Alto saxophonist wields instrument with grace

By Review

Saturday, February 16, 2008

How do you make a saxophone whisper, exactly?

Ashu, alto saxophonist, knows.

The guest artist with the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra, at its Saturday night post-Valentine’s Memorial Auditorium concert, dazed with his ability to make the alto sax do what most people wouldn’t expect it to do — fall into soft, soft whispers, then weave quixotically around a bed of string instruments and then suggest rather firmly that you listen to its emotional outbreaks.

Ashu, a top-caliber saxophonist with plenty of stage presence to boot, boasts a decidedly rich, wonderful tone for the two pieces he commanded Saturday evening. He turned in the very virtuosic (and one of the most challenging) works in the classical sax repertoire, Jacques Ibert’s Concertino da Camera. It was followed by the very fun work, John Williams’ Escapades for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra based on the Steven Spielberg film, “Catch Me If You Can.” (Complete with the orchestra finger-snapping and delivering a “shhhh” in its opening measures.)

Beyond that very buttery tone, Ashu shows a spectacular range, hitting that seemingly unreachable high note in the Ibert piece and then bringing the instrument down to a whisper in the same piece.

His technique is right up there, too, as his fingers flew over the keys for both pieces.

Besides the Ibert and Williams works, the symphony turned in “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” by John Adams, a cacophonous work made up of no chords, really, but all kinds of rhythms going on all over the place. The symphony played the work twice — the first time to introduce the audience to it, and then a second time, after a lengthy musical lesson from Conductor Candler Schaffer.

The orchestra also turned in the Overture-Fantasy from Tchaikovsky’s very romantic “Romeo and Juliet” — a very dramatic piece with tragic and romantic undertones. The orchestra captured all that with its full emotional weight.

© 2008 The E.W. Scripps Co.