Saxophonist  David  Pituch

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 . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    Do you always make sure that the levels are right on your recordings, or do you just play the saxophone?

David Pituch:    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 youtrying to capture a specific sound, or are you just trying to get the best possible sound of the saxophone?

DP:    Good 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?

DP:    She 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?

DP:    Yes, yes.  And that has its appeal for guitar playing.

BD:    But I would think you would want to get rid of that.

DP:    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?

DP:    Now 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 saxophone.

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.

BD:    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 composer?

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 comes out!

BD:    Does it satisfy you when the composer says, “Oh, you’ve really got it down right!”?

DP:    Of course!  That’s what we go for!

BD:    But then you keep looking, don’t you?

davidDP:    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 somethinglike a major piecethen 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 happening.

BD:    Without 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 lessare going to played over and over again, like Beethoven or Mozart.

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]

BD:    Oh dear!  Nothing like Così Fan Tutte?

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.

BD:    This 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?

DP:    Honestly, 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 historymake the judgment?

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 impossible.

BD:    You’re too close?

DP:    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 about it.

BD:    Pleasantly so, or agonizingly so?

DP:    Agonizing.  You need a certain distance in time in order to really listen to a new recording, especially if it’s a complex recording.

BD:    Tell your family to throw away your stereo equipment!

DP:    Right!  Yes, for a few months, and then come back and listen to it.  That’s the sane thing to do.

BD:    Then you’re far enough removed that you can really judge it?

DP:    Yeah, 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.

DP:    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?

DP:    No, 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.

BD:    But finding that right engineer is trial and error?

DP:    That’s 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?

DP:    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?

DP:    It’s 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?

DP:    Most 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 universal?

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 classical music.

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.

cd30DP:    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 gets bigger?

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 chamber.

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 go!

BD:    Is his first effort there?

DP:    All of them are there.  His efforts number in the hundreds, if not thousands.

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.

BD:    Why?

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 it.

DP:    Mm-hm, perhaps.  But you get used to that very quickly.  And now, nearly all of the soprano saxophones are made with a strap, too, and they’re balanced.

BD:    Oh!

DP:    Yes, 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.

BD:    [With 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 semitone further.

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 trends!

BD:    It’s nice to be around when it’s still developing, moreso than some of the other instruments that are fairly well established.

DP:    Yeah, 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 the score.

DP:    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?

DP:    Yes, 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?

DP:    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!

BD:    [Laughs] 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?

DP:    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.

BD:    Of 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.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    What 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?

DP:    Yes, 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 Sonata.

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 do that...

BD:    Perhaps the Bassoon Concerto on tenor sax, maybe?

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. 

BD:    When 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 piecesone 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?

DP:    I’m 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.

BD:    The recording is, I think, with Cincinnati and Thor Johnson?

DP:    Yes, yes.  And that’s a jewel.  It’s a gorgeous recording.

BD:    You’re 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.

DP:    Thank 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 not be!

BD:    One last questionis playing the saxophone fun?

DP:    Playing 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 happen, 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 to accept the saxophone for what it is.  But once you can do that, then you can come to terms with working with the instrument like it was any other musical instrument.  Right now there’s this period of discovery.  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 are 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.

David 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 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 historian.

© 1998 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded in Evanston on June 18, 1998.  Portions 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.

Award - winning 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 like 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.