Sierra: An Electrifying Work

Roberto Sierra’s Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra is an electrifying work.” As the Chicago Sinfonietta’s performances of Sierra’s concerto approach, soloist Julian Velasco shares his enthusiasm about his upcoming concerts. Originally commissioned by the Detroit Symphony for internationally renowned saxophonist James Carter, Sierra’s 23-minute score blends classical and jazz elements, and highlights the virtuoso possibilities of both the soprano and tenor saxophones. The Detroit Symphony premiered the concerto in 2002 led by its then-music director Neeme Järvi, and reprised it the following season. The Chicago Sinfonietta’s concerts will take place on September 17 and 19, conducted by music director Mei-Ann Chen.

Julian Velasco, photo: Nick Zoulek

Velasco continues. “I couldn’t be more thrilled to share Roberto Sierra’s Concerto for Saxophones with such an incredible orchestra! When I was asked to perform with the Chicago Sinfonietta, Sierra’s work was something I was very excited to pitch. This concerto asks a lot of the soloist as it requires them to pull upon classical and jazz musical traditions, often switching on a dime throughout the work. As a musician who was raised within these two realms, I find that Roberto blends the different aspects of the instruments’ sonic possibilities in a way that feels incredibly authentic, unique, and captivating. This piece is incredibly unique in that it was written for the great Detroit Jazz saxophone legend James Carter and Sierra gives a good amount of freedom to the performer to even improvise throughout the work!

“Sierra’s concerto will leave you sometimes wondering what is being improvised, and what is written down. That is a challenging feat to do as a composer, but Sierra captures it masterfully. He writes expertly for the instrument [and] the score offers lots of concise notated material of Roberto’s compositional voice, while also leaving lots of room for the soloist to improvise and add their own flair. Not only that, but this concerto asks for the soloist to play not just one saxophone, but rather switch between the tenor and soprano saxophones. This work will showcase a huge variety of musical worlds that the soloist can inhabit. It’s one of the reasons I knew this concerto would be perfect for this concert. I’ll be switching back and forth between my jazz and classical backgrounds throughout the work and keep the audience guessing. After a bustling first movement, the second movement switches pace to a gorgeous melody on the soprano saxophone. As we move towards the end of this concerto, there will be a completely improvised cadenza that launches us into a bustling and swinging blues finale with the tenor saxophone roaring over the orchestra. I am honored to perform this work for my Symphony Center debut — it should make for a wonderful evening.”

More Sierra news: Also happening on September 17 – conductor JoAnn Falletta leads the Buffalo Philharmonic in a performance of the composer’s celebrated orchestral work Fandangos.