Saxophone Nonet (SSAAATTBBs)

(Also adapted for clarinet nonet) 


5' 45"

Prestidigitations is an exciting concert piece inspired by magic illusions. The piece is constructed essentially from one simple idea: a stream of upward-moving notes — in intervals of seconds and thirds — that keeps restarting, creating off-kilter rhythmic patterns.

Prestidigitations is divided into three sections, separated by moments when the saxophones alight on a single note. In the middle section, the single note slowly grows into a series of climaxes, each building in tension until reaching an ultimate "ta-dah" moment. In the final section, the beginning is recalled before the higher saxophones are sent hurtling upward in a never-ending spiral and the low saxes play a raucous conclusion. The stream of intervals occurs at several moments in the piece, and was written with an auditory illusion in mind: the Shepard glissando.

The word "prestidigitation" is a synonym for "sleight of hand." Perhaps it is a household word for some magicians, but not many others. Plus, it's not easy to say! I first learned the word from my wife, who had just heard it on a TV show and was having a very hard time repeating it! I was no help since I hadn't even heard it before. In light of this humorous and endearing memory, the middle section of the piece prominently features a "stuttering" rhythm.

Purchase the score:

(Video excerpt begins on p. 14)


  • LUCA School of Performing Arts, Leuven, Belgium
      March 29, 2018

  • (Version for Clarinet Nonet): Robert Spring and the Arizona State University Clarinet Ensemble, SCI Region VII Conference, Arizona State University
      October 13, 2017

Paul Nolen and the Illinois State University Saxophone Ensemble:

March 11, 2016

  • Red Note New Music Festival, Illinois State University

April 7, 2016