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.
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.