While on a tour of the Midwest, guest saxophonist Drew Whiting and collaborating pianist Casey Dierlam gave a master class and recital Friday evening, showcasing the wide range of styles and genres that the saxophone can perform.
Within the recital, Whiting and Dierlam paid homage to John Cage’s hundredth birthday, performing a work by Cage and fellow doctoral student’s works or “birthday cards for John Cage.”
Drew Whiting attended Michigan State University College of Music, receiving his Master’s and Bachelor’s of Music degrees as a saxophonist, and is currently pursuing his Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Also, he is an active player, teacher and chamber musician, participating in the award-winning Cerulean Saxophone Quartet.
Whiting began the recital with a transcription for soprano saxophone by Robert Schumann titled “Drei Romanzen, Op. 84,” the oldest piece he performed. By the end of the recital, this workstuck out amid the contemporary techniques and effects heard in more modern saxophone repertoire.
He followed the Schumann with another work for soprano saxophone and piano titled “Mara’s Lullaby,” and then “Sonata for alto saxophone and piano” by Jennifer Higdon, representing a more modern style of composition over an older, standard form.
Paying tribute to the hundredth birthday of Cage, Whiting and Dierlam performed the work “Two,” an unpredictable piece dictated by time and space. Taking on a project for Cage’s birthday, Whiting and Dierlam asked fellow students to compose works for them as “birthday cards for John Cage.”
Out of a suite of three pieces, the most notable one was titled “Self-Destruct” and was written by William Burnson.
Between outbursts of saxophone and piano playing, each performer tore apart their score and stuffed them into the innards of the piano and the bell of the saxophone, creating buzzing strings in the piano and quirks to the saxophone sound.
By the end of the suite, the stage was scattered with the remains of the piece and audience members with jaws dropped. Between the “shrieks” and “squawks” sometimes heard from the saxophone, audiences aren’t often surprised, but “Self-Destruct” was an exception.
Whiting concluded the recital with a piece by Lucie Robert entitled “Cadenza,” showing off the extreme range, variety of dynamics and expressivity possible by this reed instrument.
The work of this French composer has been performed frequently in the saxophone studio, particularly when senior Kate Johnson had the opportunity to work with Robert while studying at the London Centre.
New faculty member Instructor of Music Jesse Dochnahl also attended University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Whiting’s visit and performance not only exposed audiences to new saxophone repertoire, but also revealed to saxophone students another school of music making.
The friendship and collaboration between Mr. Dochnahl and Drew Whiting exposed to students and audiences a line-up of both new and old works for saxophone, as well as another route taken as a classical saxophonist and musician.