Woodwinds Are Instrumental in MCO concert

Silicon Valley Community Newspapers
By Heather Zimmerman

Audiences will hear a different wind--that is, woodwinds--blowing across the South Bay 's musical landscape this week.  The concert features saxophonist Ashu as guest soloist.  Ashu returns by popular demand to perform with the Mission Chamber Orchestra, having last appeared with the group in 2005. "He was quite a big hit the first time around," Mission Chamber Orchestra music director and conductor Emily Ray says.

Ashu is a Bay Area native, born and raised in Walnut Creek, who began playing saxophone at age 10. It was pretty much love at first note. "One day, I was riding in the car with my parents and I heard the sound of the saxophone on the radio, and I had heard nothing like it before. I was so taken away by the sound, I begged my parents for a saxophone after that," Ashu says.  Ashu received bachelor's and master's degrees in music from Northwestern University. He has toured extensively in the U.S. and Europe , and earned top prizes in major competitions. He is currently based in Chicago.

It's especially unusual to find many saxophone parts in classical works although, as Ashu points out, the saxophone was invented as a classical instrument. However, it arrived on the scene comparatively late, in the mid-1800s, and is more prominent in 20th-century music such as jazz.  But that hasn't stopped Ashu from performing classical music on the saxophone. His broad repertoire includes everything from the great film composer Ennio Morricone to tango legend Astor Piazzolla; from Gershwin to J.S. Bach. Often Ashu creates his own arrangements. "It's really what moves me, what touches me," he says of his music choices. "Sometimes, with certain composers, I'll just hear a piece and think, 'Wow, if I can play it, if I can do it some justice, that would be something.' Sometimes I'll hear a piece by a composer who didn't write for the saxophone and if I really love it, I'll try to find a way to arrange it."

Ashu will play two works from his repertoire: Alexander Glazunov's Saxophone Concerto in E flat and Heitor Villa-Lobos' Fantasia for Saxophone, pieces that highlight different aspects of the sax's sound. "To me, the saxophone has so much potential," Ashu says. "It can be such a powerfully expressive instrument. It can play so softly, or project over an orchestra. It has all of this incredible potential, and I just think that as a classical instrument, it fits the idiom so well."

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