Saxophonist Chee Meng Low will solo during the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra’s Suite Francais concert Saturday. (Contributed photo).

Saxophonist Chee Meng Low will solo during the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra’s Suite Francais concert Saturday. (Contributed photo).

Jazzy, Gallic sounds will open Red Deer Symphony Orchestra’s first concert of 2023

Suite Francais will be performed Saturday at RDP Arts Centre

How high can he go? That’s a question for saxophonist Chee Meng Low, the guest soloist for the RDSO’s first concert of 2023, Suite Francais.

The music of three French composers — Francis Poulenc, Jacques Ibert and Darius Milhaud — is on the program for the Saturday, Jan. 14, show at the Red Deer Polytechnic Arts Centre.

The solo in Ibert’s Concertina Da Camera, for alto saxophone and chamber orchestra, will be tackled by Low, a University of Lethbridge music instructor who’s performed as a soloist and chamber musician around the globe.

This piece, composed in 1935 for a dozen instruments, starts off with a lively melody. It features the influence of jazz through the use of syncopation, said the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra’s music director, Claude Lapalme.

And one of the most intriguing aspects is the pitch of its saxophone melody.

Lapalme said the neo-classical piece was commissioned for saxophonist Sigurd Rascher, who insisted some very high notes be incorporated in the composition so he could demonstrate his control in that “stratospheric register.”

Low’s virtuosity will similarly be tested when he performs this fun but demanding work.

Milhaud’s La Creation du Monde also wades into jazzy terrain.

Lapalme said the score for a ballet was written during the ‘Roaring 20s’ when Paris was much captivated by this then brand-new American musical form.

Like Stravinsky, Ravel and Debussy, Milhaud mixed the fresh sounds of Harlem with more classical musical styles in his ballet score, entitled “Creation of the World.”

The work replaces what would traditionally be the viola’s part with the voice of the alto sax. Although the score displays some baroque characteristics, Lapalme said its melodies have more to do with blues scales and ragtime rhythm. It “hovers over a melange of two cultures,” he added in the concert’s program notes.

Modern sounds are subtler to detect in Poulenc’s Suite Francais, d’Apres Claude Gervaise.

Adapted from seven dances from 1665, this piece for oboes, bassoons, trumpets, trombones, harpsichord and percussion, borrows from antiquity. But it also introduces some spicy harmonies, leaving listeners to compare the similarities and differences between 16th and 20th-century music, said Lapalme.

“Suite Francais is a highly successful translation of old music to the more curt… language of the 20th century. It also combines humour and beauty in a novel way,” said Lapalme, who invites audiences to enjoy some original as well as hybrid Gallic sounds in this first concert of the year.

For more information, please visit rdso.ca.

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