Takashi Yoshimatsu: Saxophone Concerto ‘Cyber Bird’


Composed in 1994 for virtuoso saxophonist, Nobuya Sugawa, Takashi Yoshimatu’s Saxophone Concerto remains one of his most devilishly difficult works. Described as a ‘triple concerto’, Yoshimatsu’s concerto is subtitled Cyber Bird, which refers to, in the composer’s words, “an imaginary bird in the realm of electronic cyberspace.” When discussing inspiration for the work, Yoshimatsu also mentions his sister, who sadly died of cancer. Apparently some of her last words before she passed were “I would like to be a bird in my next life.” From here, Yoshimatsu began writing his unique saxophone concerto.


The Music

Set into three movements, each with new titles, the concerto follows a bird (the saxophone) in its journey through colours, grief and the wind. Yoshimatsu was heavily influenced by jazz, so much so that the set up for the concerto is unique. Using a piano, percussion and the soloist at the forefront, the composer also writes an orchestral accompaniment. This set up puts the spotlight on the jazz trio, with the orchestra being a musical accessory. 


Movement I – Bird in Colors

The fast-paced opening movement asks for flexibility and agility from the soloist. Described as “nervously brilliant”, the opening movement is a cascade of fast melodies intertwined with an amalgamation of unique textures and timbres. The percussion in particular is utilised in this opening movement as an array of percussive instruments fill the atmosphere with shrill, deep and scratchy timbres. The irregular rhythms keep the soloist on their toes, however these are counter-balanced by slow bluesy interludes. These interludes sees the close communication between the jazz trio. 

The central, more blues-focused, section offers some much-needed respite from the opening pandemonium. As the soloist takes the music back into the fire of irregular rhythms, loud dynamics and powerful textures, all musicians build up into a cacophony of sound which sees a rip-roaring saxophone lead into the release. The timbral colours of this movement play into the ‘Bird in Colors’ subtitle, with Yoshimatsu really honing in on this feature throughout. A short cadenza leads into the dramatic conclusion of the opening movement.


Movement II – Bird in Grief

The quiet and mysterious piano and lower strings opening sets a fragile scene for the saxophone to enter almost 1 minute into the movement. A suspected tribute to his sister, this lyrical movement is set as an elegy. The long melody lines puts pressure on the soloist as the percussion adds decoration. There is a feeling of nostalgia throughout this movement, with the growing dynamics adding to this idea. Yoshimatsu relies on the orchestra much more in this movement, as he uses the strings for their rich and warm textures to support the soloist. The use of other woodwind instruments to intertwine with the soloist also creates a more playful central section. 

There is a lot of growth and development for the themes in this movement, which shows the composer’s most traditional style. The piano becomes more integral towards the end of the movement as the dynamic grows and the melody bursts into colour as the orchestra unite. A very moving piece of music, Bird in Grief shows the listener a true spectrum of grief.


Movement III – Bird in the Wind

The shortest of the three movements, the ecstatic finale starts at a moderate speed before bursting into action. As with the opening movement, the saxophone part requires some keen dexterity from the soloist as the part flies up and down different scales. Yoshimatsu is seen utilising the orchestra a lot more too, with the trumpets creating a big band feel part-way through. The mix of irregular rhythms and then more lyrical sections creates dramatic changes that add a thrill to the music. 

After a short cool-down section, the saxophone rushes off once more with the aid of the percussion. As the bird begins to take flight once more, the orchestra becomes even more involved with take-off. Intricate unison sections lead into a bombastic saxophone interlude that fills the texture. This chaotic cacophony of sound carries on until the orchestra take over to lead into the loud and dramatic end to this one-of-a-kind concerto.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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