Dahl - Concerto for Saxophone and Wind Orchestra

October 19, 2019

Caleb Carpenter ’19 MMus, a winner in the Bienen School’s 2018-2019 Concerto/Aria Competition, performs Ingolf Dahl’s Concerto for Saxophone and Wind Orchestra with the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, conducted by Mallory Thompson. 

Rondo alla Marcia: Allegro Brioso

Ingolf Dahl conceived of his Concerto for Saxophone and Wind Orchestra in 1948 after receiving a letter from saxophone virtuoso Sigurd Rascher expressing interest in a large-scale work for saxophone.  Rascher proposed the idea that the accompaniment should be scored so it could be performed with either band or orchestra, but Dahl quickly abandoned the idea of the orchestra, scoring it solely for band. Excited by the challenge of writing a new work for band, Dahl remarked, “Somebody has to write the big pieces, the symphonic works, if the medium is to be elevated.” The concerto, initially titled Fantasy, was conceived as a one-movement piece in three sections: recitative, arioso, and allegro. Later, Dahl transformed the work into a multi-movement piece. 

Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Wind Orchestra was finished and premiered in May of 1949 by Rascher and the University of Illinois Concert Band. Dahl soon realized that Rascher was the only saxophonist in the world able to play the concerto due to its utilization of the very high “altissimo” register. This led to the concerto’s first revision in 1953, in which the third movement was substantially rewritten to give the soloist an alternative to the altissimo passages. A third revision was made in 1959, which included the removal of several sections, shortening the piece to about three quarters of its original length. As for the differences between the original and published versions, saxophone historian Paul Cohen writes: “When listening to the revised version of the concerto in comparison to the original, it is clear that Dahl was operating from a different compositional perspective.” This evening, we will perform the 1959 version. 

Henry Cowell told Dahl that his concerto was “one of the most important and well-written band pieces he had ever seen.” One of Dahl’s closest contemporaries, Igor Stravinsky, was so moved by the piece that it brought him to tears. Within a decade of Dahl’s completion, the Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Wind Orchestra was performed by an extensive list of collegiate and professional ensembles, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Wind Orchestra remains one of Dahl’s most frequently performed works. 

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