A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
Being involved in so-called Classical Music, I don’t meet
players of the saxophone very often. I do make a point of
including them in my programming, but finding practitoners is not a
common as the rest of the orchestral and band instruments. David
Pituch is one of the small group who specialize in the Classical
segment of the literature. And, happily for me, his home is in
Evanston, my own hometown and the suburb that borders the northeastern
portion of Chicago.
As usual, I asked for an interview and we arranged to meet at his home
one afternoon. Besides his playing, he also teaches and writes,
and looks for all the world to be an ordinary, average citizen of
suburbia. Just a few of his world-wide exploits are listed in the
biography following the chat.
While I was setting up the small tape recorder for the
interview, David was glancing down, noticing the lights that indicate
signal going into the machine . . . . .
Do you always make sure that the levels are right on your recordings,
or do you just play the saxophone?
I just play the saxophone. I always count on having a good
engineer in the studio.
BD: Can you
trust your engineer?
DP: You can’t
trust all engineers. But there are some engineers that I work
with that I really enjoy working with, because they make me better than
what I am! There are certain engineers that know how to capture
the saxophone’s sound.
BD: Are they
— and you — trying to capture a
specific sound, or are you just trying to get the best possible sound
of the saxophone?
question. I think we’re trying to get the best sound possible
— at least that’s what my hope is. I’ve worked with
sound engineers who are trying to get a specific sound, and that
usually doesn’t agree with what I like. I remember one engineer
in particular who was going for a sound with a lot of presence.
BD: He put
the mike right down into the instrument?
wanted to hear key clops and air going through the instrument.
She mentioned that she had just recorded a guitar player, and she
really liked the way the hand moved up and down the frets.
BD: With all
the squeaks and everything?
yes. And that has its appeal for guitar playing.
BD: But I
would think you would want to get rid of that.
Exactly. I don’t like that. And you only hear those
things when you’re very, very close. You have to have your ear
right up to the saxophone to hear that.
BD: Of course
there are the occasional composers who will write key slaps, and things.
DP: Yes, just
like Brian Fennelly did it in several of the pieces he wrote for
me. [See my interview
with Brian Fennelly.] Those key clops actually have pitches,
and now they’ve all been codified. When you slap down an E key
you know what pitch you’re going to get, but you find out that there
are other things that happen, too. If you take off the mouthpiece
and slap down the E key, then another pitch comes out!
BD: I was
going to ask if your embouchure helped or changed that at all?
DP: It can,
yes. You can manipulate the sounds to a certain extent.
BD: Is a key
slap really music, or is it an effect?
DP: It all
depends on how it’s used. You could ask John Cage if silence
really music. I think you can come up with a parallel answer,
that a key slap can be music.
BD: Well, is
the tone that you produce really music, or is it an effect?
you’ve got me thinking! I see the point you’re getting at.
It’s an effect, but you use it to get a musical end. The tone,
for me, is the way a person expresses themselves on the
instrument. Everybody’s tone is a little bit different. You
talk about different tones of saxophone playing because they’re very
evident, but if you listen to any number of good pianists playing one
after the other, they all have different tone, too, even if they’re
playing on the same instrument. It’s the touch; it’s their
approach to playing, and I think it’s the individuality of tone.
BD: I would
think that a woodwind instrument, especially, would have more
individuality, because it is you controlling directly the piece of wood
that is vibrating.
DP: We have
extremes. That’s why you can hear a very fine classical saxophone
player playing everything exactly the way it’s supposed to be.
And you can go to the raucous extreme of an amateur saxophonist playing
in some night club just for fun, as well as everything in the
middle! That’s also one of the appeals of the saxophone, that it
has all these possibilities. Now, with composers looking to
expand the palette of sound, they have a lot of possibilities with the
BD: If you
discover a new technique or a new sound, are you anxious to keep it to
yourself and use it, or you want to spread it around to all the
composers and say, “Here’s a new gimmick.”
DP: I like to
spread it to composers, yes. I don’t like to give it to other
saxophonists! [Both laugh] I’m stingy about that. Let
them find out for themselves. Sometimes those effects can pique a
composer’s interest; if it does that and a new piece results, that’s
great! Effects for just the sake of effects really don’t do
anything for me, but when I can show a composer, “Hey, listen to what I
can do!” and then he comes back to me and says, “David, that was a nice
effect. Look what I did with it!” you put those two together and
it comes out to be music, then that’s my goal in life!
BD: Is it the
music that’s on the printed page, or is it the sound in the air, or is
it you manipulating the instrument? What is the music, actually?
DP: The music
is definitely not on the page. The written music is a guide and
it sort of sketches out more or less what you’re supposed to do.
Then you’re like an actor and you have to interpret it. It’s like
reading Shakespeare; you can read it thousands of different ways.
With outstanding pieces of music, they’re open to many, many different
interpretations. So each individual artist has to decide for
himself how he understands it.
Especially if a piece is being written and you’re giving the premiere,
is there a lot of interplay between you, the performer, and the
DP: In the
best situations, yes. I really enjoy working closely with
composers. I’ve worked with many over the past two decades, and
it’s always the best situation. I have a good rapport with
composers — at least the composers I’ve worked
with, like Bent Lorentzen, Brian Fennelly, T.J. Anderson, or more
recently Robert Kritz. Working closely with them is a joy.
It’s music itself; the rapport that you can develop between what you
can do on the saxophone and what a composer is able to create in his
mind, this world of music he’s able to create.
BD: So it’s
really a collaboration?
DP: It is a
collaboration, with most of the input being done, of course, by the
composer. He’s the motor and I’m the stimulus. He’s the
motor, and then after I stimulate this interest in writing something
for saxophone in a certain medium — for saxophone and cello, or
saxophone and orchestra, or saxophone and piano, or saxophone and some
other combination — then I have to interpret what I think the composer
is trying to say in the music. That’s when the glory of music
BD: Does it
satisfy you when the composer says, “Oh, you’ve really got it down
course! That’s what we go for!
BD: But then
you keep looking, don’t you?
Pieces mature, it’s true. I’ve noticed this with composers,
too. When you play their works, they say, “Oh, that was
great! That was fantastic!” Then the next time you play it,
in a different situation, they might say, “That was superb. It
was better than I’ve ever heard you play!” So I’m sure there’s a
kind of motivation going on there, too. But pieces that you play
for longer periods of time do mature, and you have a different
understanding of them. My favorite piece, for example, which is
on the first album I ever made called David Pituch Plays, is the Creston Saxophone Sonata. It’s a
piece that’s an old warhorse among professional classical
saxophonists. People don’t even like to record it anymore because
they feel it’s been over-recorded. But I think it’s fabulous to
have the opportunity to play this piece frequently, to record it one
time and a second time and a third time, even! I usually put
about five years of time between recordings. Most record
companies have a policy, too, that if you record something —
like a major piece — then it
shouldn’t be done for at least five, if not ten years more. But
the second time you do it, it’s always different, and usually better
than the first time. It’s not always better, but it will be
different. [Both laugh] Sometimes there are little twists
in it, and other times, if you listen to older recordings versus newer
recordings, you find out that those older recordings weren’t so
bad! Sure, they have their problems, or there are things you
wished you would have done differently. But when you stand back
and just try to listen to it as an entire entity, there’s something
there that clicks. If you’re in a flow, it doesn’t matter what
stage of your career you’re in; there’s going to be something magical
mentioning any names, are there perhaps some pieces that you’ve gotten
involved in where you really have gotten to the bottom and there’s
nothing more you can get out of them?
DP: There are
pieces that seem to have a dead end. Those are not
classics. What we’re always looking for is a classic, or another
classic. I think the rule of thumb is that about three percent of
all pieces that are written — or maybe less
— are going to played over and over again, like Beethoven
BD: But is it
right for you as a performer, and we as the audience, to expect every
new piece to be part of that three percent?
DP: We always
hope, and many times those hopes are proven to be true! Lately I
think that there are many very fine contemporary composers
around. I think I’m taking a twist on the answer that most people
expect regarding contemporary music, but I really have gotten into
contemporary music. It’s a kind of a challenge. There’s one
composer in particular I’ve really enjoyed working with; his name is
Bent Lorentzen, from Denmark. He’s written several pieces for
me. I remember when I first met Bent he asked me if I would like
to hear his television opera. It was a recording by (then) West
German Television, and it was called Proud
Mette. It’s based on an old Scandinavian legend about two
young men who make a bet about how faithful this one man’s intended
is. And it ends tragically! [Laughs]
dear! Nothing like Così
DP: Not at
all! More like Lulu!
[Both laugh] But Bent invited me to listen to this with
him. I was sitting next to the composer, and when the music
started I said, “If I were sitting at home by myself, I would go right
over and turn that off!” It was horrible! I couldn’t stand
it at the beginning. But Bent is my friend, so I listened, and
when I finally understood his harmonic language and got involved with
the drama and saw how his musical style was able to fit with this very
austere legend, then I was happy that I had sat down and started
listening to it. And the more I listened to it, the closer I
became to the work. I think it’s a fantastic piece; it really
is. But I had to give it a chance.
brings up the whole question of accessibility. It seems that
composers are trying to make music that is still interesting but more
accessible. Do you fit into this at all, or are you just simply
the performer of whatever comes down the pike?
I’m the performer of whatever comes down the pike. I always give
any of the pieces that are written for me one fair shot, and I’ve been
surprised. There have been pieces that I’ve thought really didn’t
work or that do work, and other pieces that I was convinced are future
masterpieces, and I was dead wrong. So I don’t play pieces that I
like; I play pieces of composers that I like. Usually these are
people I know and that I admire.
BD: So then
you let the public — and history — make
DP: Yes, and
time, which is history. I’ve given up on trying to evaluate
pieces. I evaluate pieces that other people play. That’s
easy! But to evaluate the pieces that I play is very, very
difficult. And when I try to evaluate my recordings, it’s almost
Yes. I know my friends and former students, when they have
a recording will ask me, “Do you do the same thing I do? I just
recorded this concerto and I can’t stop listening to it. I’ve
been listening to it every day for the last month and everybody thinks
I’m going crazy!” But there’s just something about it; you just
keep going back over the recording, and there’s nothing you can do
Pleasantly so, or agonizingly so?
Agonizing. You need a certain distance in time in order to
really listen to a new recording, especially if it’s a complex
BD: Tell your
family to throw away your stereo equipment!
Right! Yes, for a few months, and then come back and listen
to it. That’s the sane thing to do.
you’re far enough removed that you can really judge it?
because there are all sorts of things that happen during a recording
session that you’d rather forget about... like the conductor
turning the page and it doesn’t quite go over, and for some reason that
makes you worried. You know that that’s what happening in your
mind as you’re playing, but nobody else does.
BD: But it
sounds fine on the recording.
Right. But later on you forget about that and you don’t notice
those extraneous factors that are involved.
BD: Do you
play the same for the microphone as you do for a live audience?
no. One thing that I’ve noticed is that there are some people who
record better than other people. This is a fact, and that could
be for a number of reasons. It could be the professional
situation, for example. People know which engineers they can work
with, and other people I don’t think take it seriously enough.
After a while, if you’ve got a good engineer that you work with, then
he or she is usually able to pick you up in the same way. That’s
what I’ve found.
finding that right engineer is trial and error?
true. You have to work with a lot of different ones, so the more
recordings you do, the better. The more time you have to do a
recording, the better; the more peaceful everything is. If you’re
concerned about anything else except the recording, then it makes it
difficult. But whenever I’m doing a recording, it’s almost like
everything is under a microscope. You have to be very, very
careful, and meticulous.
BD: Can you
be too careful?
Well... [Laughs] I hope not! But when you’re
playing a live performance, it’s for the moment and you should allow
yourself liberties. You can play to the hall; you can play to the
audience. You might have a particular reed on that’s making
things incredibly easy for you. That has happened. It seems
like reeds come up to the situation, or it’s just our perception of
it. Or you’re working with that reed in a certain way causes you
to play something a little differently. We’re talking about real
subtleties, but when you’re performing on a recording, that’s something
that’s going to be listened to by some people twenty-five times or
fifty times or a hundred times, and so it has to be as perfect as
possible. So I’m a lot more careful with recordings than I am
with live performances. But when you do a lot of recordings, it
also means that your live performances are more meticulous, too.
BD: So they
balance each other a little bit?
great to have a good combination. If you’re just playing live
concerts all the time and not doing any recording, there are all sorts
of dangers that can happen. Or if you’re recording all the time
and never play for a live audience, things get to be dead. That’s
one of the reasons why I’ve done a lot of work with recording
orchestras. Their specific job is to record. They don’t do
anything else. Their job is to either provide background music
for films, record new pieces, or record new versions of old
pieces. They just keep going through the repertoire, and one of
the policies they invariably return to — that
all recording orchestras have to — is that at
some time or another they play live concerts, too. Otherwise,
they lose it!
BD: Have we
gotten to the point now where you can be regarded as a classical
saxophone player, rather than just someone who plays the instrument
that’s normally in a swing band, or a jazz instrument?
definitely so. I’m speaking from a worldwide perspective right
now. It’s still a little tenuous in America. Last September
I attended the World Saxophone Congress in Valencia, Spain. I’ve
attended other World Saxophone Congresses. The first one was here
in Chicago back in 1969. I was part of Sigurd Rascher’s ensemble;
I was like a teenager! And I attended the Congress in Pesaro,
Italy, a few years ago, and I’ve attended some other conferences in
France. But at the last World Saxophone Congress it was a real
thrill to hear so many outstanding saxophonists of all generations and
from so many different countries — countries that you wouldn’t expect
that there would be truly great saxophonists... like Spain.
Spain has many good musicians, but you don’t think of outstanding
saxophonists coming from Spain. You think of outstanding
saxophonists coming from France, first of all, and Holland and Belgium
because Adolphe Sax was a Belgian himself. But you don’t think of
a Portuguese or a Spanish saxophonist as being outstanding. They
do exist, and they have outstanding jazz saxophonists, too.
BD: Is that
probably due to the influence of recordings and radio making it more
DP: I’m sure
that’s part of it. They do have a long tradition of playing the
saxophone because of their military band involvement, so you have
people that have been playing the saxophone for generations. Now,
because of the media, they hear a different way of playing. They
hear a different level of playing and a different repertoire that
requires them to play in a different way. I gave a master class
several years ago for the Gulbenkian Foundation. I was surprised
when they asked me if I wanted to give a saxophone master class.
It was one week in Lisbon. They also said that I could play a
recital and give a lecture about the history of the saxophone. I
thought that would be very, very nice, so I did it and there were
twenty-five saxophonists that appeared! I would say about five to
seven were older military band saxophonists. They came and they
just sat there. It was a day off for them, in a way! [Both
laugh] Then there was a large group of young saxophonists.
They were very dissatisfied that the only possibilities that they had
would be to play in a military band or a police band. They were
more ambitious and wanted to play concert music; they wanted to play
BD: Is most
of the concert music solo saxophone with piano or with orchestra?
There’s not so many parts written in orchestra scores for saxophone.
DP: No, but
more and more are being written all the time. It’s a very, very
slow process. I enjoy playing with orchestras. There is no
greater thrill than playing L’Arlésienne
or being part of Bolero,
playing Lt. Kijé or
the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances.
I would die to play those parts! And the audiences really love it
whenever the saxophone is there. It’s not only the beautiful
sound of the saxophone with orchestra; it’s also the visual, you know.
BD: It’s more
exotic. It’s more unusual.
It is. And it’s a pearl up there. It’s shiny and it
sparkles, and this gorgeous sound can come out of it. I think
that there’s a new kind of saxophone playing that has evolved over the
past decade, one that’s of extreme precision and very high musicality
with truly outstanding intonation — intonation
that can compete with any other instrument. Because the control
over the saxophone’s intonation is so flexible, I am convinced that a
well-trained musician playing the saxophone can actually play more in
tune than a clarinetist. The clarinetist will have more problems
than a saxophonist.
BD: And yet
they’re both single reed with a similar embouchure.
DP: Yes, but
a fundamentally different acoustical principal. The clarinet is a
cylindrical tube and the saxophone is a conical tube.
BD: So it
DP: It gets
bigger and it has a different overtone series. It has the
overtones very similar to the stringed instruments, whereas the
clarinet has overtones that are the odd overtones — the
third, fifth, seventh, ninth.
BD: And of
course it’s resonating in a metallic chamber, rather than a wooden
DP: But I
understand it’s the proportions that really make the difference, not
the material. The material has some effect. I know that a
thin-walled saxophone will play lighter than a heavier-walled
one. And if the metal is thicker, there seems to be more
resistance to it. I was in Brussels a while ago and I went to the
Adolphe Sax Museum, which is there. I would recommend anybody
who’s in Belgium to go there, because it’s just a phenomenal place to
BD: Is his
first effort there?
DP: All of
them are there. His efforts number in the hundreds, if not
BD: Are his
early ones perhaps less refined?
DP: I don’t
recall. I know people often talk about his early clarinets and
early flutes. Some of the early basic clarinets from 1838 are
there. I would assume some of the very early instruments are
there. His father was a very famous lutenist, and even his early
attempts at making instruments were exemplary.
BD: Does it
please you that there is a whole family of saxophones, from the small
one to the big one?
DP: I think
it makes a lot of sense; it really does.
BD: Do you
play anything besides the alto?
DP: I really
enjoy playing tenor. Tenor is a beautiful instrument.
Soprano is always a challenge! Only the very best saxophonist can
play soprano the way it should be.
DP: I think
it’s the most challenging one because of the small embouchure.
And it’s a slightly different; all the other saxophones sort of curve
into your mouth. You have to make sure that you don’t change the
embouchure when you’re playing soprano by tilting it down too much.
BD: I think
it would also be heavier because you have the whole weight of it in
your arms, rather than using a strap around your neck to help support
perhaps. But you get used to that very quickly. And now,
nearly all of the soprano saxophones are made with a strap, too, and
that’s the latest thing. And also the range of the saxophone is
increasing. Like the new Selmer Series Three saxophones that are
coming out this June — or are supposed to come
out in the United States. They’re probably already out in
France. They go up another half-tone.
mock horror] Oh, no, it’s Sax ‘98 — like Windows
98! [Both laugh]
DP: They go
all the way up to a high G instead of F sharp. So it goes a
BD: Will you
get a lot of use out of that top note?
DP: I will
get lots of use out of that because what that implies; it’s not just
that note, but the ways you can color any other sound by using that
key, by venting that. There will be possible multiphonics that
might result from using that, and alternate fingerings that come about.
BD: To change
pitch and color?
DP: To change
pitch and color, yes. So it’s very exciting! I love these
BD: It’s nice
to be around when it’s still developing, moreso than some of the other
instruments that are fairly well established.
it’s exciting. And also our repertoire is developing. Going
back to Valencia, Spain, there were so many new compositions there
being presented, that I could not absorb all of them. There were
three programs going on simultaneously. Outstanding performers
from all over! We were talking about the different voices of
saxophone. The one thing that really impressed me the most about
that World Saxophone Congress was that there seems to be a tendency for
composers to write for multi-sax. In other words, one player is
expected to play on two, three, four other saxophones. We don’t
call it doubling anymore. A person who does that is called a
multi-instrumentalist, or a multi-sax player.
BD: I trust
you do not play more than one at any time, but at different places in
Yes. There was on individual who played on two saxophones
at the same time; three, actually, in one place. It sounded very
good, but ultimately, I think it’s gimmicky! There was one piece
that I saw where there were four saxophonists playing on four different
instruments, so there were sixteen saxophones up on stage! The
combinations that you can get out of that were incredible! We
could go anywhere from all four playing soprano, four altos, four
tenors, four baritones, and any other combination, too — two
altos, two baritones. So, this goes on and on!
BD: So you
have a sax quartet having to travel with more luggage, then?
that’s the downside! [Both laugh] That’s what I don’t like
doing — traveling with three horns, and that’s
what you usually have to do.
BD: Ever wish
you played the piccolo?
Sometimes! I dread traveling; having my saxophone strapped
on my back, another one in my left hand and my suitcase in the other
hand. It’s just oppressive sometimes. I know I’m being
petty, but sometimes I wish I could go someplace and be a normal person!
What advice do you have for people who want to write music for
saxophone these days?
DP: I’ve been
thinking about this a lot over the past few months because I’ve just
written a couple of articles about the saxophone and I find that if I
put things down on paper, things are clearer for me. What I’ve
noticed by being introspective is that there is a lack of chamber music
with saxophone. Chamber music always is a very delicate kind of
form of music.
BD: You don’t
mean a sax quartet, but the sax with other instruments?
Yes. I always think of like saxophone and flute, for
example. It’s a beautiful combination that hasn’t been used very
much. Saxophone and horn is an incredibly beautiful combination.
BD: Does sax
work with strings?
DP: Yes, it
works. I have several projects right now. I recently played
a quintet for saxophone and string quartet in New York City.
Brian Fennelly wrote a piece called Skyscapes
and I played it with the Washington Square Chamber Musicians.
That works very well, and Bogoslav Schaefer, who is the composition
professor at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, is writing a piece for
me for soprano saxophone and string quartet,
which I will be playing in Austria next August. If all goes well
— I think I can say this — there are plans for me to play with the
Arditti String Quartet. [See my interview with Irvine
Arditti.] That’s very exciting! So yes, saxophone and
strings works; also saxophone and violin. I played a recital not
long ago at the Harold Washington Library, with violinist Sam Thavieu,
a piece by Leon Stein, a Chicago composer. It was a trio for
saxophone, violin, and piano.
course, he wrote quite a bit for saxophone.
DP: He did,
because he wrote for Cecil Leeson, who used to teach at the
Northwestern Music School.
advice do you have for younger performers coming along on the saxophone?
DP: Get a
very, very good musical education!
BD: You mean
a basic grounding in music?
yes. That is the key. The saxophone has always been
criticized for its problems with intonation, and that has been
corrected. There are saxophonists out there; there are many
saxophonists in the Chicago area who are superb, so, that hurdle has
been crossed. The next hurdle that I see is that because other
instrumentalists have the opportunity to play so many other styles of
music than we do, we have to become more aware of those styles and the
subtleties of them, and come to grips with that.
BD: You can’t
just go and pick up the “Mozart Saxophone Concerto,”
or the “Webern Saxophone
DP: We don’t
have those, right! [Both laugh] We have our great pieces,
such as the Ibert Concertino da
Camera, which is a marvelous piece.
BD: Do you
play much in transcription?
DP: I don’t
anymore. I used to, and I think it’s a mistake. I think
that saxophonists should be developing their music. There’s a
place for playing transcriptions — for students. I think if a
professional saxophonist plays a transcription, he has to be very, very
careful. If you’re going to do the Mozart Clarinet Concerto on the saxophone
— which you couldn’t do — but let’s say someone was foolish enough to
the Bassoon Concerto on tenor
DP: Okay, you
could try that. That’s something that would probably work.
But you better be as good a saxophonist, and have as much experience
playing that concerto as the bassoonist would be who’s been studying it
for ten years and then finally goes out and plays it with the Chicago
Sinfonietta or the Chicago Symphony.
you’re playing the saxophone, are you playing an instrument that you’re
holding in your hand, or does it become part of you?
DP: Yes, it
becomes part of you. There’s no question about that.
Actually, you go into a different realm, and when you can do something
like that, when you can get into a different realm when you’re
recording, that’s a joy. I did that one time when I recorded
Brian Fennelly’s Tesserae for
solo alto saxophone. It was like there was something magical
happening during the recording session, and to be able to capture that
on tape, and hear it, was a great experience. Those things happen
during performances, but they don’t always happen during recordings.
BD: Tell me
about finding the Brant Concerto.
I know you wanted to talk about that.
DP: I guess I
can fess up that I finally got around to writing my dissertation for my
D.M. degree at Northwestern. That had to do with the development
of the saxophone between the two world wars. My thesis was that
the modern saxophone developed between the First and Second World Wars,
and I think I’ve proved it. The way I understand the development
of the saxophone right now is that there are two basic genres of
saxophone music that developed during the inter-war period —
the concerto for saxophone with large ensemble (usually of
strings), and the saxophone quartet. Those are the two genres
that defined our concept of the modern classical saxophone. The
first concertos were surprisingly not French! Many of the
concertos that I uncovered were obscure concertos — a piece by Edmund
von Borck, for example. He was an unusual person. His
family can be traced back to Breithart, from the second Liederschule in
Germany, and he ended up tragically dying in World War Two in Italy; he
was an officer in the German Army. So the man was a very complex
individual; he was the man who I understand as being the person to
write the first saxophone concerto. It’s an expressionistic
piece, but who he was was his problem; who he was and what he became
are two different things. I think that’s often a problem in
understanding many composers. We look at their personal views and
compare it with their music; it’s better that we don’t think about
that! [Both laugh] The key to these first pieces were
individuals. Most the concertos were written for two, possibly
three, saxophonists. Marcel Mule was generally acknowledged to be
one of the greatest, if not the greatest, saxophonists who have ever
lived and taught. Fortunately, he has a great legacy as a
teacher, and he also has a fabulous legacy as a recording artist both
in film and on old recordings. There will be a time when
audiophiles will be looking for old Marcel Mule recordings.
There’s no doubt about it, because they’re just magnificent! The
other individual was Sigurd Rascher, for whom many of the early
concertos were written. For example, Alexander Glazunov wrote his
Concerto for Rascher; Jacques
Ibert wrote his Concertino
for him, and Frank Martin wrote the Ballade,
which is another gorgeous piece. There are really two pieces
— one for tenor saxophone and orchestra, but that’s a
transcription of the trombone Ballade,
and it doesn’t really work for saxophone; it’s just a
transcription. But the alto saxophone Ballade is magnificent. And
then I happened to run across Henry Brant’s Concerto, which he claims was
written in 1941, and all other sources say 1942. But I think he’s
probably right since he wrote it! [Laughs] I tried to find
this piece the normal, academic way, going through interlibrary loan
and checking with publishers, and there was no way I could get a hold
of it. So I finally wrote to a composers’ organization in New
York, and asked them how I might be able to get in touch with Henry
Brant. They said, “If you address a letter to him in care of us,
we will forward the letter.” They wouldn’t give me his telephone
number; they will not give me his address! So I wrote the letter
just a few weeks ago, and about two weeks after
that I got a telephone call from Henry Brant, saying that he was
interested that someone remembered the Concerto!
BD: And now
you’re about to play it?
practicing it right now, and I’m working on finding some professional
ensembles. Mr. Brant is very, very particular. In the
forties and fifties, when this piece was being played regularly, it was
being played by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati
Symphony, the Rochester Philharmonic, some very fine orchestras.
recording is, I think, with Cincinnati and Thor Johnson?
yes. And that’s a jewel. It’s a gorgeous recording.
going to make the second recording of it, eventually?
DP: That is
the plan. That is what Mr. Brant wants to do, and that is
definitely what I want to do.
BD: I hope it
comes to pass; I really do.
you. We’ll do our best to make sure it does! It’s part of
our heritage as saxophonists. The reason I love it is because it
uses all these American themes. It’s very folksy, and it exploits
the saxophone in a way that only we could. It’s very
idiomatically written for the saxophone. It’s a masterfully
composed piece, and masterfully written for the saxophone, so I think
it’s a piece that definitely should not be forgotten. And it will
One last question — is playing the saxophone fun?
the saxophone is a great joy, especially when everything
works right and when you understand the instrument from an acoustical
perspective; when you understand that anytime something squeaks, it’s
not a mistake. It’s just that something happens that shouldn’t
but it’s really part of the instrument; it’s part of what makes the
instrument. The hardest thing for me in playing the saxophone was
accept the saxophone for what it is. But once you can do that,
you can come to terms with working with the instrument like it was any
other musical instrument. Right now there’s this period of
I think we’ve gone through a major period of discovery with the
instrument, most recently regarding multiphonics and alternate
fingerings and things like that. I think a lot of saxophonists
tired of that right now, but having gone through all of that, we are
more familiar with the instrument; we have a depth of understanding
that we didn’t have before. So when we come back to play the
fundamentals, we’re a lot better equipped to do that.
Pituch is an international classical saxophonist based in the Chicago
area. He has been a featured solo artist on Chicago radio stations
WFMT, WNIB, and WBEZ. His live-recital broadcasts have been recorded by
WGBH in Boston, Danish Radio Program 2, Polish Radio, Finnish Radio,
and Austrian Radio. His critically acclaimed solo CD "David Pituch
Plays" (Pro Viva ISPV 175 CD) is available at most major record stores
(Tower Record, Borders Books and Music and from amazon.com). The
Saxophone Journal describes David Pituch as "an outstanding performer
and a wonderful soloist... He is a musical force that must be heard and
a saxophonist that can't be ignored.
Concertos premiered by David Pituch include: Concertino by Roman Palester, Musica Concertante by Edward
Boguslawski, Concerto by
Brian Fennelly, and Concerto
by the Chicago composer Robert Kritz. He has performed in recital on
the Dame Myra Hess series at the Chicago Cultural Center and the
Chautauqua Chicago Series of the Chicago Public Library.
Internationally, Mr. Pituch has been a featured soloist on orchestral
concerts, recitals, and music festivals throughout all of Europe. As a
chamber musician he has performed with the Washington Square Chamber
Musicians in New York City and with Muzyka Centrum in Cracow, Poland
and Schwaz/Tirol, Austria.
Mr. Pituch's performances are consistently described as beautiful
programs, thoughtfully designed to demonstrate a broad range of the
emergent classical saxophone playing tradition. David Pituch received
his musical education at the Baldwin-Wallace College Conservatory in
Berea, Ohio (BM); the University of Colorado in Boulder (MM); and at
the School of Music at Northwestern University (DM). In April of 1999
Dr. Pituch received an Alumni Achievement Award from the
Baldwin-Wallace College Conservatory in recognition of his
accomplishments as a performer, promoter, teacher, author, and music
© 1998 Bruce Duffie
This interview was recorded in Evanston on June 18, 1998.
were used (along with recordings) on WNIB ten days later.
This transcription was made and posted on this website in 2009.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago
from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of
2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and
journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM,
as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a
century ago. You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.