A concerto perfectly suited for three

'Cyber-bird' part of Rogue Valley Symphony's 'Wings of Destiny'
Left to right: Pianist Alexander Tutunov, sax player Rhett Bender and percussionist Terry Longshore solo in Takashi Yoshimatsu’s “Cyber-bird.”Photo courtesy of Christopher Br

It was 2009 when Martin Majkut auditioned for the position of music director for the Rogue Valley Symphony. At that time, he was introduced to Southern Oregon University music professors Rhett Bender, Terry Longshore and Alexander Tutunov.

"Rhett, Terry and Alexander were soloists chosen for me by the search committee," Majkut says. "We connected on a musical level because these are guys from my generation of musicians.

If you go

Who: Rogue Valley Symphony

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 20, and 3 p.m. Sunday, April 21

Where: Respectively, the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford, and the Grants Pass Performing Arts Center, 830 N.E. Ninth St.

Tickets: $28, $33 or $38 for the Medford show; $20, $28 or $34 for the Grants Pass show

Call: 541-552-6398 or see www.rvsymphony.org

"We have the same blood type," he adds with a laugh. Majkut's homeland is Slovakia.

After the Ashland audition, Majkut returned home to Arizona, where he first heard Japanese composer Takashi Yoshimatsu's concerto for saxophone titled "Cyber-bird."

"I listened to the work thinking that Rhett, Terry and Alexander would be so well-suited for the piece," Majkut says. "This is the music of our time ... of our generation. It's easy for them to connect with the language."

Written for piano, percussion and saxophone solos, "Cyber-bird" hadn't concluded before Majkut, 37, made up his mind that if he got the Ashland position, he was "so going to do this with them."

Jump ahead four years, and we now have saxophonist Bender, pianist Tutunov and percussionist Longshore — with at least 10 different percussive instruments — featured as a jazz trio complemented by the full orchestra performing Yoshimatsu's "Cyber-bird."

The Rogue Valley Symphony will present the piece, along with works by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Giuseppe Verdi, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 20, at the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford, and 3 p.m. Sunday, April 21, at the Grants Pass Performing Arts Center, 830 N.E. Ninth St.

Tickets cost $28, $33 or $38 for the Medford show; $20, $28 or $34 for the Grants Pass show. Call 541-552-6398 or see www.rvsymphony.org for tickets and information.

According to Bender, Yoshimatsu describes the concerto as a saxophone bird flying around in an electronic landscape. He expects that the audience will hear the concerto as "jazzy," but Yoshimatsu also writes some nostalgic and Romantic-style passages in it along with sections that sound improvisational.

Parts of the concerto actually sound like bird calls and require some interesting techniques on the saxophone, such as bending notes and playing in an extremely high register called altissimo.

"There are several sections in the piece where the composer gives free rein to the soloists, but the weight of it rests on the saxophonist," Majkut says.

Majkut has paired Yoshimatsu's concerto with Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6, "Pathetique," to close the RVS concert season. He calls "Pathetique" a work of unparalleled beauty and emotional depth ... a symphony famous for soaring melodies and dynamic mood changes — from hope to triumph and finally despair — in a news release. In fact, Tchaikovsky died nine days after its 1893 premiere in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Rogue Valley Symphony's orchestration for "Pathetique" will include flutes, piccolo, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, gong and strings.

"I call this concert 'Wings of Destiny,' " Majkut says.

The shows open with the overture from Giuseppe Verdi's Italian opera, "The Force of Destiny."

"Then we'll perform Tchaikovsky's last piece," Majkut says. "It's quite possible that he knew it would be his last. There's a cloud of destiny that hangs over it.

"The 'Cyber-bird' concerto is a piece of my personal destiny. The fact that I met these three musicians a few weeks before I heard a piece that is perfectly suited for them is almost eerie."


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