The Mexican Connection

I had the pleasure of attending a concert by Dr Michael Duke and David Howie, presenting new compositions for saxophone and piano. Duke is a phenomenal musician and educator having studied at Indiana University and currently is a senior lecturer in saxophone at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Funded through a grant from the Council on Australia Latin American Relations, the duo commissioned new works from both Australian and Mexican composers. The concert opened with Australian Paul Sarcich’s ‘All at Seven’s and Eights’, a significant work for tenor saxophone which will be a welcome addition to the repertoire. The work consisted of motifs derived from the intervals of a 7th and 8ve as well as sudden changes of extremes of range and dynamic which test the performers’ control .

‘Sendero Naciente’ by Lilia Vazquez Kuntze was a lyrical work which showcased Duke’s expressive vibrato. The lyrical themes transcended expectations of a Mexican soundworld and if anything, were more akin to the pentatonic feel of Yoshimatsu’s ‘Fuzzy Bird Sonata’. This was followed by ‘This Early Round’, a politically influenced work by Miriama Young which explored the gradual decay of our planet. A motif of decending microtones was very effective with Duke beginning by playing into the piano and then expanding out as the theme became more elaborate and then fragmented. The use of silence was welcome to drink in the mood of the work, particularly with the more unusual percussive sounds from the prepared piano.

The strongest work on the program was Mexican Enrico Chapela’s ‘Spectrax’ for alto saxophone and piano, using the sound spectrum analysis to guide the harmonic material. I felt it was a well considered use of the extended techniques on the saxophone including multiphonics, slaptongue, altissimo, flutter tongue and overtones. A well-considered form kept the audience engaged throughout.

The duo’s final work was by Catherine Likhuta titled ‘Secrets of Water’. A challenging work that really showcased the performer’s mastery of their instruments. I was impressed by the brief for the encore. Duke and Howie had challenged a Mexican composition class to write a 1 minute encore work, of which the best one would be recorded on the upcoming CD. But since the quality of the works was so high, a selection will be made into a suite which I very much look forward to seeing published.