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PANIC a dithyramb for alto saxophone, jazz drummer & Wind Ensemble by Sir HARRISON BIRTWISTLE (1934)

[#86] March 15, 2021

1995 | Solo Alto Saxophone, drums, Wind Ensemble | Grade 6 | 15’ – 20’ | Solo work, saxophone, contemporary

British composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle

PANIC by British composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle is our Composition of the Week.

PANIC is a concertante work for alto saxophone, drums and ensemble written in 1995, in response to John Drummond’s request for a work to be performed at the Last Night of the Proms in his last season as director.

The Proms is a very famous eight-week summer festival with daily orchestral classical music concerts and other events held annually in the Royal Albert Hall in central London.

The work’s premiere took place on September 16 of the same year, with John Harle on saxophone, Paul Clarvis on drums and the BBC Symphony Orchestra with Andrew Davis conducting.

“I have called the work a dithyramb, in Classical Greece a choric song in honor of Dionysus, whose wild exuberance here runs riot. The soloist, as chorus leader, is identified with the mythic god Pan, literally "spreading ruin and scattering ban" as in the quotation from Elizabeth Barrett Browning with which I preface this score. The title PANIC refers to the feelings of ecstasy and terror experienced by animals in the night at the sound of Pan's music. The chaos wreaked by Pan is exemplified by the conflict between the orchestra and the alto saxophone soloist together with the drum kit. At times the two odd-men-out rebel and branch out, adopting tempos independent of the orchestra.” Composer’s Program Notes.

PANIC is scored for solo alto saxophone, jazz drum-set, 3 flutes (2 & 3 doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (3 doubling cor anglais), 2 clarinets in B♭ (2 doubling clarinet in E♭), bass clarinet, 3 bassoons (3 doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 4 trumpets (1 doubling piccolo trumpet), 3 trombones, tuba, timpani and percussion.

The playing time is approximately 18 minutes.


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