For a relatively recent addition to the woodwind family, the saxophone has held quite a fascination for Australian composers. According to the Australian Music Centre, 133 Australian composers have written works for “Saxophone as soloist”, the earliest being a Sonata written in 1942 by Margaret Sutherland, and the most recent being a work by Elena Kats-Chernin. Most recent, that is, before my new Saxophone Concerto. At time of writing, I’m just finishing off the parts – so it’s hot off the press, indeed.
A big appeal of the saxophone is in its flexibility. It has the full range from extraordinarily beautiful to extraordinarily brutal. It is used in classical music, jazz, contemporary music – and players use different styles depending on the context. Amy Dickson sounds very different to Kenny G, for example, even though they’re playing the same instrument.
Saxophonists love composers. They crave new music, whether it’s in the form of a concerto, a sonata, or even as part of a saxophone quartet, which mirrors the string quartet in terms of the quality and uniformity of sound it can create. In the case of this concerto, I’ve chosen to write for the soprano saxophone. It’s a tremendously expressive instrument, but when it lets loose, look out!
I’ve sent drafts along to Amy as they are in progress. She has been wonderful in letting me know both her own strengths, and what sounds best on the instrument. It turns out writing for an altissimo high D, pianissimo, using circular breathing, probably won’t sound the best. Thanks for telling me, Amy!
Composers are always on the lookout for new ways to expand musical horizons. It’s in our DNA. So in this concerto, I have consciously experimented with new sounds, approaches and composition techniques. For example, in the first movement, I ‘sampled’ a whole lot of orchestral chords from other composers: Beethoven, Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Ravel, for example, and put them together, next to one another. In the second movement, I thought, “how low can a trombone choir and tuba really play together”.
The end result still sounds like “me” – it’s recognisable as my music and my primary aim is to communicate through music. It just might open up some new ways of thinking about what’s possible, and what musicians can create in sound.
It’s just as well I have Amy, Ben Northey and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra on the job. What a dream team. I am the luckiest composer in Australia right now.
Amy Dickson gives the world premiere of Matthew Hindson’s Saxophone Concerto with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra at Federation Concert Hall, August 25