John Adams's City Noir (2009), inspired by LA "noir" films of the 1940s and '50s, and the debut recording of his 2012 Saxophone Concerto are performed here by the St. Louis Symphony led by David Robertson, featuring saxophonist Timothy McAllister. "Dense, brash and exuberant," says the New York Times, "these two stellar works by John Adams are love letters to the confidence of the 1950s and a time when some of the greatest feats of virtuosity were often performed in smoky jazz clubs ... McAllister sizzles." Grammy Award Winner: Best Orchestral Performance.
Grammy Award Winner: Best Orchestral Performance
Nonesuch Records releases City Noir—comprising the title piece by composer John Adams and the debut recording of his Saxophone Concerto—on May 6, 2014 (international release to follow May 19). Both pieces are performed by the St. Louis Symphony led by Music Director David Robertson. Saxophonist Timothy McAllister is featured on both pieces.
City Noir “is a symphony inspired by the peculiar ambience and mood of Los Angeles ‘noir’ films, especially those produced in the late ’40s and early ’50,” says Adams in his notes on the piece. “My music is an homage not necessarily to the film music of that period but rather to the overall aesthetic of the era.” Following The Dharma at Big Sur and El Dorado, City Noir “becomes the third in a triptych of orchestral works that have as their theme the California experience, its landscape and its culture,” explains the composer. In its review of the piece, the New York Times said that Adams “has become a master at piling up materials in thick yet lucid layers. Moment to moment the music is riveting.”
Adams’ Saxophone Concerto was composed for McAllister, whom the composer described as “a fearless musician and risk taker” after the musician’s performance of what Adams calls a “fiendishly difficult” alto sax solo part in City Noir. The composer explains, also in his notes, that he grew 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.”
Adams continues, “While the concerto is not meant to sound jazzy per se, its jazz influences lie only slightly below the surface.” The Australian noted of its world premiere performance that “in the relentless, bebop-like figurations—stunningly executed—it recalled the frenetic solos of Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane.” This is the first recording of the work.
California–born conductor David Robertson has worked with major orchestras around the world. In 2014–2015 Robertson celebrates his 10th season as Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony. Founded in 1880, the St. Louis Symphony is the second-oldest orchestra in the United States. Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony’s last release with Nonesuch was Adams’ composition, Doctor Atomic Symphony, which was named Classical Album of the Decade by the Times of London.
The New York Times has called Timothy McAllister “one of the foremost saxophonists of his generation.” He is a member of the PRISM Quartet and also tours and records as a soloist and orchestral musician. Besides these two pieces by John Adams, McAllister has premiered more than 150 other new works by composers including William Bolcom, Donnacha Dennehy, John Harbison, Jennifer Higdon, Zhou Long, Steven Mackey, and Gunther Schuller, among many others. McAllister serves as associate professor of saxophone and co-director of the Institute for New Music at Northwestern University, and he joins the faculty of the University of Michigan in September 2014.
Produced by Friedemann Engelbrecht
City Noir recorded February 15–16, 2013
Saxophone Concerto recorded October 5–6, 2013
Recorded at Powell Hall, St. Louis, MO
Assistant Engineers: Paul Hennerich, Boris Golynskiy
Recording Engineer: Richard King
Assistant Engineers: Paul Hennerich and Boris Golynskiy
Postproduction Facilities: Teldex Studio, Berlin
Editing: Alexander Feucht
Mixed and Mastered by Wolfgang Schiefermair
Design by John Heiden for SMOG Design
Front Cover Photograph: Man under a Streetlight (1945) by Weegee, courtesy of ICP/Getty Images
Back Cover Photograph: Lovers at the Movies (1942) by Weegee, courtesy of ICP/Getty Images
Executive Producer: Robert Hurwitz
City Noir was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in association with Cité de la Musique and ZaterdagMatinee.
Timothy McAllister, alto saxophone
St. Louis Symphony
David Robertson, conductor