composition

Concerto after Glière (Концерт в стиле Глиерa)

for Alto Saxophone and Band

  • Genre
    Solo Instrument with Wind Ensemble
  • Commissioned by/written for
    Timothy Roberts, United States Navy Band
  • Year completed
    2009
  • Year revised
  • Timing
    23:00
  • Catalog number
    212
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  • 17
    known performances
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I can well imagine many listeners thinking upon hearing the present work, “Why would anyone write a 19th-century style piece in the 21st century?” While it is true that under normal circumstances a composer might be considered rather presumptuous—or eccentric—to write in a romantic idiom a hundred twenty years or more after the composition of the masterworks of Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Schumann, and yes, Glière, I believe that I can offer extenuating circumstances for the work being heard tonight. The saxophone was invented around 1840 by Adolphe Sax. Despite quick acceptance by a number of musicians, including Hector Berlioz, works written especially for the instrument were slower to follow. Even by the end of Adolphe Sax’s life in 1894, there were still fewer than 300 original works composed for the instrument, and none by a composer who could be considered in the first rank. It was not until 1901 that the first concerto was written for the instrument. This was from the pen of the Belgian composer, Paul Gilson, and while his concerto is still occasionally performed, it seems not to have gone into the standard repertory for the instrument. The earliest concerto that remains frequently heard is probably that of Alexander Glazunov, who wrote his opus late in his life. It was an important addition to the saxophone repertory, even if it is rather short, and uses an orchestral accompaniment of strings only. The relatively slow acceptance of the saxophone as an instrument worth the attention of serious composers is now completely made up for by the wealth of contemporary works written in the past few decades by composers of distinction around the world. In the recent 2003 edition of the Londeix catalogue, there are more than 18,000 works for the various instruments of the saxophone family. Like Mahler’s music, the time of the saxophone has come. The fact remains, however, that the saxophone was invented too late to have inspired original works in earlier styles. I attended the two previous World Saxophone Congresses, and was impressed by many works of high quality that I heard. I was equally impressed, however, by the fact that they were virtually all in styles ranging from contemporary to avant garde. It was this impression that eventually led to the Concerto after Glière. In my student days at Indiana University in the 1970s, I first became acquainted with the artistry of Dr. Eugene Rousseau. His playing sparked an interest in me, as a budding composer, towards the saxophone. Before that, I had never heard any classical players that made me particularly well disposed towards the instrument (to be sure, in those days, I had not yet encountered any of the recordings of certain artists, such as Marcel Mule). Hearing Dr. Rousseau, I determined that someday I would write a work for him. I actually began a sonata for him some years ago, but that project was derailed by two things: My determination that the piece was not worthy of him, and his leaving the faculty of the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music (I had settled in Bloomington, Indiana, after the completion of my schooling). In the meantime, I had become acquainted with Dr. Rousseau’s protégé, Kenneth Tse, then a student at Indiana. I was also captivated by his sound, and wrote him several works (one of these, Martyrs for the Faith: Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Symphonic Winds was heard at the previous World Saxophone Congress in Ljubljana, Slovenia.) I am delighted that I was the first composer to write a substantial work for Dr. Tse. In 1994, I was commissioned by the Bloomington Pops to orchestrate Reinhold Glière’s Intermezzo and Tarantella, originally composed for double bass and piano. This orchestration was premiered that same year with soloist Bruce Bransby. I liked the work as an orchestral piece, but (even as a string player myself) I have never been very fond of the double bass as a solo instrument. Soon after this performance, I began thinking of what other instrument could substitute as the solo instrument for this orchestration, and almost immediately the saxophone came to mind. Fast forward, then, to 2007, when I finally was able to begin thinking about a piece to write for Dr. Rousseau. Given that so many distinguished composers had already written works for him, I began to think of doing something really different for him, and especially something that would display both his gorgeous tone and brilliant virtuosity. At that point, my Glière orchestration came to mind. I realized that I could not simply transpose the solo part up to the range of the alto saxophone, but that the solo part had to be substantially rewritten to make it more idiomatic for the instrument. I also wanted to increase the virtuosic level of the solo part, given that the saxophone can play considerably faster than can the double bass. I also transposed the two movements to more saxophone-friendly keys. The Intermezzo posed another problem, and that was its length. At three minutes, it was simply too short for a work of symphonic proportions. I solved that problem by adding a contrasting middle section of my own composition to double the length of the movement, which clearly would function as the middle slow movement of the concerto. The length of the Tarantella, at about five minutes, was fine for the finale, so my only input on that movement was the orchestration and the rewriting of the solo part. I was then left with the problem of what to do about a first movement. I considered looking through Glière’s oeuvre to see if I could find another work that would suffice, were it to be orchestrated. Looking again at my newly-composed middle section of the slow movement, I thought, “Why not try my hand at an original work more or less in the style of Glière?” I immediately began thinking of themes for the movement, and quickly composed the entire movement in a matter of only a week or two. This solution also had the advantage of allowing me to claim credit as composer of the work, rather than merely as arranger, since more than half the running time of the piece was now original music—or as “original” as anything written in a late 19th-century style can be. You will, nevertheless, see “Glière” on the stage after the performance, to share the honors! The combination of Glière and Canfield also allows me to make an exceedingly tenuous claim to call this the first saxophone concerto, as the Glière work upon which almost half of the piece is based, was written in 1900, a year before the concerto of Gilson. Upon completing the work, I sent it to the dedicatee, who expressed gratitude and interest in the concerto. I also sent it, as I do all of my saxophone music, to Kenneth Tse, who expressed an interest in presenting the work at WSCXV. Dr. Rousseau graciously consented to allow his former pupil to give the premiere. After that performance, which was attended by about 1000 saxophonists, I received a request from Timothy Roberts, principal saxophonist in the United States Navy Band at that time to make an arrangement with wind ensemble accompaniment. He, along with the US Navy Band conducted by LCDR Richard H. Bailey (retired), was given on January 15, 2010, and the work has been performed many times since then in this version.

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