I had a great time at the 2010 Biennial Conference of the North American Saxophone Alliance. It was held on the campus of the University of Georgia, my alma mater, so I got to see many old friends and colleagues.
A more poignant aspect of this year’s conference was the conspicuous absence of Dr. Kenneth Fischer, my former saxophone teacher and the intended conference host. After Dr. Fischer’s very untimely passing a few months ago, many among the NASA leadership made extra efforts to ensure that the conference went on as planned. Surely not the least among these was Dr. Stephen Fischer, Kenneth Fischer’s son, my old classmate, and a brilliant saxophonist in his own right. I noted that the conference program read:
Dr. Kenneth Fischer
Dr. Stephen Fischer
I was in attendance Thursday through Saturday (the conference began on Wednesday). It’s such a big conference that lots of things are going on at once, and there’s no way to get to everything. But here are a few events that I caught that were highlights for me:
- A lovely, sensitive duo performance by conference host Stephen Fischer (soprano saxophone) and his wife Rachael Massengil Fischer (violin).
- The Anubis Quartet, doing some interesting pieces that involved instrumentations other than the typical soprano-alto-tenor-baritone, and even called for changing instruments mid-piece.
- Masterclasses by Fred Hemke and Eugene Rousseau, featuring some extraordinarily talented collegiate saxophonists.
- A recital of lesser-known saxophone works by John Anthony Lennon (a student did play the better-known Distances Within Me in the Hemke masterclass), with saxophonists Susan Fancher and Joseph Murphy. I was not aware that Mr. Lennon lives in Atlanta; he attended the recital and commented briefly on each piece.
- A well-thought-out presentation on shakuhachi techniques used in saxophone works by Ryo Noda. Presenter James Bunte shared detailed score analyses of Improvisation I and part of Maï, demonstrating how nearly every sound in these pieces can be connected to an idiomatic shakuhachi technique, and making some good suggestions on how this can inform performance. As a shakuhachi dabbler myself, I had recognized some of the shakuhachi-like writing, but hadn’t fully realized the strength and clarity of this connection.
- Sneaking into a rehearsal of the UGA Jazz Ensemble, of which I am an alumnus, and getting a peek at guest alto soloist Brad Leali rehearsing with the group, and then hearing Leali and tenor player Peter Sommer in concert with the band.
- A particularly dynamite hour on Saturday morning. Joseph Luloff played the heavily jazz-colored Lyric Sonata with composer Ron Newman at the piano, followed by a spontaneous duo performance of “Lennie’s Pennies.” Next Chien-Kwan Lin played an utterly astonishing version of Bach’s Chaconne from the Partita in D Minor (BWV 1004). This was the most virtuosic playing I heard at the conference, and perhaps also the most musical. Then Kenneth Tse (after another piece) was joined by Claude Delangle for Singelée’s Grand Duo Concertant op. 55; the incredible playing of these two musicians made this charming little piece into something extraordinary.
- A very nice celebration of Kenneth Fischer’s life and career, with performances by Eugene Rousseau, Claude Delangle, and the Classic City Saxophone Quartet (consisting of UGA’s doctoral saxophone students), plus spoken tributes by some of his friends and colleagues.
See you in two years at Arizona State!