An Invitation to Hear Talent from The World Over

By Victoria Kidd

Music is among the greatest of all humankind’s innovations. It is valued and understood universally, and musicians are the custodians of this tremendous creation. Musicians commit to a life of practice and continual development. They surround themselves with those of like mind—those who share their love of music. An upcoming symposium that is being held locally is such a gathering, and it affords a unique opportunity for locals to enjoy an evening of exquisite compositions.

The 37th International Saxophone Symposium, hosted by the United States Navy Band, is being held January 9 and 10 at Shenandoah University with additional symposium events taking place at the Patsy Cline Theater at John Handley High School in Winchester. The two-day event was first held in 1978 following an official order from a Navy officer. Today, the event features a mix of performances, master classes, and lectures that appeal to musicians and music lovers of all ages and experience levels.

This year’s event marks a jubilant return of the symposium after it had to be cancelled last year because of budgetary cuts resulting from sequestration. Perhaps best described as a “comeback event,” the 2015 symposium certainly boasts an impressive lineup of talent that will be featured during its marquee concerts on Friday and Saturday nights.

Traditionally, Friday’s concert features the U.S. Navy Concert Band as it entertains the audience with a “mixture of band pieces and classically oriented saxophone solos,” according to the symposium’s website. The Concert Band is the original ensemble of the Navy Band, and it is their premier wind ensemble. For over 85 years, the Concert Band has performed at public events and high-profile occasions. It is considered to be one of the finest wind ensembles in the world.

Saturday night offers a chance to enjoy an evening of big band and jazz music performed by the U.S. Navy Band’s jazz ensemble, The Commodores, who will be performing alongside a variety of acclaimed guest soloists. As the Navy’s premier jazz ensemble, the Commodores have been performing and entertaining for more than 40 years. Today, the 18-member group is led by Master Chief Musician Philip Burlin. The group participates in public concerts, national concert tours, ceremonial events honoring veterans, and protocol performances for various officials.

Several widely celebrated guest soloists will join these musicians over the two days. Among them is Vincent David of Bagnolet, France. David, one of the foremost classical saxophonists in the world, is a renowned proponent of “new music.” His experience includes collaborations with noteworthy composers including Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Bruno Mantovani, and many others.

David is joined by James Houlik, the world’s leading performer on the tenor saxophone, and Canadian saxophonist Michael Ibrahim, an internationally recognized soloist, collaborator, and clinician. Houlik is known as a pioneer and advocate for the tenor saxophone, and his efforts have resulted in the composition of more than eighty-five new concert works for the previously overlooked instrument. Ibrahim is, in contrast, the winner of numerous competitions including the North American Saxophone Alliance Classical Artist Competition, the Eisenberg-Fried Concerto Competition for Woodwinds, the Coleman Chamber Music Competition, the MTNA Woodwind Collegiate Artist and Chamber Music Competitions, and a Darmstadt Performance Prize for Contemporary Music.

In addition to the performances of these talented musicians, guests will certainly enjoy the Navy Band Saxophone Quartet that features Jonathan Yanik, Patrick Martin, David Babich, and Dana Booher. The group plays music in a variety of styles, ranging from standard concert saxophone quartet literature to contemporary and jazz pieces. These musicians are experts at tailoring their selections to suit a wide range of audiences. They perform regularly at recitals and concerts throughout the year, and they frequently visit schools as part of the band’s Music in the Schools education outreach program.

Another quartet that will assuredly entertain is the Miami Saxophone Quartet, native to South Florida. Musicians Gary Keller, Gary Lindsay, Ed Calie, and Mike Brignola explore the realms of Jazz, Pop, Latin, R&B, and chamber music while performing original songs and their own arrangements. Guests can expect to enjoy pieces from the likes of John Coltrane, Paul Simon, Pat Metheny, James Taylor, Thad Jones, and Chucho Valdez. The diversity of these pieces reflects the flexibility and wide-ranging appeal of the saxophone.

Overall, these performances are only part of an ambitious two-day undertaking including 114 individual events. The program has been created through a unique partnership between the Navy Band and our local university. Musician 1st Class Joshua Arvizu, a master of the oboe and the English horn, explains, “The idea to combine the resources of Shenandoah Conservatory with the vision of the Navy Band’s International Saxophone Symposium was a natural one. Both organizations share the same desire—to display the sights and sounds of a relatively unknown and misunderstood instrument for both international saxophone professionals and a community with a rich history and love for good music.”

He continues, “After 35 years in Washington DC, the International Saxophone Symposium had built a reputation as the single largest-attended saxophone event in the world and they were looking for a new home. Shenandoah Conservatory is also building a reputation as one of the fastest growing saxophone programs in the world. It was too good of a match for either organization to turn down.”

While bringing well-known performers to the region, the event also includes an opportunity to see up-and-coming talent through the inclusion of the college quartet series. “Since 2003, the symposium has offered a national-level performance opportunity for college saxophonists,” Arvizu says. “This year we have 27 college quartets!”

With all of these performers coming from the world over, the event is undeniably one of interest to locals from across the Valley. For musicians and music lovers, the 37th International Saxophone Symposium is an event that must be attended. Arvizu and his fellow musicians invite you to share this occasion with them. “After all, what good is great music without an audience?” he asks. Visit the official symposium site at There you will find artist biographies and a schedule of events to plan your attendance. The symposium is free but tickets are required for the two evening concerts. To order your free tickets go to