Just before I began composing Solace, I had a great set of conversations with the leader of its consortium-commission, Connie Frigo. During our discussions, we talked about how well the saxophone can imitate vocal music and both expressed interest in a new concerto with a significant lyrical element. Early on, she suggested I read David Whyte’s Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning in Words. Whyte’s work meditates on words themselves, illustrating their deeper meaning, often revealing connections between difficult situations and their unexpectedly positive outcomes. Similarly, each movement meditates on a mood and is inspired by either a selection of text or title word from five consolations, picked by either Connie or me. Throughout the concerto, I challenge the soloist to play lyrically in extreme registers (called the “altissimo” register, which is above the typical, written range of the instrument) and while playing virtuosic passages in five unique sound worlds. 

Whyte describes joy as the “the sheer intoxicating beauty of the world inhabited as an edge between what we previously thought was us and what we thought was other than us,”[1] which is where “Joy” takes its inspiration. This movement highlights the soloist’s ability to play difficult syncopations, made even more challenging by their dissonance with the accented beats in mixed, irregular meters.

In “Besieged,” the music expresses a darker sentiment. Whyte’s poem states that “Conscious or unconscious, we are surrounded not only by the vicissitudes of a difficult world but even more by those of our own making.” The saxophone is often pitted against or is competing back-and-forth with the wind ensemble, striving and fighting to overcome. The piece ends just after the climax and segues into the third movement, echoing Whyte’s sentiment that we must sometimes go through difficult challenges to be aware and grateful of what we have.

The third movement is the heart of the concerto. Whyte states that “Gratitude is not necessarily something that is shown after the event, it is the deep, a priori state of attention that shows we understand and are equal to the gifted nature of life.” In “Gratitude,” my goal was to create the most beautiful and lyrical music I could to showcase the gorgeous vocal-like sounds of which the saxophone is capable.

I would have been remiss to neglect any noir or jazz-influenced sounds, as the saxophone is oft-associated with the sounds of jazz and blues. “Hiding” is a scherzo that explores the jazz/funk idiom. Whyte states that Hiding is “creative, necessary and beautifully subversive of outside interference and control…Hiding is the radical independence necessary for our emergence into the light of a proper human future.” This movement is all about groove and its manipulation and the saxophonist, at times, gains a bit of “independence.”

Finally, “Work” is a perpetual-motion technical showpiece. The movement is written in rondo form, which means the “A” part from the beginning returns several times. With every new section, the soloist is presented with a slightly different technical challenge. The inspirational text summates my feeling of writing this concerto and what I imagine the soloist feels as they accomplish this “Work”: “Work among all its abstracts, is actually intimacy, the place where the self meets the world…We make what we make, we give a gift, not only through what we make or do, but in the way we feel as we do, and even, in the way others witness us in our feeling and doing, giving to them as they give to us…”

[1] Whyte, David. 2014. Consolations. Ebook. 1st ed. Langley, WA: Many Rivers Press. Used by permission of Many Rivers Press.