I arrive for the second-half of the concert totally unprepared. The absurdity of the evening begins with the simple sight of 15 saxophones on the stage. In the words of one guest: “I didn’t realize it would actually ALL be saxophones.”
On March 2nd, I had the pleasure to listen to the first Saxtravaganza Recital at Campbell Recital Hall. The first half of the concert featured soloists, while the second was the debut of the newly-minted Stanford Saxophone Choir. We were warned by the name, we saw the various saxophone-related groups and performances listed on the event page, but still: in no way could anyone have anticipated the sound of this many saxophones.
Opening with the overture from Candide, the musicians in the choir capitalized on their silliness and talent—measured in equal parts—to bring one of the lightest, most fun songs I’ve heard on a stage. The whirring notes one usually hears from a full ensemble came rushing out of the 15 saxophones occupying the stage.
This is a number that bears qualification, because, in fact there were 16 saxophones on stage. On the far-left of the stage (as conductor Cody Stocker explained, the group was organized from sopranino to bass, left-to-right), one member alternated between two instruments, the smallest of which barely resembled the saxophone. It was so small that it elicited laughter from the audience when it was first debuted on stage, and I overheard at least one audience member express ongoing disbelief that it was, in fact, a saxophone.
Even to those familiar to the saxophone, from dedicated jazz soloists to fans of our former president’s late night television performance, the music—and not just the appearance of the teeniest-tiniest saxophone—would still come as a surprise. While saxophones are well suited for lamenting blues notes or capturing the rush of rapid, energetic overtures, the group also shined in its far softer moments as well. One particularly tender song was “Nimrod,” which showcased the solemn, flowing sound of the instrument while carefully restraining the same booming power that makes saxophone a fan favorite for powerful solo pieces.
The night ended in a song absurdly-well suited for the evening (puns be damned): “The Lone Ar-Ranger Goes Sax Mad.” This was an ideal complement to “Nimrod”—louder, brash, and unsubtle in every way. And it was perfect. With a showcase of 15 of Stanford’s most talented musicians, the Saxophone Choir made a strong debut, establishing themselves as serious artists while acknowledging the tongue-in-cheek hilarity of the entire premise they’re formed upon: saxophones are amazing, but all these saxophones, all at once? That’s absolutely ridiculous.
Photo courtesy of the Stanford Saxophone Choir.