Our Composition Department had the amazing Taimur Sullivan in the house this past week.

Taimur is best known as the baritone saxophonist for the Prism Quartet, but he’s all over the new music map, having played with Ensemble 21, Ensemble Sospeso, Fireworks Ensemble, Glass Farm Ensemble, Nex(t)works, Washington Square Contemporary Music Society, Composers Concordance, and League of Composers/ISCM, to name a few.

On Friday he was a guest of our Composition Seminar, using spectralist composer Philippe Hurel’s Op Cit to demonstrate extended saxophone techniques. Despite enough multiphonics, bent pitches, slap tongues, subtones and sung notes to please any technique extender, the part of the piece that really got me was the demonic, rapid-fire, single-tongued staccato passage Taimur produced on low Bb at the end of the third movement. It was so clean and powerful, evidence of truly awesome technical skills.

He then gave our students a professional primer on getting their music out there, the dos and don’ts of convincing people to play your music, which, of course, is always helpful. He told an amusing story of calling Milton Babbitt up at midnight to ask him to write a violin and sax duo – which certainly got Milton’s attention.

He followed the seminar with a concert (joined by pianist Allison Gagnon) on Tuesday that was just outstanding. The first half was all French, the second half all American.

The whole program was strong, but the best piece in my book was Fernande Decruck’s Sonata. Does anybody know anything about this woman? The four-movement piece, which seems to have been written in Paris around the outset of the Nazi occupation, is fashioned exquisitely – every phrase seems just right, yet completely fresh. It was everything that French Post-Romanticism wanted to be, but seldom was. I’d love to hear more of her work.

After John Anthony Lennon’s lovely Distances Within Me and John Harbison’s pleasantly quirky San Antonio, Taimur concluded the program with his own adaptation of Eric Dolphy’s version of God Bless the Child, the wonderful song that Billie Holiday co-wrote with Arthur Herzog. Describing this version as “part Baroque, part cubist and part bebop,” he launched into a rendition that was all of the above and more, capping it off with the most beautiful playing of a terrific evening.

I’d recommend a double-dose of Taimur Sullivan to anyone.

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