Candlelight Concert Society will be presenting “Hanzhi Wang, accordion and Steven Banks, saxophone, with Xak Bjerken, piano” in concert on Saturday, February 25, 2023 at the Smith Theatre at Howard Community College. The program will feature works for solo accordion, accordion and saxophone, and saxophone and piano:
Handel: Recorder Sonata in G minor, HWV 360
Penderecki: Three miniatures
Bach: Selections from Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
Lohse: Autumn Rain & Winter’s Tale
Maikusiak: The Elements
Piazzolla: Milonga Del Angel
Lennon: Distances Within Me
Steven Banks: Come As You Are
Classical saxophonist Steven Banks is recognized for his “glowing mahogany tone” (Seen and Heard International) and “breathtaking” (Classical Voice of NC) performances. He “is at the forefront of musicians of his generation in his display of the highest level of both artistry and pedagogy.” (Taimur Sullivan, Professor of Saxophone, Northwestern University)
Mr. Banks is the winner of the prestigious 2022 Avery Fisher Career Grant and the first saxophonist to earn a place on the Young Concert Artists roster in its 59-year history, capturing First Prize at the 2019 Young Concert Artists Susan Wadsworth International Auditions. He also received the special Korean Concert Society Prize (for support of his Kennedy Center debut); Buffalo Chamber Music Society Prize; Saint Vincent College Concert Series Prize; Sinfonia Gulf Coast Prize; Tannery Pond Concerts Prize; Usedom Music Festival Prize; and Washington Performing Arts Prize.
He has an ongoing relationship with The Cleveland Orchestra, having performed with the legendary ensemble in Severance Hall, Carnegie Hall, and at the Blossom Music Center. He has worked with notable conductors including Franz Welser-Most, Jahja Ling, Matthias Pintscher, Alain Altinoglu, Roderick Cox, among others. This season, Mr. Banks is particularly excited to travel to Abu Dhabi with the orchestra to perform a production of Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64, with the American Ballet Theatre.
Mr. Banks is the baritone saxophonist of the award-winning Kenari Quartet which has found a home performing on many of the premiere chamber music series in the United States. Recent engagements include appearances at Chamber Music Northwest, the Grand Teton Music Festival, and Chamber Music Tulsa, among others. For many chamber music institutions, the Kenari Quartet has been proud to serve as the first saxophone quartet to be presented. The group has earned top prizes at seven national and international chamber music competitions. Their debut album, “French Saxophone Quartets,” was released in December 2016 under the Naxos Records label.
Mr. Banks is an advocate for diversity and inclusion in music education, performance, and newly commissioned works in the classical realm. He gave a talk at the TEDxNorthwesternU 2017 conference with ideas about how to create change in institutionalized prejudices against women and people of color. Since the talk, Banks has written an article for WQXR and given guest lectures on the history of black classical composers. Banks serves as a member of the first Committee on the Status of Women for the North American Saxophone Alliance, and is proud to have been selected as a member of the jury for the first Female Saxophonist Competition.
As a jazz saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist, he has performed alongside members and former members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Buddy Rich Big Band, Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, among others. He has played on professionally-released recordings, including Michael Spiro and Wayne Wallace’s album, “Canto America,” which was nominated for a 2017 GRAMMY award.
Mr. Banks has served as Assistant Professor of Saxophone at Ithaca College, as well as a faculty member at the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory. He has a Master of Music degree from the Northwestern University Bienen School of Music in Saxophone Performance and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Saxophone Performance, with a minor in Jazz Studies from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.
Can you tell our readers a bit more about yourself?
I was born in Winston-Salem, NC. I currently live in West Hartford, CT. I have gone skydiving over the Grand Canyon! My mother was an elementary school music teacher. I’m probably taller than you are imagining—I’m 6’ 4” and that always surprises people when I meet them.
Why were you drawn to the baritone saxophone?
I play baritone saxophone in my saxophone quartet, Kenari. I enjoy providing a foundation to the group. I also enjoy the cello-like quality of the baritone saxophone when it is played well. On the upcoming program, I’m not playing any baritone saxophone. However, I will be playing soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones. Tenor was my first saxophone. That is one of the reasons I wrote my piece “Come as You Are” for the tenor saxophone.
The accordion and saxophone in a classical performance are unusual. Can you tell us how you and Hanzhi Wang got together for this performance and how your own instrument fits into the classical genre?
I have wanted to collaborate with Hanzhi since the first time I heard her play. She is an inspiring musician that is able take listeners to another place from before she even plays her first note. Hanzhi and I connected through the Young Concert Artists organization. We both won first prize at their International Auditions a few years apart. We thought it would be fun to combine our musical personalities and non-traditional instruments in this way.
The saxophone was invented to be a member of the orchestra. Adolphe Sax intended for it to have the nimble facility of the woodwinds and the sonic power of brass. In fact, the saxophone was invented many years before jazz even existed. Hector Berlioz said that the saxophone “cries, sighs, and dreams. It possesses a crescendo, and can gradually diminish until it is just an echo of an echo. I know of no other instrument that possesses this particular capacity to reach the outer limits of audible sound.” All of this is to say that the saxophone’s origins are in classical music. Most people today have other associations with it, but I’ve always connected most strongly with its original purpose.
You also play jazz. Do you consider your piece in the program “Come as You Are“ to be jazz, classical, or a fusion of both?
I always say that I have enough respect for jazz musicians to acknowledge that I definitely am NOT one. I have studied jazz, but I am in no way a professional jazz musician. I have written a very extensive program note on my website of “Come as You Are,” which I would recommend reading and can be found here.
I ask this to all of the musicians I interview. This is one for youngsters wanting to become professionals. How much did you practice as you were learning your instrument and how long do you practice daily today?
At the height of my undergraduate and master’s degree studies, I practiced four to six hours daily. Now, I would love to practice that much and that consistently, but life seems to get in the way. Some days I practice eight to nine hours. Sometimes I have to go for days at a time without practicing and then play a professional concert. It just depends on the circumstances.
“Hanzhi Wang, accordion and Steven Banks, saxophone, with Xak Bjerken, piano” will be presented by Candlelight Concert Society on Saturday, February 25, 2023 at 7:30 pm at the Smith Theatre in the Horowitz Center, Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, MD 21044. For more information and tickets, go online.