Ignoring the Naysayers

When your first public performance is a solo recital in New York City’s legendary Carnegie Hall, it can be pretty heady stuff.

That’s exactly what the Chicago-based classical saxophone player who goes by the single name of Ashu learned when he was 16 years old.

“People work their whole lives to be able to play at Carnegie Hall, and there I was for my very first concert,” Ashu says .

“Looking back, it’s surreal. When you play in a hall like that, you can’t help but get swept up in the aura of it. It was my first taste of performing for a live audience, and it’s what really got me hooked on it.”

At the time, Ashu was a high school student in The Woodlands, an ultra-planned community near Houston, Texas. He had spent his early years in California, in a home with no musical instruments, or even a music player .

When he was just 10, strolling in downtown San Francisco with his parents, he heard a strange sound coming from a darkened corner.

“There was this man playing this golden, curved instrument, and it was just the most amazing thing I had ever heard in my life,” he recalls.

“It completely blew me away. Just the sound of this instrument was so captivating.”

Succumbing to his pleadings, his non-musical parents agreed to rent a saxophone for him.

“I remember the moment I first took it out of that case – – the look and the feel of that instrument, just the joy of getting to play it. It was the most glorious thing in the world.”

Three years later, after hearing recorded music for the first time – – the magnificent tenor of Luiciano Pavarotti – – Ashu was determined to have a career in classical music, despite vigorous warnings that he couldn’t do it playing solo saxophone.

“Sometimes you just have to follow your heart and ignore the naysayers,” he says.

“I started listening to all the greats: people like Jascha Heifetz and Vladimir Horowitz. And I was just hooked by the possibilities of classical music and how I felt it fit the saxophone beautifully.”

The voice-like saxophone, he maintains, is capable of both subtlety and emotional intensity.

“It can play the softest pianissimo, or it can project effortlessly in the largest of halls. It has a very captivating quality as a classical instrument, and I think people are always surprised to hear that.”

Ashu’s big break came when he entered, and won, a high school competition that had a recital at Carnegie Hall as first prize.

“I had listened to countless recordings being played in that hall. Then you go there, and it’s just incredible. Just to play in New York City, even now, it’s such a thrill.”

Since earning both B.A. and M.A. degrees at Northwestern University in Illinois, Ashu has performed throughout North America and Europe, and in such disparate places as South Africa, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore and Kyrgystan.

This week, he will play at the Yukon Arts Centre, along with Chicago pianist Nolan Pearson as part of the Whitehorse Concerts Classically Yours series.

The program will include works by Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla, Italian film composer Ennio Marricone and Russian great Sergei Rachmaninoff. It will also feature two saxophone standards, Jacques Ibert’s Concertino da camera and Paul Creston’s Sonata 19 for alto sax.

Billed as the Ashu Duo, the concert takes place Saturday, January 17 at 8:00 p.m., with a pre-concert talk at 7:00. Tickets are $37 adult, $32 seniors and $12 youth.

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