The Hudson Valley Saxophone Orchestra (HVSO)’s fifth annual Christmas Concert on Saturday, December 17 will be preceded by a daylong “Winter Wonderland” event for musicians. Pros and students alike can try out instruments, learn some new techniques in a master class or pick up an early holiday gift for themselves from vendors that include D’Addario, Yanagisawa and Selmer. Prospective music majors can speak with reps from universities, and for those who participate in a midday rehearsal, the opportunity is there to join the HVSO onstage for “Joy to the World” at the end of the concert, when, tenor sax player Christopher Brellochs says, “We hope to have as many saxophonists as we can fit on that stage playing with us.”
The Christmas Concert will be unique this year in the inclusion of some non-holiday material. It will begin with an original composition by local composer Bob Shaut, performing the Hudson Valley-inspired Valley Views and Bridges with his combo Sax Life, made up of four saxophonists, bass and drums. The second half of the concert will feature holiday favorites by the Hudson Valley Saxophone Orchestra, concluding with the big saxophonist collaboration filling the stage for the finale.
The event will be held at Arlington High School in Lagrangeville. The Winter Wonderland will be conducted in the classrooms and halls around the auditorium from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., followed by the concert in the William J. Sweeney Performance Hall at 6:30 p.m. Admission costs $5 for the concert only, or $10 for the entire day.
The Hudson Valley Saxophone Orchestra, founded in 2012 by Charles W. Gray, was inspired in part by Sigurd Raschèr, a pioneer of the classical saxophone in the 1930s. Raschèr was European, but later moved to upstate New York, where he started large saxophone ensembles and made a practice of asking composers to write solo and orchestral works for the saxophone.
The HVSO is generally a ten-person ensemble, made up of professional musicians and music educators who teach in middle and high schools and colleges in the region. And while the uninitiated might think that an orchestra consisting entirely of saxophones would be all about the high energy, sampling the group’s music reveals that the sound is actually quite like a string orchestra: surprisingly delicate in parts and energetic in others.
“That’s because the saxophone is such a versatile instrument,” Christopher Brellochs says. “It can be used in a classical music setting, or a jazz or pop, contemporary, rock ‘n’ roll setting. You’ll find the saxophone in every style of music, and that’s because of the different sounds you can get out of it.”
People often don’t realize, he adds, that the saxophone was invented in the 1840s, “long before jazz was a glimmer in anyone’s eye.” It was intended to be an orchestral instrument, he says, to play alongside string instruments and outdoors in military bands, especially in France. “Adolf Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, taught at the Paris Conservatory in the 1860s, where he put together large saxophone ensembles. So an orchestra of all saxophones is not a strange idea in any way.”
The HVSO utilizes the contrabass saxophone – “just one sounds like the entire bass section of the orchestra,” says Brellochs – along with a bass sax, a baritone, tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, and finally the small sopranino, which supplies the sound that one might expect from the violin in a string orchestra.
“With these seven different kinds of saxophones, we get a spectrum of sound that people associate with an orchestra, but is presented to them in a unique way, with a certain brightness. And because the instruments are all from the same family, they blend together. There will be that exciting sound you expect from the saxophone, but you’re going to also hear those delicate sounds. And some of the excitement comes from that contrast between those two extremes.”
Workshops at the Winter Wonderland event will include a master class with saxophonist Joe Lovano. Geoff Vidal and Derrick James will offer jazz improv techniques, and Joe Giardullo will discuss the fine points of saxophone mouthpieces. Paul Cohen, a collector of rare saxophones, will bring some of his collection for a “show-and-tell,” including some unusual examples that Brellochs describes as looking “like they’re right out of a Dr. Seuss book.” Cohen’s collection is so good, he adds, “When the Metropolitan Museum of Art had a special exhibit on the saxophone a few years ago, they borrowed instruments from him.”
The musicians in the HVSO are unpaid, with all concert proceeds benefiting local causes. In past years, beneficiaries have included the orchestra’s music scholarship at Dutchess Community College. This year, proceeds will go to the family of HVSO founder Charles W. Gray, who had a massive stroke on September 15, the day before his 44th birthday. Due to be released from the hospital on December 15 and working hard on physical therapy, Gray will join the orchestra he founded for a few of the holiday numbers at the end of the concert, if he’s able to play.
Gray has always been the force behind planning the group’s concerts, Brellochs says; and the fine details of the performance and the daytime event beforehand – inspired by a US Navy Band-sponsored saxophone symposium in which the group participated earlier this year in Virginia – were still very much in progress when he had the stroke. “But not letting the event happen was very quickly determined not to be an option,” Brellochs adds. He, along with other members of the ensemble, stepped up to fill in for Gray coordinating the event.
There is a “Charlie’s Angels” page established for Charlie Gray at www.youcaring.com/charliegray-697171. The compassionate crowdfunding site helps families pay the bills when there has been an unexpected emergency.
The snow date for the event is Sunday, December 18 (only in the event that the roads are impassable).
Hudson Valley Saxophone Orchestra’s Winter Wonderland, Saturday, December 17, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Christmas concert, 6:30 p.m., $5/$10, Arlington High School, 1157 Route 55, Lagrangeville; https://hudsonvalleysaxophoneorchestra.com, www.facebook.com/hudsonvalleysaxophoneorchestra.