The Joy of Sax

It's mostly associated with jazz, but the saxophone was developed in the 1840s as a military and classical instrument. Tucson-based Michael Hester is one of the finest classical saxophonists around, as is evident from his CD Seasons (Smooth Stone Productions) and is likely to be demonstrated live April 26-27 when he premieres a concerto by William Campbell with the Catalina Chamber Orchestra.

Why Hester titled his CD Seasons isn't obvious; what is crystal clear, though, is Hester's unfailing musicality and technical facility. His partnership with pianist Marie Sierra results in a very attractive recital featuring accessible mid-20th-century music.

Transcriptions of some older pieces do enter the mix. Just start with the romantic Intermezzo from Goyescas by Enrique Granados, and listen to how smoothly Hester plays across all registers, his lovely crooning alternating with nimble negotiation of the Spanish figurations. There's nothing remotely Baroque about the way Hester plays a transcription of a Handel violin sonata, but it is highly musical--expressive in the slow movements, phrased well enough in the fast movements to make you overlook the music's nattering sewing-machine character.

Otherwise, the program offers mostly French pieces from the 1940s and '50s. Paul Bonneau's unaccompanied Caprice en forme de valse has so many sly flurries of notes--which Hester beautifully negotiates--that you forget you're hearing a single-line instrument. Several other attractive pieces flow by, but the best comes last: Alfred Desenclos' Prélude, cadence et finale. It's darker and more substantial than the usual Paris Conservatory test piece, and Hester expertly controls the frantic finale.

This weekend, Hester will join the Catalina Chamber Orchestra and conductor Enrique Lasansky for the premiere of William Campbell's Alto Saxophone Concerto; Hester declares that "this extremely accessible and exciting new work is a significant addition to the classical saxophonist's repertoire."

At the same concert, Hester, Campbell (as pianist) and percussionist Todd Hammes will join forces as the Sonoran Consort, performing their collaborative work Open Rail with the orchestra (see "Elements of Style," Sept. 5, 2002), as well as Darius Milhaud's Creation of the World. Rachel Hahn will also solo in Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5.

Concerts are at 7:30 p.m. April 26 and 3 p.m. April 27 at the Catalina High School auditorium, 3645 E. Pima St. Admission costs $10 at the door, with discounts for students, seniors and families.

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