New Braunfels Herald Zeitung (Newspaper) - October 13, 1982, New Braunfels, Texas
David Bilger goes on record with one-of-a-kind act
By MARY CAMPBELL AP Newsfeatures
The Saxophone Sinfonia made a recording after giving its very first concert.
That concert, June ll, in Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, will be followed by a second, Nov. 12, at South Carolina State College, Orangeburg, S.C. The digital LP will be sold in record stores.
David Bilger, who put together and conducts the 18-member Saxophone Sinfonia, says if a shop doesn’t have it, it can be ordered.
“We recorded most of the Lincoln Center program two days later,” Bilger says. “Everybody was still in New York and in good shape.”
Bilger has been interested in the saxophone since the fourth grade when he saw “those gorgeous, shiny, gold instruments” in the Birdsboro, Pa., marching band, and in classical saxophone music since he first heard some in high school.
He is one of those musicians who hasn’t become famous but who perseveres at a life in music. He has taught and played music he didn’t particularly like to make money. With earnestness, hard work and a dream, he has kept going and seen his career, slowly, improve.
He and his pianist wife, Dorinne, have been the Bilger Duo since they were married in 1966. But in January 1981 he developed Bell’s palsy, the paralysis of a facial nerve — now healed — and couldn’t play. So he set about organizing the Saxophone Sinfonia. He thinks it’s the only group of its kind.
Bilger says, “I spent a year getting music and asking some composers to write music. I had conducted IO saxophonists in 1979 in Chicago for a world saxophone convention. I added eight more. I’ve been going to all the major saxophone events and you get to know the players. I picked people I considered best suited for this group.”
Putting the Saxophone Sinfonia together wasn’t a hardship for Bilger. He’d been interested in doing something like that even before the palsy.
He always liked conducting and had had to decide at Ithaca College whether to aim his career toward a conductor’s baton or a solo instrument. Also, he says, “I just love ensembles. I played in the Aeolian Saxophone Quartet and still play in it from time to time.” Members of that quartet, as well as a saxophone trio based in Kentucky, are in the Saxophone Sinfonia.
"I’ve wanted to show people you can take a group of saxophones, put them together and have every bit as good quality playing as with a string orchestra,” Bilger says.
"One major factor is that every member plays with an open-chamber type of mouthpiece. It was designed in 1841 by Adolphe Sax, when he invented the saxophone. It produces a mellow, smooth, rich sound and a very, very good orchestral blend.
“We have the sopranino, the piccolo of saxophones, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass. There is also a contrabass saxophone, which we don’t use. We can get a sound like a fully played organ or we can sound very agile, light and bouncy.
“We have about half and half, music written for saxophone ensembles and transcriptions. If a transcribed piece can’t be played within the range of our group we’ll pick another piece. We don’t even change notes. Several of Vivaldi’s string pieces and some for two flutes with string accompaniment work well for us. Bach is good, and a lot of Grieg.”
Most members of the Saxophone Sinfonia teach. Well before the June concert, Bilger sent them the music. They arrived in New York a week before the concert and rehearsed eight hours a day.
“I’d like to set up a couple of tours a year,” Bilger says. “If it caught on real big, I could afford to pay them a salary like members of an orchestra. We’d all have time for solo engagements. That’s my big dream. It sounds pretty crazy but some people think it could be done.”
Dorinne Bilger, a native of Penn Yan, N.Y., started piano lessons at 5 and violin at 7. She soon became interested in accompanying rather than soloing. At Ithaca College, she accompanied all the students but Bilger, who had his own pianist. They dated before their musical collaboration.
The Bilger Duo has made two recordings and is soon to release a third. Bilger says, “It looks like we’re just about, after all this time, breaking into the major artists series. Ifs hard to do. Booking agents know if ifs a big name, that’s money in the bank, so why take chances?.
“One problem has been that some concerts by unknowns haven’t had great music and haven’t been played artistically. So people don’t go again. And some people are afraid that a saxophone-piano duo concert will bore them or assault them with loud noise.
"But the booking agents who have put us on their series find that we go over.”
When they’re soon to perform in a town, Bilger sends tapes to the local radio stations. In New York, he sent around tapes of the Saxophone Sinfonia. Listening the next day, he heard the Grieg “Holberg Suite” and Bach’s “Morning Star Chorale” being played at the same time. “I recorded them on two-channel tape and they were playing it on a mono machine,” he says.
“Right now I still teach part time at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa., and I still have some private students. But I’ve dropped students from our studio at home. This fall I only have a half dozen, all advanced or college-bound, and I’m just at the college one day a week.” The Bilgers live at 1200 Bedford Ave., Shillington, Pa., a suburb of Redding.
“From 1970 to 1976 I sang and played tenor saxophone and clarinet, and Dor played piano in a five-piece dance band. We did it to help earn a living. I got tired of people not really listening; we played too well for that. They’d put drinks on the piano, which wasn’t tuned, and cigarettes on the instrument cases. I thought if people weren t going to listen, we’d stay home.
“This is the first year we’re going to sustain ourselves on a very limited amount of teaching, plus the duo and sinfonia."
Karan Armstrong as Salome
SA to host multimedia fest
San Antonio will be the site of a major performing arts festival this spring.
Festival director Parvan Bakardjiev has scheduled 85 separate events for the first season, which will take place May 14 through June 5. Traditional offerings will include opera, symphony, ballet, theater and choral, sacred and chamber music.
There will also be some popular attractions including country and western, jazz and rock concerts.
Performances will be given at primarily at downtown locations within walking distance of each other. Sites include the HemisFair Arena, the Majestic Theater, the Theatre for the Performing Arts and the Arneson River Theatre.
Bakardjiev is topping the festival bill with a threefold presentation of the biblical story of Salome and John the Baptist.
The Berlin Opera will mount a fully-staged production of the Richard Strauss’ opera Salome, starring Karan
Armstrong in the title role.
Flemming Flindt’s Dallas Ballet will give Flindt’s own interpretation of Salome. Oscar Wilde’s play, the source for both works, will also be performed.
“We must present things which are of the highest artistic caliber, of great popular interest, and which will arouse the curiosity of the public and our critics; we have such a vehicle with our trio of Salomes,” said Bakardjiev.
The Berlin Opera and Ballet will appear in honor of the 300th anniversary of the arrival of German settlers in the United States. The festival committee reports that the city of Berlin will underwrite “A significant amount” of the cost of bringing the troupe to San Antonio. Bakardjiev hopes co-productions of this type will be the hallmark of future successful productions.
The Berlin Ballet will present a fulllength performance of Giselle (featuring Eva Evdokimova) and two ballet evenings including Les Sylphides and excerpts from Swan Lake and
Three major Texas symphony orchestras (Dallas, Houston and San Antonio) will perform in the same series for the first time. Also participating will be the Ballet Folkloric de Mexico, the Texas Bach Choir, the Walker-Ford Gospel Singers and the Oak Ridge Boys.
Festival soloists will include sopranos Shirley Verrett, Ann Moffo, Wilhelminia Fernandez (star of the recent movie Diva) and Margaret Pent; mezzo-sopranos Frederica von Stade and Florence Quivar; tenor Vittorio Terranova; baritone Robert Merrill; bass-baritone Paul Plishka and bass Justino Diaz.
The Thouvenal Quartet will perform two string programs at the Beethoven Hall, and Third Coast New Music will offer two contemporary programs.
Tickets are available for all performances at a wide range of prices. For group rates and other information, call the festival box office at 226-1703.
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