Therapeutic Music: Alto Saxophonist Ashu to Perform Saturday with Wichita Fall Symphony

Times Record News

Lana Sweaten-Shalts

Ashu loves movies - he loves “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings."  He’s fairly savvy with the computer. He set up his own Web site.  Converses a lot by e-mail.  Likes to hike and bike.  It’s the usual things.

Except for the saxophone —and not the kind of saxophone you might hear in a smoky jazz club, but the kind you will hear Saturday night with the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra.

Ashu, an alto saxophonist (though he sometimes totes along his other “voice,” too — his soprano saxophone), decided when he was just 10 years old to follow a different path than that of his dad, an engineer, and mom, a banker.

“One day when I was about 10, I was riding in the car with my parents. I heard this instrument on the radio and it just blew me away,” said Ashu, who is known as much for his performances on stage as he’s known for his engaging personality. (He often likes to meet with fans after his concerts.)  “There is just something about the sound of the instrument that left such an impression on me,” said Ashu. “It has a very human quality to it.”

Since first hearing the saxophone, he joined the school band the very next year and has never strayed from that first instrument of choice. He started on the sax and never wavered, even after his family moved from California when he was about 12 to The Woodlands, Texas .   His mom and dad still live there, so returning to Texas is something he likes to do often, though the concert soloist settled in Chicago after graduating from Northwestern University in Evanston , Ill.

But rather than migrate to jazz, big band or even rock music, the path many saxophonists take, Ashu decided instead that symphonic music and classical music would be where he would go. 

“I just fell in love with the classical way of playing,” he said. “I loved how the great soloists are able to express themselves with such emotion and personality.”

Choosing a music career wasn’t what Ashu’s parents had in mind for him in the beginning.  “Ultimately, they wanted me to do whatever made me happy … They were behind me.  Of course, I think any parent at first is somewhat wary because it can be a sometimes fickle profession, with little reliability from year to year.” 

Luckily, Ashu is not a run-of-the-mill saxophone player.  He played his recital debut at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Hall and his concerto debut at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington , D.C. He knows his way around the saxophone.  Also, he likes to practice, though he doesn’t think it matters how much you practice, as long as you’re working toward a particular musical goal. 

“I’ve always enjoyed practicing.  I always find it to be very fulfilling to lock yourself in a room for a couple of hours and come out being able to do something you couldn’t do before.  It’s an incredibly satisfying feeling.  You could be having a bad day… but afterwards, you just feel better.” 

For Ashu’s concert Saturday night with the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra, he will be performing two compositions. The first is Jacque Ibert’s Concertino da Camera. “It’s a very virtuosic work — one of the greatest works written for saxophone.” 

The other is a piece by John Williams called “Escapades for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra.”  He originally wrote the composition for the film “Catch Me If You Can,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.  When Ashu heard Williams was turning it into his first saxophone concerto, he couldn’t resist adding it to his repertoire. 

“It’s just an incredibly fun piece to play,” he said. “I grew up just enamored by the music of John Williams … He wrote all these incredible film scores. To stand up on stage and play one of his works with a huge orchestra behind you is very, very thrilling.”

The orchestra will round out Saturday’s program with Adams’ “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” Ravel’s “La Valse” and Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet, Overture-Fantasy.”

After his performance here, Ashu will be heading to San Antonio and then to Minnesota .  He has had concerts scheduled every weekend and recently traveled to New York City , Portugal , France and Vienna .  

“To get to meet different people and to visit different cultures is extremely inspiring and invigorating. For example, I just got invited to do a tour of the Baltic …when else would I have gotten an opportunity like that?”