July, 2015: Lawrence University Saxophone Quartet performs at SaxOpen - World Saxophone Congress in Strasbourg, France
The Lawrence University Saxophone Quartet (Joseph Connor, soprano; Garrett Evans, alto; Daniel Vasey, tenor; Colin Parsons, baritone) and Sumner Truax, our Conservatory's Instructor of Saxophone, performed at the World Saxophone Congress Fringe Festival in Strasbourg, France. They presented their project -- Silent Sound: improvised soundtracks for silent films -- for a large and enthusiastic audience at the École Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs on Monday, July 13. With assistance from the Mellon Foundation Senior Experience Grants and the Jordheim Fund for Musical Exploration, the four seniors traveled to Strasbourg to perform and to attend the weeklong festival of concerts, lectures and presentations on new music for the saxophone.
Photo: At Frankfurt, Germany airport on the way to Strasbourg
Getting Around: blog post by Sumner Truax
It only seemed fitting to start a series of blog posts by discussing one of the first issues we ran into while in Europe—getting around. After landing in Frankfurt, due to some scheduling errors and difficulty with the Deutsch Bahn system, we ended up hanging out at the Frankfurt airport for quite a while. We then quickly learned that traveling by train is not the prompt, "works-like-clockwork" that it is cracked up to be.
Our first train being delayed by fifteen minutes meant that we couldn’t make our connection, which meant that we had to exchange our tickets for a different itinerary. Naturally, that train was also late. By the time we got to Strasbourg, I think it’s safe to say that everyone was exhausted and cranky. Truth be told, it was a rough start to the trip.
Upon arriving at the apartment and meeting our host, the mood totally changed. Céline was incredibly gracious and gave us a glass of traditional Alsace Cremant (their superior version of champagne), some brioche and a tour of the lovely little apartment in which we’d be spending the week. Our apartment was wonderfully located as it was about a five minute walk to the Cité de la Musique where most of the events for SaxOpen took place and a two minute walk from the tram which took us all around the city. We were also about a block away from a boulangerie and a wonderful little grocery store where we were able to buy some Nutella!
Our travels in Strasbourg were initially limited to the locations of the conference events. This was primarily walking to the Cité, and taking the tram to the Palais where the larger evening concerts were held. On several evenings we would walk back through the city from the Palais back to our apartment, about a 30-minute trek. Between stumbling into kebab restaurants, cafes and cathedrals, we were able to get a great sense of Strasbourg.
Five Days of World Premieres: blog post by Joe Connor
My experience at the 17th World Saxophone Congress in Strasbourg, France was a week full to the brim with inspiring performances, new friendships, world premieres, reconnecting with friends from all over the world and exciting travel. I have participated in summer saxophone programs in France and Germany and at the Eastman School in Rochester, New York and it was such a joy to see so many familiar faces and hear about their successes in the past few years. Also it was a thrill to experience another historic European city, Strasbourg, with its cathedral (celebrating its millennial in 2015!), beautiful architecture, general walkability and delicious food.
One of the primary objectives of the World Saxophone Congress is the creation and expansion of the repertoire for saxophone, and thus I was fortunate to hear a lot of world premieres of new music for saxophone in all kinds of combinations and settings. During the 2014-2015 academic year at Lawrence, a few friends and I founded a new music ensemble called Slipstream that is focused on working closely with composers to create new repertoire for saxophone, electric guitar, percussion, and piano. Having the opportunity to hear so much new music premiered at the WSC was invaluable and also brought to mind an experience with my friends in Slipstream. When prompted with a question about commissioning new music, a visiting chamber music ensemble at Lawrence responded with the reminder that, “When you commission a composer, you are not asking them to write the last piece they wrote, or one of their works with which you are familiar. Rather you are asking for something new, and there is a lot of risk in this...but also potential to expand your musical boundaries.” At the Congress I was reminded of this message again and again after hearing premieres of music that I thought were exceptional, and also some that I thought were ineffective.
It is clear to me that hearing so many world premieres in the span of five days is a rare experience and one I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t attended the Congress. I am very thankful to have had this experience that enriched my studies and pursuits at Lawrence.
Photo: Cité de la Musique et de la danse, Strasbourg
"You're studying what?!" : blog post by Colin Parsons
This question has haunted me for the past 5 years every since declaring to pursue degrees in Saxophone Performance and Biochemistry at Lawrence. Family and friends (and sometimes even I) are baffled as to why someone would pursue multiple “entirely unrelated” areas of study and see no apparent connection between the two. My trip to the 17th World Saxophone Congress provided me with the opportunity to meet a composer whose works aim to bridge the gap between the sciences and music. A work by Stephen Taylor, professor of composition-theory at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, entitled “Indian Hedgehog” (named after a protein crucial in development) was premiered at the Congress and I was lucky enough to be in attendance. This particular work is a sonification of DNA and protein structures (turning DNA code into music). After the performance I was able to talk with Stephen and discuss how he used the DNA sequence for the gene along with the protein structure to create his piece. It was an incredibly rewarding experience to see Stephen’s face light up upon hearing that I share similar passions for music and biology.
Photo: Rehearsal in Strasbourg
Photo: At World Saxophone Congress
Studying in Paris: blog post by Garrett Evans
Following the World Saxophone Congress in Strasbourg, I traveled to Paris to study with Lucie Robert, composer of many works for the saxophone. My work with Madame Robert was an interesting, exciting, and rewarding experience. When I arrived at Lucie Robert's apartment, we began working on Tourbillons in her studio. Her studio is a soundproofed box in her apartment and - as Paris had been unusually hot for the past week - the room was sweltering. Tourbillons is not a breeze, either, so my sweat levels were venturing into uncharted territory. Madame Robert's English was rocky (which is okay because my French is essentially non-existent), so a lot of her comments were given as demonstrations rather than put into words. For example, when she wanted to draw my attention to a desired affect in a phrase, she would simply say, "No, like this," or "Listen!" and sing it. This was a great way for us to bridge the language barrier. However, the language barrier was more challenging when working on my compositions. I brought to her an art song and a piano trio, both of which I'd composed last year. Her comments included phrases such as "I like this part; this is good," and "This is not very interesting." Since this approach to pedagogy is not uncommon in European conservatories, I was expecting such comments. Perhaps the most interesting comment she gave me was a reason that she didn't like a section of one of my pieces: "It is very harmonic." I'm still not sure what she meant, but I'll be sure to meditate on it as I go forward in my composing. I think the greatest thing I got out of working with Madame Robert on my compositions was that - as a listener - she got the most out of the sections with which I was most comfortable as the composer. So, as I continue composing, I can leave nothing in my pieces about which I'm hesitant. In working with Madame Robert, I learned a lot about her music and a lot about my music, too.
Photo: Garrett Evans and Lucie Robert
June, 2015: One new ensemble; 4 new pieces
Slipstream, a new ensemble comprising saxophonist Joe Connor, guitarist Ilan Blanck, percussionist Dan Reifsteck, and pianist Matt Blair, presented its first full concert of works composed for the ensemble: Light and Shade by David Werfelmann, Slipstream by John Mayrose, for I believed in the existence of ... by JP Merz, and leaf by Patrick Marshke.
Photo: Slipstream in concert