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A saxophone concerto is a musical piece played by a group of musicians, generally an orchestra, supporting a saxophone soloist. By definition, a concerto setup has a single soloist musician supported by a group of backing musicians. The type of concerto is generally identified by the type of instrument soloing with the orchestral accompaniment. Compared to other types of concertos, the saxophone concerto is relatively rare, and usually features the higher pitched instruments of the saxophone family.
Saxophone concertos have been written by many composers, including Claude Debussy and Jacques Ibert. Though most concertos have a single featured soloist, often a musical celebrity, some concertos can have more than one soloist. In the case of a concerto with multiple soloing instruments, including a saxophone, the concerto would still be a saxophone concerto if the saxophone is the dominant soloing instrument.
A saxophone belongs to the woodwind family of instruments. The mouthpiece of a saxophone is fitted with a wooden part called a reed that is responsible for the vibration that powers the sound of the instrument. Either curved or straight, depending on the type of saxophone, the body of a saxophone is covered with keys that are pressed in combination to create the note patterns typical of the saxophone. The design of the saxophone keys makes the saxophone an agile instrument in fast-moving musical parts and scales, especially chromatic scales.
Types of saxophones often used in the solo position in a saxophone concerto include soprano saxophones, alto saxophones, and tenor saxophones. Saxophones with a lower range, like the baritone saxophone and contrabass saxophone, are rarely featured in saxophone concerto solos because their low tones make their sound blend into the group rather than stand out in a solo. A relatively new type of instrument, saxophones were invented by Adolphe Sax around 1840.
Other members of the woodwind family commonly featured in concerto solos include the clarinet, the flute and the oboe. Both saxophones and clarinets have flat wooden reeds, but the oboe has a rounded reed similar to a large, smooth toothpick. The flute has no reed, but is called a woodwind because flutes used to be made primarily of wood. The saxophone concerto is a much less common type of concerto than those written to feature more popular orchestral instruments. The most common instruments featured in concertos are violins and pianos.