Music Composers Unite!
Does anyone have an idea of how likely it is to get a non-jazzy rendition of a saxophone part in orchestral music these days? I occasionally use them in my music because of their unique sound, extensive range, and considerable power. They are a unique hybrid instrument, half woodwind, half brass. The soprano sounds like a cross between a clarinet and oboe. The Alto can sound wonderfully expressive, when not played in the usual contemporary manner.
But is it risky to put them in your music? Are today's players even capable of playing them in the style in which they were originally conceived? I mean, for example, like in Debussy's Raphsody For Saxophone and Orchestra. You can also hear one in Ravel's Bolero. Russian composers seemed fond of them; for example Prokofiev's Lt. Kije Suite. Then there is the wonderful suite by Khachaturian, either Gayenna or Spartacus; I forget which, but they are both great.
I would especially love to hear from any actual players of these instruments.
You quote some good examples that demonstrate the versatility of the saxophone family and how well they can fit into the orchestral mould. I think the tenor sax is a great jazz instrument and the sax family is at the heart of a good dance or swing band set up.
Personally I think it should still be treated and utilised as a rarity rather than mainstream in the orchestra - don't ask me to explain why because it may be I'm a dinosaur at heart. However, if seeking a special effect (Arabian dance scenes come to mind - unsure why) it can make a good new(ish) colour - particularly when played with a smooth and expressive tone. It's a bit like Marmite in the UK - you either love it or hate it I guess. I think French horns are superb for binding brass, woodwind and strings together in the orchestra, and they have a fantastic wide range. Saxophones (individually) have a very limited range and that 'bastard' brass/woodwind sound is a little too pervasive to blend in well. A little bit does you good but too much is, well - too much for me.
I agree it probably should not be mainstream; perhaps something more akin to the English Horn. While I love the EH, I find it just doesn't work well in many places. I usually end up using the Clarinet instead, or the oboe if it's not to low.
I have always wondered if it's great popularity in jazz, not to mention pop/rock, is part of the reason it has not "surfaced" much in classical music (can't avoid the oblique reference to Debussy, who called it "an aquatic instrument."). Which fostered a particular kind of playing, namely harsh and lusty. I don't believe Adolph Sax had that sound in mind when he invented the instrument. But that is what it has become, and the unfortunate result that classical composers have largely abandoned it.
Which condition can be remedied somewhat if more of us use it. In my piece "Skating," I feature a flute solo in the middle. But I really wanted it on the soprano sax. However, I don't have any in my libraries. I do have the other three commonly used ones. But after the solo, the alto sax comes in. I tend to use it when I just can't find any other suitable instrument. Usually when I have a woodwind-type line, but the overall texture is too loud for it to be heard well. And brass would not be agile enough. In such a situation the saxophone really shines.