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Ken Radnofsky, Saxophone Citizen


Ken Radnofsky, who will perform in recital at NEC’s Jordan Hall at 8 pm on February 21, is one of Boston’s–indeed of the world’s–most upstanding musical citizens. Not only does he teach “classical” saxophone repertoire ubiquitously (he teaches at virtually every college-level music school in the Boston area, and has done at secondary music schools as well such as the Community Music School of Boston) and performed with top orchestras and ensembles worldwide, but he has mightily contributed to the expansion of his instrument’s repertoire through commissions from leading composers, often in creative ways such as the multiple simultaneous premieres of works thus funded from multiple locales. His influence as performer and teacher has led him increasingly on global expeditions, including recent teaching stints in Latin America, in Venezuela and most recently in Brazil.Whether as a result of natural proclivity or as the upshot of his recent teaching, it is a distinctly Latin American flavor that Radnofsky will serve up at his annual NEC faculty recital on Monday. There will be works of composers from Argentina, Brazil and Columbia, one from an American using Latin American inflections and one classic from Spain. The performers themselves represent a polyglot ensemble, mixing Americans of diverse background with Latin Americans and Israelis; but that’s Boston for you.

The program, the details of which are listed in BMInt’s calendar, represents something of a synthesis of Radnofsky’s approach to his annual NEC recital. For many years, he told us in a recent interview, he concentrated on playing new works. Since 2005 he began playing saxophone arrangements of old music, such as Chopin. Now, being ever restless (he almost never plays the same work twice; only one item on the program Monday is something he has played before), he is combining both approaches, including his own arrangement of Joaquin Turina’s  op. 35 Piano Trio No. 1 in D for flute, alto sax and piano, and Spaniard Jorge Hoyo’s arrangement for soprano sax and string quartet of the first movement of Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1, which Hoyo derived from the composer’s string orchestra arrangement of the original for eight cellos. To these classics he has added new works, all written for him, by Colombian (and now Longy student) Juan Ruiz, Argentinian Cristian Yufra, and Spaniard Jaime Fatás (a former student of Radnofsky’s now teaching in Arizona), and the premiere of a suite for flute and alto sax by local composer and pianist John McDonald. Ruiz, an accomplished jazz composer and clarinetist, and the 22-year-old Yufra, are among the composers Radnofsky met on his recent South American stint, whose work impressed him greatly.

Radnofsky characterizes all the newer pieces approvingly as “organic” rather than “abstract.” The works by the Hispanic composers respond to elements of their personal and national heritages, including in Yufra’s the South American drum, the bomba leguero, which the versatile Mr. Ruiz will play. McDonald’s work, written for Radnofsky and Venezuelan flutist Marcos Granados (who, improbably enough, went to high school with McDonald in Ohio), grew from the chance to reunite with Granados, who will perform it. The term organic also applies to the older works: while the artistic ambitions of Villa-Lobos’s nine-work series of suites are well known, the Turina trio, Radnofsky stresses, was also a fusion of Spanish localism and popular elements with his personal affection for Ravel’s music, which led the by then middle-aged Turina to study with the French master the year after the trio’s composition in 1926.

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  1. Thank you, BMint, for this preview article on one of Boston’s more impassioned musical advocates. Ken Radnofsky can be heard with orchestra on March 26 & 27: He will be performing with Steve Lipsitt’s Boston Classical Orchestra in the Glazunov Saxophone Concerto (on alto saxophone) and, remarkably, in the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, playing the high trumpet part on the soprano saxophone.

    Comment by Sean Roberts — February 18, 2011 at 9:20 am

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