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John Adams Conducts Saxophone Concerto World Premiere in Australia

John Adams: Adams Conducts Adams, Australia 2013

John Adams makes his first-ever Australian concert appearances with programs titled Adams Conducts Adams in Sydney and Melbourne. Marking his Sydney Opera House debut as conductor, Adams leads the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and saxophonist Timothy McAllister in the world premiere of his Saxophone Concerto on Thursday, August 22, with an encore performance on Friday. Also on the program is Adams’s Violin Concerto performed by Leila Josefowicz, as well as Beethoven’s Fidelio Overture and Respighi’s Pines of Rome.

"Think American classical music and you think John Adams," writes the Sydney Morning Herald's Michael Shmith in a feature profile on the composer. "Of all US composers, he is perhaps the one who best exemplifies at once the pulsing urgency of a nation and its underlying subtle harmonic shifts of mood and character." Read the article at smh.com.au.

In an article in today's Australian, Adams tells arts correspondent Matthew Westwood: "Doing a world premiere is always living on the edge. There are always surprises." Read the interview at theaustralian.com.au.

Adams wrote his new Saxophone Concerto for McAllister, whom he describes as “a fearless musician and risk taker,” after the musician’s performance of what the composer calls a “fiendishly difficult” alto sax solo part in his 2009 piece City Noir. In addition to being struck by the saxophonist’s “musical personality,” Adams explains his connection to the instrument itself: “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,” as evidenced in the sax quartets of his 1987 opera, Nixon in China, and 1988 composition Fearful Symmetries.

According to Adams, “while the concerto is not meant to sound jazzy per se, its jazz influences lie only slightly below the surface.” This is apt for McAllister, who while rigorously trained in a mid-20th century style of playing is also aware of the looser, jazz tradition. Says the composer, “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.” You can read the full composer’s note for the piece via his publisher, Boosey & Hawkes, at boosey.com.

Adams heads next to Melbourne to conduct the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in an all-Adams program at Hamer Hall on August 29 and 31. The concerts features the Australian premiere of City Noir, a jazz-inflected symphonic piece that paints a sensual and cinematic picture of post-war Los Angeles, as well as additional performances of the Violin Concerto with Josefowicz and Adams’s 1986 piece Short Ride in a Fast Machine.

Timothy McAllister will give the US premiere of the Saxophone Concerto with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, led by Marin Alsop, at Meyerhoff Symphony Hallin Baltimore on September 20, and will later join the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and conductor David Robertson to perform the piece at Powell Hall in St. Louis on October 5 and 6. Nonesuch will record the latter performances, which will be combined with earlier recordings with the St. Louis of City Noir. Listeners around the world can also tune in to a live broadcast of the October 5 concert at stlpublicradio.org.

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