John Williams composed The Five Sacred Trees for Judith LeClair, the principal bassoonist of the New York Philharmonic in 1995, to honor the orchestra's 150th anniversary. The first performance was given by LeClair and the New York Philharmonic under Kurt Masur on April 12 of that year. The orchestra consists of three flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets and bass clarinet, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba, timpani, harp, piano, celesta, and strings. Performance time is approximately 26 minutes. Inspiration for the work also comes from the writings of British poet and novelist Robert Graves.
Music both old and new, but all of it inspired by the timeless modal harmony of medieval and Mediterranean cultures: this is the subject of John Williams's brilliant guitar disc for Sony, which also features his debut as a composer. The main work is his own "Aeolian Suite" for guitar and chamber orchestra, based on both original and 14th-century tunes (one of which, the "Saltarello," appeared on early-music pioneer David Munrow's disc called Instruments of the Middle Ages). The suite is a lovely piece of writing, deftly composed, and neither tacky nor pretentious. It's paired with an inspired assortment of spiritually related but diverse arrangements and original pieces by Satie, Theodorakis, Domeniconi, and an emotionally intense four-movement work called "Stélé," by Australian composer Phillip Houghton. Naturally, Williams performs each piece expertly, but most important, he makes his instrument sing, and that's just what the music demands. Simply super.