for saxophone orchestra (11 players, or multiples thereof)

Program Notes

The titles of the two movements are taken from songs by singer/songwriters who came out of the urban folk music revival of the 50s and 60s (sometimes facetiously called the “folk music scare”), Kate Wolf and Si Kahn, respectively. My first musical love, besides classical music, was this music, both the genuine folk music that was rediscovered and presented to a new audience during this period, and the music of the songwriters who grew out of it.

“The days, like flowers, bloom and fade” is a line from Kate Wolf’s song “We’ve Only Got These Times We’re Living In,” and “But the new wood springs from the roots underground” is from Si Kahn’s “Gone, Gonna Rise Again.” Both use references to the natural world as similes or metaphors for the human condition. Kate Wolf uses a simile common to all cultures to comment on the fleeting, ephemeral nature of human life, while Si Kahn emphasizes the continuity of life from one generation to another.

Wolf’s simile reminds us of another famous comparison, from 1 Peter 1:24 (itself a paraphrase of Isaiah 40:6): “Behold, all flesh is as the grass.” The most familiar musical setting this text is almost certainly that in the second part of the Brahms Requiem, “Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras.” Accordingly I have taken ideas from that great movement and, perhaps brashly, added my own musical commentary to make the first movement of this piece. It begins quietly with Brahms’s bass line, gradually adding other ideas, both from Brahms and from my own imagination, and building to a climax. Following this the tension is gradually released and the movement ends with the same bass line, played backwards, as the higher instruments gradually drop out, leaving only the bass saxophone.

The second movement is wholly my own invention, beginning with a slow, dramatic introduction, which gives way to an energetic fast section with several contrasting ideas. It ends with a definite bang, echoing, I trust, the hopefulness found in the line which inspired it.

Grass/Roots was written at the request of my friend and colleague, John Moore, for the University of Louisville Saxophone Orchestra. A tenor saxophone virtuoso, John is a true friend to American composers, and a great champion of new music for the saxophone. I am pleased to have created another new piece for him, to add to the several of mine he has already commissioned and performed over the course of some 20-odd years.

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