John Adams Saxophone Concerto programmed for BBC Proms

John Adams Saxophone Concerto programmed for BBC Proms

This article was posted on 25 Apr 2014.

Fantastic piece of exposure for the classical saxophone played by one of its true masters

The 2014 BBC Proms schedule has been announced, and amid the excitement surrounding a new work from the Pet Shop Boys, a host of performances marking the World War One Centenary, and a BBC Sport Prom hosted by Gabby Logan you would be forgiven for having missed what is a major fillip for the classical saxophone. American saxophone virtuoso Timothy McAllister will perform the UK premiere of John Adams’ Saxophone Concerto on Thursday 4 September in a programme that includes Adams’ iconic Short Ride in a Fast Machine and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, conducted by Marin Alsop with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

John Adams is perhaps the world’s best-known living composer, so when he composed a saxophone concerto in 2013 it was only a matter of time before it received a major performance in the UK. Adams has admitted to being unimpressed by the mannerisms associated with the ‘French school’ of saxophone playing, and he writes that this work pays subtle homage to the American jazz tradition, ‘from the swing era through the likes of Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and Wayne Shorter’.

Did you know:

Short Ride in a Fast Machine – the work programmed alongside the Saxophone Concerto in the first half of this concert – has twice before been scheduled at the Proms and twice had to be removed from the schedule because of unfortunate connotations with its title, first after the fatal car crash involving Princess Diana in 1997, and second After 9/11.

Adams is no stranger to composing for saxophone. As he writes, ‘My 1987 opera Nixon in China is almost immediately recognizable by its sax quartet, which gives the orchestration its special timbre. I followed Nixon with another work, Fearful Symmetries, that also features a sax quartet in an even more salient role.’ In 2010 Adams composed City Noir, and it was in his search for a classically trained saxophonist who could do justice to that work’s allusions to ‘the wild and skittish styles of the great bebop and post-bop artists such as Charlie Parker, Lennie Tristano and Eric Dolphy’ that he found McAllister. 

McAlister himself has spoken about the challenges in approaching both City Noir and the Saxophone Concerto

‘[Adams] mentioned to me that he wanted us to forge a "new American sound" that draws upon my strengths as a classical musician merged with a modern, crossover sentiment that alludes to Phil Woods, Paul Desmond, or even Stan Getz, whose album Focus he is quoted as saying was a big influence on this new Concerto. He had even suggested we co-author a performer’s note in the final publication of the solo part which outlines the stylistic concepts John and I have arrived at: something that, perhaps, merges "cool jazz" sensibilities with more of the American School classical (and even music theater/Broadway) concept of sound as exhibited by mid-twentieth-century players/teachers heard in New York City, Detroit, and Chicago.’

McAllister goes on to say that the work does not feature ‘the stereotypical pyrotechnics’ so closely associated with contemporary saxophone repertoire. This will no doubt come as a relief to Proms audiences, who reacted negatively to John Harle’s performance of Harrison Birtwhistle’s Panic concerto in 1996.

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The Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No. 3010228, whose registered office is at 48 Henniker Point, Leytonstone Road, London, E15 1LQ. Email: finance (@) Tel: 01642 769 558

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