I’m reaching for words to describe the TGIF event at Tryon Fine Arts Center this past Friday, October 23. This will likely be a Daedalus mission…flying too close to the sun. Ashu and Alex walk onto the stage a little after 6:00 PM and a brief introduction by Gwen Suesse, who, as Tryon Concert Association president/TGIF stagehand had also positioned stands for an alto and a soprano saxophone far stage left of the grand piano. There was no music stand, no page turner for Mr. Alexandre Moutouzkine, on piano, and no patronym for Ashu, on sax.
They began with Jacques Ibert’s alto sax Concertino da Camera. From the start, the relatively spare audience was gripped with entrancing, light fluidity that showed Ibert’s piece to bear an impressionistic cast he perhaps would have disavowed…had he not heard it so played. But that would have been like turning from a son he had issues with.
To categorize Ashu’s playing is meaningless. Clearly, it’s something that belongs to him, a synthesis of jazz, classical and myriad off-shoots. It’s really an amalgam, a collective memory, a kind of world café blending past, present and future. We are seeing an essence that is not familiar…the artist as seer. Certainly, we can identify a technical ability that seems unsurpassable…rapid passages flowing by with flurries as effortless as nickels pouring out of a bucket, as my dad, born in 1908, used to say. We’ll talk soon of Alex.
It was in the next piece, which was arranged for alto sax by Ashu (both he and Alex are prolific transcribers), that I first recognized a sensation I had from the beginning. That being, these fellows weren’t alone. They’ve tapped into something, some past, some unrevised consciousness. As a student, I remember P. D. Ouspensky. He had something very relevant to say about the artist: “Art sees further than merely human sight, and therefore concerning certain sides of life art alone can speak.” These two gentlemen are artists along that vein.
The piece I’m referring to is Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Andante from Sonata, Op. 19, when the sensation began, when it became something that could be followed easily throughout the remainder of the hour program. We were in a place where life’s rhythms, and time itself, were altered. Taking on a plethora of timbres, never was there a hint of heaviness in the soprano or alto saxes. Ashu’s sound is distinctly different from anyone’s I can identify—not that I’m in a position to know, however. But, I’d bet on it!
Together, piano and sax systematically drew a picture of mystic transparency, unknown nuances, pointing as if to broad dominions or unreachable landscapes, high-flying birds above thundering coastlines: Ashu in glorious melody; Alex, the waves, thrilling and magnificent in their many forms. By this time in the program, both artists and audience were captivated, and every seat was filled, seemingly.
It had started with the first piece but would reappear, this unearthly phrasing and placement of notes, an unorthodox relationship, perhaps, between timing and the printed page. When I talked to Ashu backstage afterwards, though I didn’t tell him I was also thinking about this, he acknowledged he could circular breathe, meaning he didn’t always need to take a breath, which made a lot of what he did technically possible.
In beginning the Ibert’s second movement, Ashu was alone. Superior projection and the acoustical support of a fine concert hall (and not crammed-pack with winter apparel) contributed to a slow moving alto sax sound that was mesmerizing, as though it was playing with the air currents. The first movement had stopped so abruptly it seemed you could go to the back of the hall and pick up the notes. But, there was this phenomenon of really long phrases by the sax ascending to a high note that just continued and continued, until you didn’t know when it ended. Alex would be leaning back, almost off the piano bench, motionless.
I thought about this for some time. I did find the words that go with what I felt, kind of like I was hearing things. It goes like this: “I know this is a bit bewildering, but what you’re hearing is something I have tried to get your attention about for a long time. Has it ever occurred to you why you are a witness to staggering beauty you always thought was for someone else?”
Ironically, the past week of the concert was uninterrupted deep blue skies brushed with the plane contrails of fall: reality mimicking art! It had been a difficult week for many of us, and maybe I was just a little off there. TGIF is supposed to be a party, not a religious experience!
But, back to Ouspensky. This is about us. The artists are communicating to us. That’s their job. That’s the way Ashu even articulated his goal when I was backstage. So, Duh! And for Alex, who is Russian-born and has an incredible story, Dah (“Yes,” in English)!
Indeed, it had been a difficult week. Plaguing issues of the world had not been resolved. Our U.S. House of Representatives was rejoicing at the prospect of finding consensus and a leader on the premise that we Americans are not a people but an idea. Jumping Jehoshaphat, dude! So we were glad to be there…a people, at a Friday night ritual.
Following Rachmaninoff was a performance by iconic American composer Paul Creston, born to Sicilian immigrant parents in 1906. Ashu and Alex hit this right down the center of the fairway.
Then came Astor Piazzolla(1921-1992), three tangos arranged by Ashu for soprano sax: Bordello 1900, Tanti Anni Prima, from the Italian film score of “Henry IV”, and Night Club 1960. Ashu’s playing finds a touchstone in this Argentinian composer, architect of what became termed “nuevo tango.” You can’t separate the genres represented here. And this is where we should talk more about Alex. When he was nineteen, he won the Van Cliburn International Competition’s Special Award for Artistic Potential. He had moved from Russia to Germany and Solomon Mikowsky, a teacher at Manhattan School of Music, recognized his talent and brought him to New York to be his student, imbuing him with a specialty of his, the music and rhythms of Cuba. In these pieces, Alex took a few short bongo rides on the side of our TFAC Steinway, returning to the keyboard without missing a beat! But, like Ashu, Alex is a very well-rounded artist, receiving many prestigious awards and has performed with major symphony orchestras internationally. As a duo, they are pretty much the tops! Ashu, Alex and Astor is definitely the tops!
They ended the concert with the last 3 minutes or so of Astor’s Le Grand Tango, arranged by Ashu for soprano sax. It was the encore, the rockingest thing you ever heard!
Before that, there was the Italian Film Suite, and finally Jules Demersseman’s(1833-1866) Fantaisie, a piece demonstrating classical sax virtuosity.
The film music by the great composer for cinema, Ennio Morricone, was spine-chillingly beautiful at times, when, like much of the night, it wasn’t pumping up our adrenaline and leaving us in the stratosphere. The pieces were 1. Gabriel’s Oboe from “The Mission” 2. Opening titles music from “The Untouchables” 3. Love Theme from “Cinema Paradiso”.
I’d say Friday night we took the “A” Train!