Here’s a comment I made by email to Sy Brandon, regarding the saxophone movement of Divertissement, the new multiple woodwinds piece he is writing for me.
So much contemporary saxophone music is bombastic and grating—I always make sure I bring some aspirin when I attend the saxophone conferences. But the saxophone has such wonderful lyrical qualities, and I’m pleased that the saxophone got assigned to play something pretty in this piece.
Don’t get me wrong; I love the saxophone’s expansive palette of tone colors, and will happily flutter-tongue or play multiphonics or whatever. But it’s nice to play a melody once in a while.
I got some questions by email yesterday from Sy Brandon, about the multiple woodwinds piece (Divertissement)he is writing funded by my Co-op Press Commission Assistance Grant. He is considering a movement that involves switching between instruments, and wanted to know about some of the technical details. Here are my answers:
Keeping reeds wet is a minor hassle but quite doable, especially for a movement that’s only a few minutes long.
Time required for switching instruments is an interesting question. Short answer: anything shorter than about five seconds is risky.
A slightly shorter switch might be possible with something like saxophone to flute or clarinet, since you can just let the saxophone hang from its neckstrap. And switches among flute and clarinet and, to a lesser extent, oboe (due to its fragile reed) are reasonably fast because there aren’t any straps to unhook and you can pick one up while you’re setting the other down. Bassoon is more difficult—it uses either a seat strap or a somewhat awkward harness, and definitely requires both hands to pick it up or put it down.
I was delighted a few years ago to have a fascinating new piece, seventy times seven, written by Dan Bradshaw, which was a blast to perform but required some instruments I don’t own (baritone saxophone and B-flat contrabass clarinet) and some fairly sophisticated electronics operated in live performance by the composer. I fear that, because of the complications involved (did I mention the composer now lives in Hawaii?) I may never get to perform it again.
In my application for the Co-op Press grant, I made the case that even though there are a small handful of pieces for woodwind doublers, few of them are very portable—most require a large ensemble, hard-to-find instruments, or electronics, or otherwise have logistical barriers to performance. I think there is demand among the doubling community for pieces that showcase multiple-woodwind skill and that can be programmed on a recital with reasonable ease.