An acclaimed composer and a buzz-worthy saxophonist will put a neglected instrument in the spotlight.
Precious gems of classical music will mingle with freshly created works.
“Diaspora: Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra, a composition that traces the journey from Africa to America, will be presented with “A Casual Walk to Extinction,” a world premiere that orally explores the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic .
All of these things should happen in one night when the San Diego Symphony opens its Jacobs Masterworks season Saturday at the Rady Shell in Jacobs Park. The concert was originally scheduled to take place at the Jacobs Music Center, but a delay in ongoing renovations pushed back its planned reopening from this fall to 2024.
“Diaspora” is by composer Billy Childs, a Grammy Award-winning pianist who is also adept at writing jazz, classical and chamber music. A few years ago he received a request from Steven Banks to compose a saxophone concerto for him.
“I watched videos of Steven playing the sax,” Childs said from his home in Los Angeles. “He is at the highest level as a classical saxophonist. It’s unreal what he can do!
“I have written a lot for the sax in jazz, but not in European classical music. Its inventor, Adolphe Sax, intended it to be played in orchestras. he fell into oblivion in Europe. But he came to America and became the voice of jazz. I loved the sound of the sax in all genres. I knew exactly how the concerto was going to sound, so I agreed.
Childs explores the black experience from before the African slave trade to present-day America. He used three writers as “architectural indicators”: Nayyirah Waheed, Claude McKay and Maya Angelou.
“Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise inspired the last part,” Childs explained. “It honors black resilience and is dedicated to my mother.”
The San Diego Symphony was one of nine orchestras that co-commissioned “Diaspora.” Coincidentally, Rafael Payare, the symphony’s music director, had worked with saxophonist Banks last year in Montreal.
“We knew this performance was going to happen, so we could already look forward to working together again.” recalled Payare, who is also musical director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.
Two days before Saturday’s concert at the Shell, the orchestra will perform in Mexico during the annual Día de los Muertos celebration at the Tijuana Cultural Center.
The Shell program will include two pieces from the ballet “The Abreu Danza” by David Chesky, dedicated to Venezuelan educator José Antonio Abreu. Abreu founded El Sistema, the music education program in which fellow Venezuelan Payare participated.
Kick-off of the California Festival
Saturday’s concert is part of the inaugural edition of the California Festival: A Celebration of New Music, which Payare co-founded with Los Angeles Philharmonic music director Gustavo Dudamel and San Francisco Symphony music director Esa-Pekka Salonen. This is a statewide initiative designed to highlight emerging composers.
The festival, which opens Tuesday and runs through Nov. 19, will feature concerts at more than 80 California venues, from Fort Bragg in Northern California to several locations in San Diego. During the 16 days of the festival, 33 new compositions will have their world premiere, as well as 188 pieces composed over the past five years. The oldest composer whose new work will be featured at the festival is Betsy Jolas, 97, and the youngest composers are Kevin Day and Quinn Mason, both 27.
In addition to works from the San Diego Symphony’s Saturday program by Childs and Chesky, the concert will close with Strauss’s 1896 tone poem “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.”
“The idea of the festival was to bring music from the last five years, but also music that represented something new,” Payare explained. “Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring is 100 years old but still sounds like a revolutionary piece. »
Making Saturday evening even more special will be a world premiere by Spanish composer Juan Jose Colomer titled “A Casual Walk to Extinction.” Payare contacted Colomer to write a piece in time for the festival, but the Spanish composer had already written “Walk.”
“It’s fantastic,” Payare said. “JuanJo said the premiere didn’t happen and he wanted us to do it. So it worked very easily for everyone. Everything was aligned.
Free family fun day
The San Diego Symphony concludes its season opening weekend next Sunday with the free California Festival Family and Community Day at the Shell.
Rafael Payare, the symphony’s music director, credits Laura Reynolds – the symphony’s vice president of impact and innovation – for bringing together such a variety of artists. The repertoire will be a lively mix of beloved classic works and recent pieces written over the past five years.
The orchestra will kick off the afternoon festivities with a program featuring pieces by living composers Carlos Simon and Jessie Montgomery, as well as Mozart’s “Kindersymphonie” (“Toy Symphony”) and the much-loved “Peter and the Wolf” by Prokofiev. Students from the San Diego Suzuki School of Music will be featured.
The San Diego Youth Symphony, conducted by Sameer Patel, will close three new works with Brahams’ Hungarian Dances. The San Diego Master Chorale, directed by John Russell, will perform a variety of pieces, concluding with arrangements of “True Colors” and “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.”
Local chamber music ensemble Art of Elan will perform works by some of today’s greatest contemporary composers, including Juhi Bansal, Paul Wiancko, Carlos Simon and Nahre Sol. Sol’s play, “Crossroads,” is a world premiere.
Food, drinks (non-alcoholic), chairs and blankets can be brought into the venue for this concert. Food and drinks will also be available for purchase on site.
San Diego Symphony: season opener under the stars
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Or: Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, 222 Marina Park Way, downtown
Phone: (619) 235-0804
When: From noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, November 5
Or: Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, 200 Marina Park Way, downtown
Phone: (619) 235-0804
Both events are part of the California Festival: A Celebration of New Music, a statewide initiative November 3-19.
Wood is a freelance writer.