Ton Verhiel, musician
saxophonist, composer, historian, teacher

Sax - Stories 5:

Richard Rodney Bennett - Concerto for tenor saxophone, strings and timpany

Most pieces for saxophone and orchestra are composed for the alto saxophone. Nevertheless a few very fine compositions for tenor saxophone and orchestra are known, such as the Ballade by Frank Martin, The upward Stream by Russell Peck, Fingers by Dutch composer Geert van Keulen, the Concerto by Robert Ward,  the Concertino by Paul Harvey and some more including one of the first, but seldom performed Concerto by German composer Hans Helfritz.

The Concerto by Richard Rodney Bennett absolutely belongs in this group of fine tenor concertos.

The cooperation with saxophonist John Harle lead to several saxophone works by Bennett, a well-known composer of film-music, classical music and jazz pieces. Bennett is a composer who is not afraid of other musical styles as the classical. During the years Bennett composed a Concerto for alto saxophone and strings and a sonata for soprano saxophone and piano. Both were recorded by John Harle. Bennett also composed a saxophone quartet, which has been recorded several times, some smaller pieces for saxophone and piano and he transcribed his charming Conversations for two flutes into a version for two saxophones.

The Concerto for tenor saxophone was written on request of jazz tenorist Stan Getz, who had once mentioned that he did not have a real classical concerto with orchestra to play. Although this is not really true, then Alec Wilder did compose his Concerto for tenor saxophone and strings for Getz, conductor John Williams suggested Stan Getz to commission a work from Richard Rodney Bennett. Bennett was very excited and started to write, finishing the piece in November 1990.

Because Stan Getz died before the piece was ready, the premiere performance came in hands of a saxophonist well-known to Bennett: John Harle. Harle performed the work, accordingly to one source on a black Selmer S-80 tenor saxophone, and the composer conducted. This happened on the 1. of August 1992. The performance by Harle is available on youtube and (in my opinion) stays a example for all other performers!

The piece was quite succes-full. Some of the performances were:

 = Reto Hofstetter with Orchesterverein Höngg, Switzerland in November 2000 (first movement only)

= Barbara E. Larson with the University of Washington Symphony Orchestra in 2002

= Andy Scott in 2006 under supervision of the composer

= Jennifer Watson, soloist: February 2008

= Neal Maya with the Torbay Symphony Orchestra in March 2008

= Jan Schulte Bunert with the Staatstheater Saarländisches Staatsorchester, Germany in May 2008

= Susan Miller with the Sheffield University Symphony Orchestra

= Jonathan Redford with the Liverpool Mozart orchestra in June 2009

The work was also performed in Greece and is on the repertory of saxophonists as J. Michael Leonard and Gianfranco Gioia.

There were also performances in 2011 by Australian performer Andrew Ball, who played the work with the Divertimento String Orchestra an in March 2015 the piece again was performed in Great Britain by Iain Ballamy and the BBC Concert orchestra.

Then there are saxophonists John Thomas, Eddie Daniels (New York 2013), the Australian Erin Royer and Iain Ballamy (2015) who have performed this significant Concerto. A nice presentation of the second movement can be heard on the website of saxophonist Mike Anklewicz


Until now two recordings of the Concerto are in existence. The first can be found on John Harle's CD Sax-Drive. Harle is performing with the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Barry Wordsworth. The same recording is used for a CD in the series "The British Music Collection".

The second recording came recently out and is played by Andy Scott on his CD "My Mountain Top" - Music for tenor saxophone. Scott is playing the Concerto with piano accompaniment.

will be continued