Saxophonist aims to 'lose himself’ in his music

August 1
Kalamazoo Gazette

Ashu is a saxophonist, but he's not a jazz musician. Instead Ashu plays classical music.  He will perform in a recital with pianist Winston Choi at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday as part of the Fontana Chamber Arts Summer Festival.

They will perform works by Hindemith, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Piazzolla and Demersseman's "Fantaisie sur un theme original," which is one of the earliest pieces written for saxophone.

The saxophone was created about 150 year ago by Belgian Adolphe Saxe. While modern listeners often associate it with jazz, it was perfectly designed to suit classical music, Ashu said.

"It's an incredible instrument in tone and beauty," he said in a phone interview from his home in Evanston , Ill. "It can sing like a voice. It can play with the emotional intensity of a cello. It can project in the largest halls like a brass instrument. And it plays virtuosic music with the ease of a violin or a piano."

Ashu fell in love with the sound of the instrument when he was 9 years old and heard it on the car radio. He was hooked solid when he saw the instrument in school and decided "it was the coolest-looking instrument."

He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in saxophone performance at Northwestern University . The young musician now lives in his former college town and is building a career doing solos and concertos.

He has performed around the world and has won first prize at numerous competitions including the International Heida Hermanns Competition in Connecticut and the Houston Symphony Alice Flores-Smith Competition. He made his Carnegie Hall debut as winner of the 1997 National Alliance for Excellence Performing Arts Competition.

Because the saxophone is a relatively new instrument, Ashu finds himself doing a fair amount of arranging to increase his repertoire. Fontana audiences will have the opportunity to hear his arrangement of Rachmaninoff's Andante from Sonata.

"I think about trying to share myself with the audience and trying to lose myself in the music's emotion," he said. "I hope to share a little of who I am with each and every person in the audience.”