Monday, January 31, 2005
Holding my breath

Anybody that dismisses Philip Glass' music has probably never tried to play one of his pieces.

I say this not as a reaction to David's review of the Anechoic Chamber Ensemble's concert of early Glass works last night--which certainly isn't dismissive--but rather in response to my own preparation of Mr. Glass' Piece in the Shape of a Square (1968), the first half closer on my February 16th Miller Theater recital.

Originally scored for two flutes, I decided to make a version for alto saxophone after being taken by a performance of the work on an album by Alter Ego. In concert I play the second part against a recording of myself performing the first part.

The work presents two major challenges to me as a performer. First, minimalist music takes an extremely high--almost superhuman--level of concertration. If my mind wanders for a split second, I risk loosing my place and being thrown off rhythm. Second, and more important to my health, is figuring out where to breathe. The music simply doesn't stop to allow me to do this. I've already struggled through two performances of the piece on the brink of asphyxiation by the end. Circular breathing, a possible solution in situations where taking a normal breath is impossible, is not an option in this piece. The constant syncopations and articulations leave no room for the technique.

So why torture myself? Well, it's not really torture. The piece is exciting and deserves to be heard. And the work's inherent difficulties only add to its excitement in performance.
Praised by The New York Times as "an inventive musician . . . fresh and surprising," saxophonist Brian Sacawa has firmly established himself as an important contemporary voice for his instrument. He is active as a soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician throughout the United States and is the co-founder of the new music duo Non-Zero with percussionist Timothy Feeney.

He has given premieres of over thirty works by both established and emerging composers, including Michael Gordon, Bright Sheng, Andrew Mead, Oliver Schneller, Ken Ueno, Beata Moon, Hillary Zipper, and Scott McAllister, among many others. Named the Baltimore CITYPAPER’s Critic’s Choice for Classical Music in 2002, he is the recipient of awards for solo performance from both national and international competitions.

Sacawa's versatile career has led to appearances with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the New World Symphony, Harvard Group for New Music, New Music Brandeis, Bargemusic, and at meetings of the ISU Contemporary Music Festival, World Saxophone Congress, North American Saxophone Alliance, and New England Saxophone Symposium.

Brian holds degrees from the University of Michigan, the Peabody Conservatory, and the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, where he studied with Donald Sinta, Gary Louie, and Lynn Klock. He has recorded for the Equililbrium, Naxos, and BiBimBop recording labels.

See Brian's other blog
Sounds Like Now