Joe Lulloff is a professor of the saxophone at Michigan State University, which puts him in a rarified academic category. Lulloff doesn’t just teach. He’s a concert soloist, currently touring with the Cleveland Orchestra – and for a saxophonist, that role is even more rare. Don’t expect to hear Lulloff playing jazz, or big band standards when he takes the stage at the Mondavi Center on Monday. He’ll be playing a concerto written in 1953 by the European-born musician Ingolf Dahl. It’s part of a small, century-old tradition of symphonic saxophone music that’s unfamiliar to most people in this country. If you need a comparison, remember that Dahl was a friend and associate of Igor Stravinsky. Here’s the dramatic opening of the concerto, recorded two weeks ago in Cleveland, with commentary by the soloist.
(Music, with commentary)
“You hear a lot of Stravinsky in the piece, a lot of the dotted rhythms that Stravinsky often times liked to use, in the accompaniment. And the saxophone really contrasts this with a very virtuosic opening, sort of a fanfare, and really gathers, I think, the attention of the listener”
“And it continues on, and really dies down to a beautiful mini-cadenza like. And he writes in the music like a Gregorian chant. The next part souns like…”
“And that last note, the orchestra plays ‘bom bom bom bom.’ It has a little rhythm there.Rhymically, the orchestra is speaking back to the soloist.”
For classical performances, Lulloff uses a different style, as compared with the approach he uses to play jazz.
“Oh yeah. I use a firmer umberture, I use a different type of a syllable. I set my oral cavity up differently to produce the sound of the instrument. Thinking more of an ooh type of feeling, more like a singer would… If I played the same passage in a jazz setting, I would think more of an aa or an eh. For example, in the beginning, here’s a classical approach (music sample) And then here’s a jazz approach which is a little looser in the muscular structure, and a little more diffuse in the air stream. (musical sample). You know, the vibrato’s a little slower…There’s a significant difference between the way I control the air.”
Lulloff also plays a classical saxophone, with a different shaped neck, mouthpiece and conical bore, as compared with the instrument he’d use for jazz. While on tour, he carries several sets of reeds – one prepared for cool, foggy San Francisco, where he performs tonight, and another set for the hotter, drier climate in Davis, where he plays on Monday.
“It’s a bit of a chess game with reeds, but always you do what you have to do. I always try not to leave the saxophone in the trunk of the car, I always try to keep in an enclosed, pretty stable environment.”
Joe Lulloff says he relishes the opportunity to play with the Cleveland Orchestra, which for decades has been regarded as one of the finest in the country.
“That orchestra is incredible to work with. They listen to the soloist, they respond to every nuance that the soloist plays with. I feel that its like driving a Maserati, along the Pacific Coast Highway there, at a nice clip, and everything is working, and its just so smooth. Its an incredible experience."
The Cleveland Orchestra performs tonight and Saturday at Davies Hall in San Francisco, then comes to Davis for concerts on Sunday and Monday at the Mondavi Center. Joe Lulloff will be featured in the Dahl concerto on Monday’s program.