From the recording Andante espressivo
Concerto #1 in F minor for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra
The saxophone has a repertoire unique among the pantheon of musical instruments. From its beginnings in the late 19th century as an auxiliary band and wind ensemble member to its occasional use in orchestral scores providing a rich earthy quality, an instrumental color not provided by the other woodwinds, the saxophone eventually found its home on the American streets of jazz, evolving into the instrument of choice for contemporary popular music. As such, it can span, when it chooses, the distances between stylistic barriers, breaching the firewalls segregating serious composition from its more secular counterparts in the pop music realms. In its inclusiveness, the saxophone challenges the artificial separations composers have traditionally imposed upon the diverse artistic musical elements that are nonetheless unified by the inextricable relationship of popular and classical music. One emerges from the other as apples emerge from trees. In a period when even the most rigid aesthetic and ideological borders are increasingly permeable, maintaining a state of artistic apartheid is a disservice to the explorative possibilities contemporary music can offer. It is in this context that the saxophone, as protagonist, sets out to reveal the affinities and confluences that comprise and inform the nature of its expressive capabilities.
Composed in 2003, the Concerto for Alto Saxophone was written for saxophonist Geoff Nudell who gave its inaugural performance with the San Fernando Valley Symphony with the composer conducting. Originally scored for saxophone solo with strings, the orchestration was expanded the following year to include flute, oboe, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, and bass trombone, harp and timpani parts. It is this more colorful version that was performed by the same soloist and ensemble in the following year. The concerto embodies elements of contemporary popular music such as jazz and rock, tempered by romantic themes guided by classical formal structure. These opposites of musical style are not exploited for novelty sake, nor juxtaposed for commercial potential, but are cunningly wrought into an integrated whole, using the expressive contrasting powers of the instrument as the main motivation. The overall feeling of the piece is one of mystery and intrigue, involving a wide spectrum of musical expression.
The concerto is cast in the traditional 3-movement format. The first movement, Allegro con brio, is a fully extended sonata form .The exposition begins with an orchestral tutti, introducing the aggressive principal theme, suggestive of an angry blues melody, which is then answered in the tonic key by the saxophone, followed by the subordinate, contrastingly lyrical theme in the relative major key, a gentle discourse reminiscent of a scene on the beach, with umbrella drinks. The development section is a fugue built on the main motive that after an exhaustive sequential tour of contrapuntal harmonic episodes wends its way back to the recapitulation, where the main theme is expanded in an elaboration of new melodic adventures. The movement climaxes with a solo cadenza by the soloist followed by the coda, where a new contrapuntal episode brings the piece to an exciting conclusion.
The second movement, Andante espressivo, is an amalgamation of two romantic ballads entwined in a love story with dark overtones of foreboding. The orchestral introduction is reminiscent of a 1940s movie scene, played in the strings with harp accompaniment, leads directly into the sentimental first theme, a rounded bi-partite song form played by the saxophone solo. After a dark transition that conjures up an image of rainy city streets by night, a romantic ballad in the big band style marked Andante poco appassionato is heard. This haunting melody wends its way through various metamorphoses, eventually returning to a restatement of the main theme. The movement ends enigmatically on a minor seventh chord giving the mysterious and dangerous feeling of cold-war espionage.
The third and final movement, Allegro energico, is an up-beat, almost agitated excursion into the realms of rock-meets-classical music. The principal theme builds out of an extended orchestral ostinato with the saxophone solo floating over the top. The harmonic texture expands to the point where it can seemingly grow no farther, then transitions to the subordinate theme, giving the impression of a motorized blues passage. The codetta concludes the exposition section on the three main chords of the principal theme. These chords form a progression that is subsequently treated in the development section as an harmonic ostinato underpinning a quasi-improvvisando passage in the solo part. As the strings gradually fade away, a transition full of bittersweet melancholy built on a sustained dominant seventh pedal, brings the movement full circle by the restatement of the main theme in the saxophone solo part. An extended coda brings the concerto to its dynamic conclusion.
This archival recording features Geoff nudell, alto saxophonist with James Domine conduting the San fernando valley Symphony Orchestra.