August Update: Reviews of the premiere in Sydney are in! Click the links below to read both articles about the composition and the critics' take on the performance:
John Adams brings out the melancholy and ecstasy in his concertos (The Australian, August 26, 2013). Murray Black reviews McAllister's performance of the Adams saxophone concerto.
Restless riffs and delicacy in Adams' saxophone concerto (Sydney Morning Herald, August 25, 2013). Harriet Cunningham's review of the premiere.
A World of Sax (The Australian, August 22, 2013). John Adams discusses the premiere of the saxophone concerto.
Stars and stripes, fast cars, and the repertoire (Sydney Morning Herald, August 22, 2013). A short interview with Adams about his composing and conducting.
This fall, concert saxophonist Timothy McAllister gives the first North American performances of John Adams’s new Saxophone Concerto and records the 32-minute score for Nonesuch. McAllister performs with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop on Friday, September 20 (8 pm) at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, repeated on September 21 (8 p.m.) and 22 (3 p.m.). Then, David Robertson leads McAllister and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in Saxophone Concerto on Saturday, October 5 (8 p.m.) and Sunday, October 6 (3 p.m.) at Powell Hall. Listeners worldwide may catch a broadcast and live stream of the Oct. 5 concert at www.stlpublicradio.org. Recording sessions with Robertson and the SLSO follow in October for a future Nonesuch recording pairing Saxophone Concerto with the orchestra’s performance of Adams’s City Noir, which McAllister also premiered.
The world premiere of Saxophone Concerto takes place on August 22 and 23, with Adams conducting McAllister and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House. It has been co-commissioned by the Baltimore, St. Louis, São Paulo State, and Sydney Symphony Orchestras.
Adams describes McAllister as “a fearless musician and risk taker,” adding, “His exceptional musical personality had been the key ingredient in performances and recordings of City Noir, and I felt that I’d only begun to scratch the surface of his capabilities with that work.” Adams has favored the saxophone throughout his career, infusing Nixon in China and Fearful Symmetries with its sound, and the alto sax holds special meaning for him. “Having grown up hearing the sound of the saxophone virtually every day — my father had played alto in swing bands during the 1930s and our family record collection was well stocked with albums by the great jazz masters — I never considered the saxophone an alien instrument,” says the composer. “While the concerto is not meant to sound jazzy per se, its jazz influences lie only slightly below the surface.”
In particular, Adams cited “some recordings from the '60s, for sax and orchestra, particularly this great album by Stan Getz called Focus.” Players like Getz and alto legend Paul Desmond, whose precise yet laid-back styles epitomized the “cool” West Coast school of the ‘50s and ‘60s, are touchstones for McAllister’s approach to the part, along with mid-20th century studio musicians and classical players such as Donald Sinta, McAllister’s teacher and a major architect of the modern American sound.
That said, the saxophone writing in Saxophone Concerto is notably free of jazz clichés, and rich in the long-limbed, unfurling melodies characteristic of Adams’s mature work. The solo part is built on flexible recurring motives, and is wildly angular and gestural. Says Adams, “I make constant use of the instrument’s vaunted agility as well as its capacity for a lyrical utterance that is only a short step away from the human voice.”
McAllister, to whom Adams dedicated the concerto, notes that the solo part contains few of “the stereotypical pyrotechnics that have dominated avant-garde saxophone repertoire since the 1970s, such as multiphonics, extreme altissimo, and percussive slap tongue effects, among other extended techniques. Its true virtuosity involves navigating a complex range of characters from section to section, and the ability to command a wide intervallic palette. In many instances, however, the technique of circular breathing is a necessity to tackle the huge, sustained lines throughout. Moreover, the scope of the piece, some 32 minutes long, makes for a physically demanding work – in my opinion, perhaps the most important composition for saxophone in a generation, and certainly, in this young century.”
The form of Saxophone Concerto “is a familiar one for those who know my orchestral pieces,” observes Adams. “I’ve used it in my Violin Concerto, in City Noir and in my piano concerto Century Rolls. It begins with one long first part combining a fast movement with a slow, lyrical one. This is followed by a shorter second part, a species of funk-rondo with a fast, driving pulse.” (Read Adams’s full program note for the work.)
McAllister will perform Saxophone Concerto with the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop in São Paulo on August 14 - 16, 2014. The orchestra is planning tour performances with McAllister and Alsop to seven Brazilian cities.
About Timothy McAllister
Soprano chair of the renowned PRISM Quartet and internationally-acclaimed soloist, Timothy McAllister has emerged as one of today’s premier concert saxophone performers and teachers. He has been hailed as a “master of his instrument” (Audiophile Audition), with performances described as “flamboyant” and “riveting” (Los Angeles Times), "moving" (The New York Times), and "proving brilliantly up to enormous demands" (The Dallas Morning News) with a "beautifully rounded tone" (The Ann Arbor News). Since his solo debut at age sixteen with the Houston Civic Symphony, his career has taken him around the world, garnering prizes at many prestigious national and international competitions.
Credited with over 150 premieres of new works by eminent and emerging composers worldwide, his work is highlighted in the recent Deutsche Grammophone DVD release of the world premiere of John Adams’ City Noir, filmed as part of Gustavo Dudamel’s inaugural concert as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
McAllister’s solo, orchestral, and chamber music recordings appear on the Naxos, Albany, Summit, Equilibrium, Centaur, OMM, G.I.A. Publications, New Focus, AUR, New Dynamic and Innova labels. Mark Stryker of the Detroit Free Press has recognized his albums as among the top classical saxophone recordings, while Audiophile Audition called his recital disc Glint “a jaw-dropping technical display.” His recording of Pulitzer-Prize winning composer William Bolcom’s Concert Suite for Alto Saxophone and Band received multiple Grammy Award nominations in three major categories.
As a jazz and commercial musician, he has performed with notable big bands, and in many regional music theater and studio orchestra touring productions, having appeared with numerous entertainers including Broadway icon Patti LuPone. He has also performed behind such jazz greats as saxophonists Jimmy Heath, Rick Margitza, Dave Liebman and trumpeter Ed Sarath. Since joining PRISM, he has premiered several jazz compositions by composer/performers Greg Osby, Tim Ries, Matt Levy, Tim Berne, and has collaborated with guitarist/composer Ben Monder and drummer Anthony Pinciotti.
Since 2001 he has appeared frequently on major chamber music series and international festivals with PRISM, including repeat performances in venues such as New York City’s Merkin Hall, Whitney Museum of Art, Miller Theatre, (Le) Poisson Rouge, Symphony Space, Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, and Roulette. PRISM Quartet regularly conducts ground-breaking residencies each year at the nation's elite music institutions, including the Curtis Institute, Rice University's Shepherd School of Music, and Oberlin Conservatory among others.
A dedicated teacher of his instrument, he serves as professor of saxophone and co-director of the Institute for New Music at Northwestern University's Bienen School of Music, and has received invitations for visiting positions and residencies at the University of Michigan School of Music, the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique of Paris, and Tokyo's Kunitachi College of Music and Shobi University, among others. Additionally, he spends his summers as distinguished Valade Fellow at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan.
He holds the Doctor of Musical Arts and other degrees in music education, conducting and performance from the University of Michigan School of Music, where he studied saxophone with Donald Sinta. He is the only saxophonist to ever receive the UM School of Music’s most distinguished performance award — the Albert A. Stanley Medal – and he has been honored alongside noted alums David Daniels (countertenor), American tenor Nicholas Phan, Howard Watkins (MET Opera pianist/vocal coach) and composer Derek Bermel with the Paul C. Boylan Award from the School of Music Alumni Society for his significant contributions in the field of music.
For more information on Timothy McAllister, visit www.timothymcallister.com.