American composer Wynton Marsalis is a living legend of jazz, with works that cross into other genres like blues and classical. His sprawling oratorio Blood on the Fields won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1997 – the first jazz composition to do so. He’s also a virtuoso trumpeter and currently the only person to win Grammy Awards in both the jazz and classical categories in the same year (with a total of nine Grammy wins).
Nicola Benedetti, meanwhile, is an Italian-Scottish classical solo violinist who’s a long-time collaborator with Marsalis. She has won a Grammy too – in 2020, for her recording of Marsalis’s Violin Concerto, the very piece that she is coming to perform in Sydney in an Australian first.
She’s doing it together with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and the performance includes Marsalis’s Violin Concerto as well as works that inspired Marsalis: Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird and Short Ride in a Fast Machine by John Adams.
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Leading the orchestra is concertmaster Andrew Haveron; he’s the principal violinist, a role where, he says, “I don’t have to put my hand up in rehearsal if I have something to say.”
While the chance to perform – or, for audiences, to hear – a concerto by one of America’s most captivating composers is a highlight in and of itself, Haveron says it’s the coming together of like-minded and immensely talented people in Marsalis and Benedetti that will make this a concert to remember.
“The fact that this is a new concerto by Wynton Marsalis, fusing jazz and classical – and I believe some Scottish traditional elements inspired by Nicola’s roots – couldn’t be more exciting,” he says. “Nicola is such an engaging and charismatic performer, and the music is by one of the great jazz musicians of our time – what’s not to love?”
Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine and Stravinsky’s The Firebird are the cherries on top. The show opens with Adams’s four-and-half-minute showpiece, which Haveron says “really proves an orchestra is a modern-day entity and can depict the 21st century as accurately as the last three [centuries].”
Marsalis’s foot-stomping concerto is next as the main event, followed by Russian composer Stravinsky’s ballet score to round out the show.
“The Firebird contains heart-melting melodies, heart-pumping dances … and incredible use of orchestration to depict enchanted forests and magical incantations,” says Haveron.
“Each work on the program has just the right balance of challenge and reward that keeps us and the audience on the edge of [our] seats.”
Performances will take place at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall from Wednesday September 6 to Saturday September 9, 2023. See more information and get tickets.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Sydney Symphony Orchestra.