Stravaganza written for and performed by star saxophonist Jess Gillam, will also be performed at BBC Proms on 12th August

Composer revisits one of his most enduring works in 80th birthday year with Palladio Reimagined

Albumreleased on Friday 9th August – first single out now
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Decca Records is thrilled to announce Stravaganza, a new album of world premiere recordings of works by legendary composer Sir Karl Jenkins. Featuring his saxophone concerto of the same name – written for and performed by star saxophonist Jess Gillam – the album also includes a vibrant reimagining of Sir Karl’s beloved work Palladio, heard here in a brand-new orchestration by the composer. 

The recording is the first since Decca honoured Sir Karl with a historic lifetime deal, celebrating the composer’s 80th birthday and recognising his enduring musical appeal. Stravaganza is released on Friday 9th August, coinciding with its live performance at the BBC Proms (Prom 32, 12th August). The first single – the first movement of Palladio Reimagined – is out today.

Stravaganza, which means ‘eccentric’ in Italian, explores themes of carnival and extravagant fantasy and was written especially for Jess, inspired by her experience of first trying a saxophone at a carnival centre in her native Cumbria. The four-movement work blends Karl’s backgrounds in jazz and classical music, and features some truly virtuosic moments for the soprano saxophone, played here by Jess with her trademark skill and expressiveness.

The concerto was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester, receiving its first performance at the Berlin Philharmonie in June 2023 with the DSO and Jess as the soloist. Although Karl has composed a sequence of earlier concertos, collected together on the Quirk album on Decca, the creation of Stravaganza in 2019 has a personal significance. The composer studied oboe at the Royal Academy of Music in London and worked as a reed player for many years in the 1970s with jazz-rock fusion groups Nucleus and Soft Machine.

Stravaganza is performed at the BBC Proms on Monday 12th August, performed by Jess and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under conductor Nil Venditti. This is the first time that Sir Karl’s music has been featured at the Proms.

Sir Karl Jenkins said: “The inspiration for Stravaganza is that Jess first played a saxophone and found her musical home in a carnival centre, having first tried the stilts and then the drums. The work is in four movements, and a certain eccentricity or quirkiness pervades throughout. In many ways it is programmatic, but the listener may create her or his eccentric fantasies. To my delight, Jess chose the soprano saxophone (the highest in pitch of those in common use) for this particular ‘parade’. It has been wonderful to work with Jess on this over the last few years and to see her bring this concerto to life.”

Palladio Reimagined is an epic reworking of Karl’s 1995 work Palladio for string orchestra. The original work was inspired by sixteenth-century architect Andrea Palladio and was made famous by the De Beers TV advert ‘A Diamond is Forever’ in the 1990s. Later, Escala’s string quartet version of the first movement shot into the singles chart following their appearance on Britain’s Got Talent. The piece has established a permanent position in Classic FM’s Hall of Fame, and the first movement (Allegretto) remains Karl’s biggest streaming track, with over 175 million streams to date. In this new arrangement by the composer, the piece is not only heard with a fuller orchestration but is also extended, allowing listeners to hear one of Karl’s most popular works completely anew.

Sir Karl added: “Palladio seemed an ideal companion piece to Stravaganza to balance the recording, but with changes. I decided to add some wind instruments that came into baroque music to add a new timbre to the original instrumentation, and so Palladio Reimagined was created. It is bigger, more dramatic and exciting and with a lot more colour than before, with different instruments swapping phrases like a musical ‘Q&A’.”

The artwork for Stravaganza is taken from a new piece by the eminent Italian painter Andrea Vizzini. After discovering one of his paintings in Venice in 1997, Karl’s wife remarked that it looked like Karl’s music sounded, and later discovered that Vizzini had actually been working listening to his music, completely by coincidence!  

The album forms part of celebrations for Sir Karl’s 80th birthday year, which have also included a special boxset featuring some of the composer’s most popular works, a documentary on his life and work on Marquee TV, a major UK tour and a lifetime deal with Decca – the first time the label has bestowed such an honour on any artist.

One of the most performed living composers in the world, his seminal work The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace was recently voted fourth in the 2024 Classic FM Hall of Fame, the highest entry for a living composer.

Stravaganza is released on Decca Records on Friday 9th August, and can be pre-ordered here.