Baroque Saxophone

Today I began a project with two ICO string colleagues and a saxophonist, Cathal Roche. The setting is the age-related day hospital in Tallaght, and Ian Wilson is composing for the group a piece inspired by his meetings with staff and patients of the dementia unit. (This follows from a fantastic 2010 project in the stroke unit which resulted in a CD called Bewitched.) We played the first movement of it, and it was great. But first we played a bunch of stuff from the random gig folder, a lot of it baroque. The soprano sax instantly became a cornetto, almost precisely!

Curiously, I had a similar thought in the opposite direction when playing late-Beethoven with a period band (historical instruments). The classical bassoon in its highest register is a fabulous, raucous sound like a saxophone letting rip. When we hear these things played on modern instruments, the effect is much less extreme. It can be hard to do justice to the composer’s ideas when your (modern) instrument and technique make things easier than intended! The bassoon at the beginning of the Rite of Spring; the bass solo in Mahler 1. The objective of playing the written notes as well as possible doesn’t necessarily align with the objective of playing the music right. The music is not on the page, as any saxophone player will tell you.

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