxophone Concerto (1988)
commissioned by Leslie Bishop for John Harle and London Musici
Novello & Co Ltd
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
16 Minutes
alto saxophone

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Programme Note
Richard Rodney Bennett Saxophone Concerto (1988)
This work was commissioned by Leslie Bishop for John Harle and London Music and is dedicated to John Harle; it was written in New York City between July and September 1988 and lasts about 16 minutes.

“I have always been familiar with the use of the saxophone in jazz, but it was not until I wrote the music for BBC TV’s Tender Is the Night that I thought about using the instrument in a more classical context. I was lucky enough to have the important soprano saxophone part in that score played by John Harle; from then on my attitude to the saxophone changed entirely. John commissioned my Sonata for soprano saxophone and piano (premiered at the Purcell Room with duo partner John Lenehan on 23 November 1988), this was followed by some sketches for a saxophone quartet, and then by the alto saxophone concerto.

The Concerto is divided into three main sections, played without a break. The first section (Molto vivo) is lively and extrovert and contrasts the strongly rhythmic opening material with a cantabile line which is first played by the violins. After an extended development of these two ideas the saxophone has a brilliant solo cadenza followed by a brief varied reprise of the materials of the movement. Another cadenza, this time very short, leads to the second main section (Interlude: andante). This is a short rhapsodic piece with the strings muted.

The last part of the Concerto is in two halves, Allegro and Lento. The fast opening refers back to the lyrical elements of the first two movements, and the slow conclusions refers back to the Interlude. Towards the end of the work the opening of the last section reappears briefly and then the Concerto ends very quietly.”

The Saxophone Concerto was commissioned by Leslie Bishop for John Harie and the London Music, who premiered the work on 14 October 1988 at St John’s Smith Square with Mark Stephenson conducting.

  • Ensemble
    Academy of St Martin in the Fields
    John Harle, saxophone
    Sir Neville Marriner
…written for the impressive British saxophonist John Harle, who was the featured soloist. The 1998 concerto…is a rhapsodic piece in which an intriguing sense of detachment between soloist and orchestra is often created. There are long stretches where the alto saxophone almost floats ruminatively or quizzically above fidgety string writing with just hints of jazz in it.
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times,01/03/1998
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