Concerto Grosso for Saxophone Quartet and Band
By William Bolcom
- Song Without Words
Concerto Grosso, written for the PRISM Quartet (which has included at different times a few of my former students in composition), was written purely as a piece to be enjoyed by performers and listeners. PRISM had mentioned wanting a concerto grosso for themselves. (To remind readers, a concerto grosso is a Baroque-era form involving a small group of instrumentalists, called the concertina, in dialog with the ripieno or large orchestra.)
Although each PRISM member is an excellent soloist, I took their request to mean that I should emphasize their group identity, their “fourness.” This immediately called up two precedents in my mind: the Schumann concerto for horn quartet which is very homophonic, and the many 20th century groups of all sorts which often dressed alike to emphasize their uniqueness, from the Four Lads and the Beatles to the Motown groups and countless others.
The first movement, Lively, in simple sonata form, evokes blues harmonies in both its themes. Song without Words, which follows, is a lyrical larghetto. The following Valse, which has a very French cast, begins with a long solo stretch for the saxophone quartet; the development of this theme alternates with a pianissimo Scherzetto section. The final Badinerie, a title borrowed from Bach, evokes bebop and rhythm-and-blues.
The orchestral version of this work was commissioned by New Sounds Music, Inc. for the PRISM Quartet, with support from a variety of funding agencies, and premiered in 2000. I did the band transcription in 2009, stemming from a request by Professor Michael Haithcock to enable the work to be performed on the Symphony Band’s upcoming tour of China. As a result, the version for band was commissioned by a consortium of bands organized by the University of Michigan, in partnership with Baylor University, Eric Wilson, conductor; Indiana University, Stephen Pratt, conductor; the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Kevin Geraldi and John Locke, conductors; and the University of Texas at Austin, Jerry Junkin, conductor.
- Notes by composer William Bolcom
Stream and Download
Concerto Grosso for Saxophone Quartet and Band is available for streaming and download on all major platforms.
Patricia Cornett, conductor
Intriguing programs of great beauty and breadth have distinguished the PRISM Quartet as one of America’s foremost chamber ensembles. “A bold ensemble that set the standard for contemporary-classical saxophone quartets” (The New York Times), PRISM has been presented by Carnegie Hall, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and throughout Latin America, China and Russia under the auspices of USIA and USArtists International. PRISM has also appeared as soloists with the Detroit Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra, and conducted residencies at the nation’s leading conservatories, including the Curtis Institute and the Oberlin Conservatory. Two-time recipients of the Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, PRISM has commissioned nearly 300 works by eminent composers, including Pulitzer Prize-winners Julia Wolfe, William Bolcom, Jennifer Higdon, Zhou Long and Bernard Rands; MacArthur “Genius” Award recipients Tyshawn Sorey, Bright Sheng and Miguel Zenón; and US Artists Fellow Susie Ibarra. PRISM’s discography is extensive, with releases on Albany, BMOP/Sound, ECM, innova, Koch, Naxos, New Dynamic, New Focus, Orange Mountain Music and its own label, XAS Records. The Fifth Century, PRISM’s ECM recording with The Crossing, was awarded a 2018 Grammy for Best Choral Performance. In 2016, PRISM was named by its alma mater, the University of Michigan, as the first recipient of the Christopher Kendall Award in recognition of its work in “collaboration, entrepreneurship, and community engagement.” The PRISM Quartet performs exclusively on Selmer saxophones.
Temple University Wind Symphony
Recorded live at Temple Performing Arts Center, April 2019.
Audio Engineers: George Blood and Jon Smeltz
Session Producer: George Blood
Mixing: Jon Smeltz