April 2007

Great ressource

I just stumbled onto another great resource for anyone interested in the classical saxophone field.

Jean-Marie Londeix, who we all know as not only a great virtuoso, a compelling teacher but also a leader in saxophone research. He has created an Association of the European Center for Saxophone (E.C.S.) which is based in Bordeaux, France.

The E.C.S. is an archive of material which Londeix has donated to the city of Bordeaux. Anyone who knows Londeix will be well aware that his research has been extensive and exhaustive. So one can only imagine the depth of this source of material.

To accompany this archive is the creation of a web site where Londeix is a member of an international editorial board which includes Paul Bro (Professor, Indiana State University, Terre Haute, Indiana, USA) and William Street (Professor, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada).

The site, SaxAmE (The Saxophone in American and Europe) is a repository of a number of interesting material including letters from prominent composers and saxophonists, lists of books, music and other topics. There are also a number of photos and some sound clips, including performances by Londeix.

What a web site should be like

All I have to say is WOW !

I just visited the website of composer Jacob ter Veldhuis.

And all I have to say is WOW !

This is what a composer website should be like. I usually skip over the often innocuous, insipid flash intros that pepper the internet these days. But this time, I was compelled to stick it out. And it was well worth the look see. The flash is a compelling introduction to a great looking website full of information and web media, be they graphic,  audio or video clips. Simple navigation and beautiful layout. What more can you ask for?

Well great content helps. And JacobTV, as he refers to himself on the web, provides this with his personal style of music making.

Jacob ter Veldhuis is well known in saxophone circles for pieces for sax & boombox (or ghetto blasters if you prefer). My first encounter with his music was a performance of Blast It by Arno Bornkamp at the Montreal World Saxophone Congress in 2000. There is a clip of the piece in the Audio section of the site. A definite crowd pleaser.

Subway Bell(s) and whistles

Just read an interesting article at the Washington Post. Some of you may have heard of the stunt played out by Joshua Bell (you know, the Red Violin guy) playing in a subway station.

Fascinating story with video clips. Also includes an audio of the full 40 + minutes of Bell's performance.

The results makes one wonder on the pertinence all classical musicians have in today's rushed world.

You can make your own judgment after reading this:


(Thanks to Alan Holley on the NASA list for pointing me to this page. I had been hearing about it but had not yet seen it until his mentioning it.)

Saxophone and the orchestra

During a recent thread on the John Zorn mailing list, a comment appeared about how little the saxophone is used in the symphony orchestra. As is usually the case, there is a misconception that only a handful of pieces were written using the saxophone in this context and this was once again reflected in the mentioned comment. Here was my response to that thread.

"Actually, there is a lot more orchestral music which includes the saxophone then most people are aware of. I've collated a list of over 3000 pieces, not including saxophone concertos, which is another subject. Apart from the better known work's like Ravel's Bolero, his arrangement of Mussorgsky's Pictures of an Exhibition, Bizet's L'Arlésienne, George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

Without getting too involved nor exhaustive, here is a list of some of the composers (ordered alphabetically) who have included saxophone in their orchestral works (including some operas). They range through all styles. You may recognize some of the names:
John Adams, Thomas Adès, William Albright, David Amram, Louis Andriessen, Denis Apivor, Malcolm Arnold, Bela Bartok, Pierre-Philippe Bauzin, Alban Berg (most notably in his opera Lulu); Luciano Berio, Leonard Bernstein, Williams Bolcom, Pierre Boulez, Anthony Braxton, Michel-George Brégent, Benjamin Britten, Gavin Bryars, John Cage, Cornelius Cardew, John Alden Carpenter, Elliott Carter, Friedrich Cerha, Gabriel Charpentier, David Cope, Aaron Copland, Luigi Dallapiccola, Michael Daugherty, Anthony Davis, Claude Debussy, Leo Delibes, David Del Tredici, Claude Delvincourt, David Diamond, Maurive Duruflé, Henri Dutilleux, Jindrich Feld, Michael Finnisy, Lucas Foss, Philip Glass, Vinko Globokar, Morton Gould, Bob Graettinger, Percy Grainger, Ferde Grofe, John Harbison, Roy Harris, Hans Werner Henze, Arthur Honegger, Alan Hovhaness, Karel Husa, Jacques Ibert, Vincent d'Indy, Charles Ives, André Jolivet, Piet Ketting, Aram Khatchaturian, Zoltan Kodaly, Charles Koechlin, Gyorgy Ligeti, Frank Martin, Jules Massenet, Toshiro Mayuzumi, Chiel Meijering, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Darius Milhaud, Luigi Nono, Krzysztof Penderecki, Francis Poulenc, Serge Prokofiev, Ned Rorem, Camille Saint-Saens, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Peter Schat, Arnold Schoenberg, Gunther Schuller, William Schuman, Ralph Shapey, Dimitri Shostakovitch, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Richard Strauss, Mark Allan Taggart, Toru Takemitsu, Virgil Thomson, Henri Tomasi, Michael Torke, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Heitor Villa-Lobos, William Walton, Bernd Aloys Zimmermann.

The problem of the saxophone in the classical realm is a matter of bad historical timing. When Adolph Sax invented his instrument around 1840, one of his most devout fan was Hector Berlioz who actually wrote the first piece ever for the saxophone (a sextet named "Chant sacre" for clarinet, bass clarinet, bass sax, cornet, bugle and high trumpet; all instruments which were either invented by or improved by Sax) and wrote a chapter in his Orchestration book. Unfortunately for the saxophone's position in the orchestra, this was at the end of Berlioz's most productive writing career. Most of his important orchestral pieces (a.k.a. Symphonie fantastique) had already been written. But this did not prevent certain composers popular in France at the time to take up the cause. Folks like George Kastner, Meyerbeer, Saint-Saens, Vincent d'Indy, Massenet and Bizet included the saxophone in their operas and other pieces.

Adolphe Sax also worked hard to get the saxophone included in the military band system in France. Here's were another quark of history comes into play. The political situation in France was, to put it mildly, volatile throughout the 19th century. So depending on which political system was in force, wavering between being a Republic or an Empire, Sax's band instruments were either in or out of the official band system. He also had several rivals who plotted to usurp his definite monopoly on production of high quality wind instruments, which, at the end left him bankrupt at the end of his life.
So here we are left with the saxophone which arrived a little to late for Berlioz to truly include it in his orchestral works, whose reputation and influence has an orchestrator would have undoubtedly helped to establish a better situation for the saxophone in the late 19th century orchestra. Also arriving in the midst of political upheaval which deterred its use in the military band system which would also have contributed to it having a better life in the classical field, since a lot of composers had to go through the military system in France at one point or another in their early career.

We end up in the 20th century where, as you can see by the above mentioned list of composers, the saxophone regained some place in the orchestral realm. However this is counter balanced by the fact that the orchestral world, especially in the 20th C,  is one of great conservatism (to put it mildly). Just run through the list and ask yourself, how many times have you seen these composers programmed in your local orchestras.  Need I say more.

Is it any wonder that the saxophone's role of the orchestral realm is so poorly acknowledged. In fact, the saxophone suffers the same situation as most contemporary composers who try to enter the symphonic field. If more modern composers were performed, you'd most likely see more saxophone being used, and probably more orchestras hiring full time sax players.

The saxophone did live through a craze in the 1920's, especially in the US. It is said that at the time, there were more saxophones being sold then pianos, which is a feat since the was a piano in most households at the time. This is pre-radio, pre-television. A time when the piano was the center of musical life in the home. This fact probably helped it's evolving into the jazz instrument which most people relate to today."

Ornette Coleman wins the Pulitzer

It's been announced that Ornette Coleman has just been awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Music.

The prize is for a distinguished musical composition by an American composer that has had its first performance or recording in the United States during the previous year. This is the first time in the history of the Pulitzer Prize in Music was  awarded for a recording.

The Pulitzer Prize have also awarded John Coltrane a posthumous special citation "for his masterful improvisation, supreme musicianship and iconic centrality to the history of jazz." (from the 2007 page of http://www.pulitzer.org/ )


Where in the World is...

Thought I'd bring up a pet peeve of mine. Nothing like a little international intrigue to start things off on this site. [insert a little smile here]

Where is the World Saxophone Congress. Well, actually, it's more about who is in the World Saxophone Congress International Comity? Or should that be what is the WSCIC?

For those of you who do not know about this organization [shame on you], It's an international conference which is held every three years. The last conference was held in Slovenia last year and the next his scheduled to be held in Bangkok. (Here is a link to the Slovenia site)

Having been personally involved in organizing one of these events, here in Montreal in 2000 (you can visit our site which is still up at XII World Saxophone Congress) I can attest to the interest and importance these events hold for all saxophonists, especially those who perform in the "classical" style.  Also to the hard work and dedication which is needed to pull these things off.

[Let me take a moment to salute all those courageous souls who are crazy enough, about the
saxophone, to dedicate themselves in these endeavors.]

Here's a little history about the Congress. The first one was organized by Paul Brodie and Eugene Rousseau and was held in Chicago in 1969 with a few dozen participants from several countries (Donald Sinta was elected chairman at the time). It was followed the next year with another meeting, also held in Chicago. It has been held ever since at varying intervals to finally end up today being a very large assembly of over a thousand participants from all over the world.

Welcome to the first blog

Hi all,

I'm starting this blog were I intend to talk about my great passion: the saxophone. I've been playing the instrument more years than I care to mention, and I still find a fascination with the possiblities of this great instrument.

But I don't intend discussing the technical aspects of performance, although that may come up from time to time. What I am more interested in doing is to investigate the music itself. And that won't necesseraly be limited to uniquely saxophone pieces, but may cover other music by composers who have worked with the saxophone in some way or other.

Most people associate the saxophone with jazz. This is of course quite understandable. Contributions by so many great talents in the jazz field, such as Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, et al. cannot be denied. But the saxophone is so much more and has touched so many more musical styles and events.

For those who do not know, the name of the blog: Mule's Rasch, is my little tribute to the father's of 20th century classical saxophone, Marcel Mule and Sigurd Rascher. These two gentlement have the merit of being the pioneers of modern classical saxophone performance. They have contributed not only through their performance, but also through their teachings and with their work with composers to establish the saxophones legitimization in the classical music field.