Ian Wilson: Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?

Ian Wilson Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?
Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?

Ian Wilson: Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?

Year of composition:
Scored for:
for alto saxophone and orchestra
Ian Wilson
alto saxophone in Eb
2 2 2 2 - 4 2 3 1 - timp(2), perc, str
Instrumentation details:
1st flute
2nd flute (+picc
alto fl)
1st oboe
2nd oboe (+c.a)
1st clarinet in Bb (+cl(Eb))
2nd clarinet in Bb (+bass cl(Bb))
1st bassoon
2nd bassoon
1st horn in F
2nd horn in F
3rd horn in F
4th horn in F
1st trumpet in Bb
2nd trumpet in Bb
1st trombone
2nd trombone
bass trombone
1st timpani
2nd timpani
violin I
violin II
Commissioned by the BBC
More Less

The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

Work introduction

I had wanted to write a concerto for saxophonist, Gerard McChrystal for some years, and the opportunity eventually presented itself when the BBC commissioned me to write the piece for the 1999 Sonorities Festival of Contemporary Music, held in Belfast. The title belongs to a series of large canvasses by the American abstract artist, Barnett Newman and it appealed to me not only because I admire and know his work, but because it afforded a way into the piece I wanted to write.

Essentially, Who's afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue! is an exploration of the playing of Gerard McChrystal, cast in three sections beginning with Blue. This part is mostly concerned with the lower register of the alto saxophone, alternating pulse-less phrases with arabesque-like figurations, surrounded by soft aggregations of orchestral colour which are offset in the middle by more arresting timbres. At its end, this part leads directly into Yellow, where the music becomes more animated, and a definite sense of pulse appears. Here, the orchestration is still concerned with colour, but now it takes the appearance of splashes of sound which constantly juxtapose different combinations of instruments. As with Blue and the final part, Red, this central part is subdivided into three sections, each looking at the central idea of the part from a different angle. As before, this part leads directly into the next and last, Red, where the music becomes much more aggressive and passionate. Low, pounding chords give way to lighter and higher versions of themselves before the heart of this part is reached, an almost big-band-like- walking bassline over which the orchestra are united in their direction and colouring, and where the saxophone declaims itself as a particularly swinging instrument. A mobile and fluid solo passage leads into the last gasp of the piece, where the orchestra, in unison and very quickly, leads the soloist to the very end and very top. The piece is dedicated to Gerard McChrystal.

Ian Wilson


World première

Whitla Hall, Queens University, Belfast (GB)
Ulster Orchestra
John Lubbock
Main soloists:
Gerard McChrystal, sax

Other works

Sign up for our newsletter!

You will regularly receive information about new scores with free downloads, current prize games and news about our composers.