Grant Park Music Festival Concerto for Saxophones Review – The Excitement of GPMF Getting Latin Jazzy


When tall James Carter, the saxophone soloist performing Roberto Sierra’s “Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra”, reached down and swept the composer off his feet his gesture spoke for all of us. 


It was the third bow in an enthusiastic standing ovation from the crowd at the Pritzker Pavillion in Millennium Park –happy in both lawn and seats—for the 22 minutes of jazz classical meld just heard.



In fact, the crowd gave up the usual classical music formal protocol of not clapping between movements during this concerto because enthusiasms were running so high and perhaps because it did seem jazz-appropriate.



Carter alternated between alto and soprano saxophones in four movements:  Ritmico (“rhythmic” translated from Spanish); Tender; Playful; and a finale of Fast, with Swing.


Here is what Carter has to say about how he got hooked on Sax—



James Carter hails from Detroit and this concerto was commissioned by the Detroit Symphony for James Carter from Roberto Sierra to showcase Carter’s ability to marry classical and jazz elements.  In the program Carter is quoted as saying, “You have to be totally comfortable wherever.  I think there’s tremendous beauty in cross-pollinations of music and influences.”


For those of us who are curious about Carter’s more pure jazz sound, there are many clips on youtube such as this one—



In the program the composer, Sierra, is also quoted, “When one thinks of a Saxophone Concerto the sounds and rhythms of jazz are immediately conjured.  This was the case for me when I sat down to sketch the Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra. ..The element of improvisation was very important for me when I was writing the piece, and improvisatory passages appear in different guises: some consist of lines inspired by jazz improvisations that are fully notated; some are limited improvisations in which the soloist is given a pattern to repeat independent of the rest of the ensemble or a melodic line to be improvised upon; and some are freely improvised, in which the soloist fully improvises the line using materials from the work itself.”



Sierra’s "Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra"shared the evening with three other Latin, somewhat jazzy, classical works including:  a jazz classical tango by Piazzolla called “Milongón Festivo”; Argentinian composer Ginastera’s “Pampeana No. 3, Pastoral Symphony”; and after the Saxophone concerto Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 7”.



Alas, the beloved Grant Park Music Festival’s 2013 Season is nearing its close.  These concerts are free to the public and all remaining concerts are in Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion, including:


  • Schubert Mass in E-flat (Friday, August 9, 2013 at 6:30 and Saturday, August 10, 2013 at 7:30)


  • Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto (Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 6:30)


  • The Rite of Spring (Friday, August 16, 2013 at 6:30 and Saturday, August 17 at 7:30)


For more information visit





Photo Pritzker Pavilion-- Patrick Pyszka

All other photos:  Norman Timonera

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