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World Saxophone Congress preview: Sax maniacs by the sea
Publication: The Scotsman
Author: Jim Gilchrist
Date: July 5, 2012
WITH almost 200 world premieres, the 16th World Saxophone Congress next week in St Andrews promises a wealth of innovation and entertainment
ADOLPHE Sax could never have guessed just what he was unleashing when he patented a design for a curiously-shaped reed instrument in 1846, that his invention would power the music of such diverse creative spirits as Maurice Ravel and John Coltrane; likewise the douce Fife town of St Andrews probably has little inkling of what will hit it next week when some 800 musicians converge on it from around the globe for the 16th World Saxophone Congress.
The ancient stones of the East Neuk metropolis will reverberate to the unbridled sounds of innumerable reeds as the six-day event hosts scores of concerts, recitals, lectures and workshops – including some 200 world premieres – in venues ranging from St Andrews University’s 1,000-seat Younger Hall to the venerable undercroft of its department of medieval history. Part of the 600th anniversary celebrations of Scotland’s oldest university, the event ranges through classical, jazz, contemporary and even folk genres.
“It’s massive,” says Richard Ingham, the event’s organiser and musician-in-residence at the university. “We’ve been working on it since we won the bid to host it in Bangkok three years ago and it’s a great thrill to be bringing it here, with such a cornucopia of concerts and recitals every day.
“I want to show saxophonists from across the world what Scotland and the UK has to offer, and also I want people from the UK to see and hear what other players from all over the world are doing. There’s some amazing stuff going on out there.”
High-profile guests include the renowned American player Branford Marsalis, who will premiere a new concerto for saxophone by Andy Scott with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra at the opening gala concert on 10 July. Also taking part in the gala event is composer-saxophonist John Harle and the Scottish Saxophone Ensemble, led by Susan McKenzie (also familiar to Salsa Celtica fans) and of which Ingham is a member. Also a prolific composer for sax, Ingham has written his own contribution to the opening night, Traditions Old and New – Iona and Islay, in which traditional instruments such as Border pipes and accordion, as well as eastern European reed instruments, the kaval and tárogató, play alongside saxophones. Such familiar Scottish names as Fraser Fifield and Martin Kershaw will take part, as well as Mary McCarthy on accordion and French saxophonist Claude Delangle.
Marsalis returns on the Wednesday for another premiere, this time of Albatross, a sonata for soprano sax and piano written by the Scottish composer Sally Beamish.
Ingham is particularly delighted that among the congress’s guests are two greatly esteemed names in the sax pantheon – Eugene Rousseau from the USA and Jean-Marie Londiex. They’ve been a huge influence, both as performers and as pedagogues in the classical world and beyond – Rousseau, for instance, was a big influence on the late Michael Brecker. Rousseau and Londiex, both of whom celebrate their 80th birthdays this year, will address the congress.
A celebration of John Cage’s centenary will see performance of his compositions for saxophone and a historical overview of his life and work. There is also plenty happening on the jazz side of things, not least the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra in a concert featuring soloists Julian Arguelles, Ruaridh Pattison, Sylvain Rifflet and SNJO director Tommy Smith. Another concert, by the Apollo Saxophone Orchestra, will celebrate the music of Barbara Thompson, the English jazz saxophonist and composer who has been battling Parkinson’s disease. Thompson and her husband, drummer and bandleader Jon Hiseman, will attend the event.
That line “Traditions Old and New” from the title of Ingham’s composition becomes something of a slogan for the whole congress. “We have a lot of standard repertoire being played, as well as 200 world premieres,” he says. “There’s a huge variety of music, and I just hope that those coming to hear jazz will get some classical music as well, and if they’re coming to hear contemporary stuff, they’ll also hear some jazz.”
For the good people of St Andrews, it will be pretty hard not to hear the sound of saxes for those six days, for as well as the concerts and recitals, there will be al fresco performances centred on the town’s Church Square.
Also sounding out will be Raum-Music für Saxophone, a Dutch-German ensemble who specialise in free improvisation informed by the acoustics of whatever space they are performing in. In this case they will test the sonic potential of the spacious Younger Hall, but will also perform under the weighty stone vaulting of the university’s medieval undercroft. Also at the quirkier and undoubtedly noisier end of the performance spectrum will be Rachel Stott’s Several World for massed saxophones – around 100 of them.
For Richard Ingham the past few months have clearly been busy. Quite apart from organising the congress, the 58-year-old musician, who lives in Lower Largo, has just released a solo album of his playing on saxes and wind synthesizers, Notes from a Small Country, much of it his own material. Clearly influenced in his playing by pibroch and other Celtic music, he has also released two other albums, From Pennan to Penang and Scenes from a Mountain, both recorded with accordionist and pianist Mary McCarthy, with whom he frequently collaborates. And, yes, he agrees, if only Adolphe Sax (whose bicentenary falls in two years’ time) knew what pleasure – and mayhem – his invention has created. The thought prompts him to quote An Address to Adolphe Sax in Heaven, by the esteemed poet, jazz fan and long-standing professor of English at St Andrews, Douglas Dunn, with its inspired conclusion:
The sound we hear is yours, Adolphe,
Posterity, its howling wolf,
Time salivating on a reed
And fingering at breakneck speed.
However, Ingham adds that two precursors to Sax’s now ubiquitous horn were the short-lived alto fagotto and the caledonica, both developed in the 1820s by one William Meikle of Strathaven (examples can be seen in the University of Edinburgh Collection of Historic Musical Instruments). Crediting such jazz giants as John Coltrane or Charlie Parker with a sizzling break on alto fagotto just doesn’t bear thinking about.