Sydney Conservatorium Centenary Commission
Terra Obscura: Concerto for Saxophone
Composer & Soloist: Katia Beaugeais
with Sydney Conservatorium Modern Music Ensemble & conductor, Daryl Pratt.
Music Workshop, Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
Photo credit Bridget Elliot – Concerto photos.
Terra Obscura: Concerto for Saxophone (2014) was premiered by the Sydney Conservatorium Modern Music Ensemble with Beaugeais as soloist, at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Terra Obscura was composed for the Conservatorium Centenary Commissioning Project, as part of the prize for winning the 2010 ISCM-IAMIC Young Composer Award.
In the lead up to the Conservatorium’s 2015 Centenary celebration, this saxophone concerto is inspired by the excavation and rebuilding of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, which was completed in 2001. The collection of artefacts and the variety of textural stone features discovered during the excavation process is represented by textural manipulation and obscured pitch elements. The unconventional position of the players enhances the sense of mystery and intrigue in the first movement. The saxophonist first appears from an upper balcony and the other members of the orchestra are heard softly in the distance, and are completely out of sight. The players begin to emerge from all corners of the hall, and with the soloist gradually walk through the audience, making their way to their place on stage.
The aim of Terra Obscura is to present avant-garde playing techniques, not only in a modernistic style, but also in an atmospheric, expressive, lyrical manner, which is uncommon in contemporary saxophone repertoire. This is clearly heard in the second movement with the alto saxophone’s soft, pure, vibrato and multiphonic harmonic effects. To imitate the continuous, sustained chords of the vibraphone, the saxophonist circular breathes to avoid taking a ‘normal’ breath and breaking the sound.
In the third movement, the saxophonist mimics a percussion instrument by playing fast slap-tongue effects on the alto saxophone – a soft drum-like sound created by the tongue suction on the reed. The gradual rebuilding of the Sydney Conservatorium is depicted by the buildup of players improvising over the main motivic material (which is based on a pitch set), creating a textural sound mass. In my music I use improvisation as a way of sharing the ‘composer-creator’ role with the players.
The final movement opens with a brass fanfare in a joyous & celebratory style. A fast, energetic, rhythmic feel is soon established with the soloist playing virtuosic, rippling, semiquaver passages on soprano saxophone. The saxophonist ends the work with loud, high-pitched trill glissando pitch-bend effects alongside the ensemble’s complex, interlocking, pulsating rhythms and glissando rip effects, to create a unifying and commemorative climactic finish.
© 2014 by Katia Beaugeais