SDSU Symphony Orchestra Premieres Joseph Martin Waters’ Saxophone Concerto

Under the leadership of Conductor Michael Gerdes, the San Diego State University Symphony Orchestra concert “Bernstein at 100” appropriately opened and closed with two of Leonard Bernstein’s most respected works, the Overture to Candide and his “Jeremiah” Symphony.” But at the center of this program given in the university’s Don Powell Theatre, Gerdes led the premiere of Joseph Martin Waters’ alto saxophone concerto “Tathata Garden,” written for the work’s virtuoso soloist Todd Rewoldt.

Todd Rewoldt [photo by SanDiegoStory]

Since Bernstein composed to his own inner muse rather than follow any established school, which in his day included serialism, neoclassicism and neo-Romanticism, Waters’ own eclectic contemporary style proved especially congruent on Gerdes’ program. Gerdes, Waters, and Rewoldt are faculty members of the university’s School of Music and Dance.

Composed in a broadly conceived single movement, “Tathata Garden” opens with repeated short motifs by the soloist that slightly bend equal-tempered tuning over a static murmur in the orchestra. Slowly these themes expand and are echoed by a soprano saxophone from within the orchestra.

As piece grows, the soloist floats quivering, sensuous themes ornamented by smooth, rapid trills in his instrument’s highest range, and the section in which these themes are entwined with piano arpeggios and feathery celesta motifs proved most enchanting. From the percussion section soon come sharply defined rhythmic patterns that introduce the orchestra’s metrical, processional mood followed by pizzicato strings that play against rapid, angular themes from the alto saxophone.

No concerto is complete without a cadenza, which kept Rewoldt in his stratospheric range except for tricky, showy quick downward leaps, followed by the kind of complex rapid figuration Waters typically assigns Rewoldt in works he writes for SWARMIUS, Waters’ solo ensemble that has taken his compositions across the country and around the globe.

Gerdes and the SDSU Symphony Orchestra premiered Waters’ “Suite Noir” in 2015, so they have welcome experience with Waters’ idiom. Gerdes drew a strong, cohesive performance from his players, and Rewoldt made this tailor-made solo soar.

This concert by the San Diego State University Symphony Orchestra was presented in the university’s Don Powell Theatre on October 13, 2018.



  1. Joseph Martin Waters on October 16, 2018 at 9:57 pm

    Thank you Ken!
    And a warm thanks to Ununseptium Michael Gerdes and the lovely musicians of the SDSU Symphony Orchestra for giving birth to my new saxophone concerto.

    “Tathātā Garden” is a tone poem, set in a garden, from sunrise to sunset, and by analogy a life from birth to death.

    When Michael asked me to write the piece I went to one of my favorite places, the side garden of my house (which is a very unusual house built into the side of the mountain). It’s a place where I meditate every day.
    Which means becoming tuned to that place, not taking it for granted, becoming aware of every sound and all of the personalities in the garden: the birds, butterflies, insects, and plants – which I’ve gotten to know as a member of the community.

    I realized that the piece should be about that experience in the way Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” is about the intensity of sky or Monet’s “Water Lilies” the extraordinary in the ordinary.

    There is no program per se, except the very beginning is clearly a sunrise, the end is clearly a sunset – the middle is in some general way the adventure that goes on in a day and on a larger scale in a life, our journeys in love and our passions.

    There are a couple of places in the work where it goes into a poem of wind blowing through the trees which I find to be magical and overwhelmingly beautiful.
    I transcribed the garden’s inhabitants: mourning doves calling in the dawn, a lone mockingbird singing into the night, and others whose human names I don’t know, to provide melodic material for the saxophone and the woodwinds. Jozefius

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