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Jun Nagao’s The Planets Western Hemisphere Premiere in San Miguel

Jum Nagao

By Fredric Dannen

Several years ago, a friend of mine came to San Miguel de Allende after a visit to Tokyo, with a present in hand: a classical CD then unavailable outside of Japan. It had the intriguing title The Planets by Trouvère. My friend explained that an award-winning composer named Jun Nagao had taken Gustav Holst’s ever-popular orchestral suite The Planets and freely adapted it for saxophone quartet (soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone sax) and piano. (The Trouvère Quartet, for whom Nagao created his adaptation, is Japan’s leading sax quartet ensemble.) As it happened, my friend had dropped in unannounced, and I was about to head out for a lunch appointment. Over my protestations, he put the CD on the stereo. By the second movement, “Venus,” I was calling to cancel lunch.

Jun Nagao’s The Planets Western Hemisphere Premiere in San Miguel
Fri, Jul 29, 7pm
San Miguel International Music Festival
Teatro Ángela Peralta

After repeated listening, I became convinced that Jun Nagao was something of a marvel. The saxophone quartet has existed as a type of chamber ensemble since the 1850s and started attracting attention in the 20th century as audiences became aware of the irresistible sound of the four instruments playing together. Nagao’s scoring was masterly; he seemed to know how to get the most euphonious, orchestral richness out of a saxophone quartet.

Then, in 2014, Anacrúsax, the number one saxophone quartet ensemble in Mexico, gave a standing-room-only concert at Rancho Los Labradores. I happened to be in the audience, and it gave me an idea. What if I could get a copy of the score Nagao had prepared for the CD, and what if his marvelous work could have its Western Hemisphere premiere in San Miguel? I finally located Nagao via email, told him my idea, and asked whether by some chance his score had ever been published. No, he said, it had not.

So, he sent it to me.

Anacrúsax will perform the work one time only, with special guest Edith Ruíz on piano, on Friday, July 29, as the 7pm opening night concert of this year’s San Miguel International Music Festival, now in its 38th season. Most concertgoers are familiar with Holst’s work, but they have never heard it sound the way it will at the July 29 concert.

Nagao adapted the seven movements of Holst, and then added three of his own: “Comets,” “Pluto,” and “The Earth.” Nagao’s sense of humor is evident throughout his Planets, which is replete with musical puns. To mention only two: the “Jupiter” movement quotes the Mozart symphony of the same name, and “Venus” quotes the overture to Wagner’s Tannhäuser (Venus, goddess of love, is a character in the opera). Appropriately, the name of the performing ensemble is itself a pun: A note or sequence of notes preceding the first downbeat in a piece of music is called an anacrusis.

Tickets for this and all other festival concerts and lectures can be purchased online at


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