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June 2024 Concert

2:30 pm
Sunday, June 2, 2024


Antonin Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance Op. 46 No. 1 and his sublime and joyous Symphony No. 8 surround two exhilarating French works. The first is Henri Tomasi’s Saxophone Concerto performed by rising-star saxophonist Steven Banks, and the other is Paul Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice.


Go To Program Notes

Musical Insights Free Pre-Concert Preview the Friday before this concert.
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  • Slavonic Dance Op. 46 No. 1
  • Dukas
  • The Sorcerer’s Apprentice


  • Tomasi
  • Saxophone Concerto

    Steven Banks, saxophone

  • Symphony No. 8 in G Major

Pick-Staiger Concert Hall

50 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston
See map.


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Steven Banks, saxophone

Steven Banks, saxophone

Steven Banks hails from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Born in 1993, he’s the youngest and only son of four children. His mother was an elementary school music teacher and his father an amateur brass player; while his three older sisters were involved in music during school, none became a professional musician. But Steven heard that calling. He started piano lessons at age five or so and later joined the school band, where he was drawn to the saxophone because of “how cool looking it is! It’s very ‘industrial,’ with its cool shape and all of its keys, pipes and other moving parts!”

When Steven was in eighth grade, his family moved to Clemmons, NC, a suburb of Winston-Salem, and it was there that Steven heard the classical saxophone for the first time. His experience up to that time had been the saxophone in gospel or jazz settings and as a young teen he received some instruction from a saxophonist at his church but that framework was primarily R&B, jazz and gospel. Then Professor Taimur Sullivan of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts held a clinic at the high school in Clemmons as part of a UNCSA outreach program. Steven was transfixed. “As a middle schooler, I’d had no aural frame of reference for classical saxophone but there was something very vocal about the classical sound – it sounded like my voice.”

Taimur Sullivan was also impressed by this 15-year-old high school sophomore and not only because the young saxophonist, who owned just a tenor sax, chose to play a piece written for the alto sax. Steven had a good laugh when reminded of this first meeting with Sullivan. “I only owned a tenor sax and didn’t really understand the differences between saxes. I just thought it was a cool piece so I played it!” Sullivan, however, recognized Steven’s potential and encouraged him to audition for a place in UNCSA’s high school program. Steven said that Sullivan still has the audition tape, complete with Steven’s teen-aged voice and the improvisations he dared to perform. Steven drolly called it “remarkable”!

Steven entered the program in at UNCSA as a high school junior, where he realized that music was to be his lifelong pursuit. However, he also realized that he was quite far behind his classmates so had to work very hard. Taimur Sullivan said that Steven had enormous talent but talent will only take a musician so far. Steve also hadand hasan “incredible drive and work ethic as well as a huge desire to research, study and push himself in every direction.” A good example of this drive is the “Coffee Pot Club.” Steven and some of his classmates would knock on one another’s dorm room doors at 6:00am and go practice. Many of those classmates are now in the Philadelphia Orchestra or touring with Broadway productions like Frozen or have other interesting jobs in the arts, including as dancers with The Martha Graham Dance Company, the oldest—and oldest integrated—dance company in the United States.

After graduating from the UNCSA high school program, Steven earned his bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in Bloomington and then went to Northwestern for his master’s. By happy coincidence, Taimur Sullivan had just joined Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music and persuaded Steven to become part of his first saxophone studio. Steven received his master’s degree from Northwestern in 2017.

It was during his second year at Northwestern that Steven began composing. He describes that period as a pivotal time for him, a time of feeling a bit lost in general and not knowing how to express his feelings. A friend from UNCSA, a “Renaissance man” who was also at Northwestern, said to him, “Just write something!” Steven pointed out that he hadn’t studied composition, to which his friend replied, “So what?!” Steven took the advice to heart and the very next day sat down at a piano, turned on his phone’s recorder, and improvised for half an hour. “Most of it sucked!” he said. “But some of it felt true.” He spent the next six months or so dubbing the sax over the piano. He then got some manuscript paper and wrote out his first composition; however, he had no ability to use musical notation software so sent it off to a friend who put it a format more legible for musicians. (He now sends all of his compositions to a professional “engraver,” a craftsman who creates the final sheet music with all of the tempos and other markings.)

In addition to composing for the solo saxophone, Steven says “There’s a format I know I need to compose for: sax plus string quartet.” He particularly loves the cello, which “sounds superior to all others. And piano. I love piano because of its great repertoire.” He also studies scores because he wants to learn about composers and their process of composing.

One of Steven’s fairly recent compositions is for famed violinist Hilary Hahn, who wanted a solo piece to use as an encore. Hilary invited Steven to her home to discuss the project but, before they could get to the topic at hand, she had to put her three children to bed; this took about an hour but became the inspiration for Steven’s composition, Through My Mother’s Eyes. After bemusedly watching the typical “bedtime shenanigans,” Steven realized that an encore is a bit like putting the audience to bed, an audience that is “super excited after a shared experience. An encore can keep them gassed up or calm them down!” Steven’s encore for Hilary Hahn does both. It’s based on a lullaby his mother wrote for him when he was a baby and takes the listener through the process of variations and then the theme as opposed to the usual form of theme followed by variations. The piece begins with the “shenanigans,” where the kids have the “zoomies;” they’re full of energy and, of course, are reluctant and a bit defiant about bedtime, which Steven depicts with different configurations and variations – there’s always a new excuse or reason to delay! But even energetic children have their limits and the parent eventually wins the bedtime battle. The music reaches a climax and calms down – much like a mother might feel with an over-energetic child. The perspective shifts into the theme of the lullaby, which Hilary Hahn describes as really beautiful, as the mother quietly walks out of the room. (You can find a fun discussion between Steven and Hilary about this piece on YouTube. Search Steven Banks and Hilary Hahn.)

We asked Steven about the piece he’ll be performing with the ESO, Henri Tomasi’s Saxophone Concerto, a favorite among the standard concertos for sax. Steven loves Tomasi’s orchestration, saying that the piece feels like a “real symphonic poem,” a mature piece of music that sets up a rich and meaningful dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra. He also noted that the saxophone has an affinity for French music because Adolphe Sax, the Belgian who invented the instrument in Brussels in about 1840, spent much of his career in France. While most people in the U.S. tend to associate the saxophone with jazz and blues, Steven said that it was very much a French classical music instrument even before those music styles borrowed it. In fact, the Paris Conservatory was the first to establish a saxophone studio, thus reinforcing Sax’s original intent in developing the instrument for classical music.

After his performance with the ESO, Steven will be taking his “first vacation ever.” He has recently moved back to Winston-Salem, which he describes as a naturally diverse place with many opportunities for artists, especially young artists at the beginning of their careers. He didn’t realize this when he was growing up but now the move just makes sense. Winston-Salem is home – and home is where he intends to stay for three weeks to have a bit of consistency: “waking up in the same place, changing my license plates, decorating my house, doing some yard work,” and maybe even finding time to indulge in his hobbies of photography and photo-editing, hiking and cycling. Then it’s back to work composing a 30-minute saxophone quartet, performing in Lake Tahoe later in the summer, recording his first album in September, and taking up his duties as Saxophone and Chamber Music Faculty and Artist-in-Residence at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

We are delighted to welcome this supremely talented saxophonist and composer to our stage!

Musical Insights

Free Pre-Concert Preview Series!

May 31, Friday, at 1:30 pm

Enhance your concert experience with a sneak preview — Composers come alive and their passions take center stage when ESO Maestro Lawrence Eckerling takes you on an insider’s tour of the history and highlights behind the music.

Meet our soloist, Steven Banks, at Musical Insights. He and our Maestro Lawrence Eckerling will explore the concert program in depth.


The Merion
Friday, May 31 at 1:30 pm,
Merion's Emerald Lounge at
529 Davis St, Evanston.
FREE and open to the public.
Please RSVP to 847-570-7815.

Light refreshments will be served and casual tours of apartments will be available after the program.

Program Notes

Slavonic Dance Op. 46 No. 1

Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904)    4 minutes (1878)

Antonín Dvořák came by his love and familiarity with Czech music naturally. “Father Dvořák played the violin and zither, and sang agreeably, and played in the village band,” wrote American musicologist Milton Cross, remembered by many as the first Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast host. “As a boy, Dvořák learned to play the violin and soon entertained his father’s clientele [at the family’s inn] with merry dance tunes and sad village melodies. He also performed at village fairs and sang in the church choir. When he was not playing music, he was listening to it. He would sit fascinated at concerts of visiting Gypsy bands; he never tired of hearing the older folk sing their songs. While he managed to receive a bit of formal instruction from the local schoolmaster, Joseph Spitz, his early musical training consisted in hearing and learning the songs of his people.”

The eight Slavonic Dances, Op. 46 of 1878 were the first efflorescence of the Czech nationalism that was to become so closely associated with Dvořák’s music. On the advice of his mentor Johannes Brahms, he sent the Dances to the noted Berlin publisher Fritz Simrock in May 1878 and was paid 300 marks, the first substantial sum Dvořák had ever made from any of his works. Though these pieces were originally intended for piano duet (a shrewd marketing strategy by Simrock — there were a lot more piano players than orchestras), Dvořák began the orchestrations even before the keyboard score for all eight dances was completed, and Simrock issued both versions simultaneously in August 1878. Louis Ehlert, the influential critic of the Berliner Nationalzeitung, saw an early copy of the Slavonic Dances, and wrote admiringly of their “heavenly naturalness” and Dvořák’s “naturally real talent.” The public’s interest was aroused, there was a run on the music shops, and Dvořák was suddenly famous (and Simrock was suddenly rich). Eight years later, as part of a deal with Simrock to publish the Symphony No. 7, which the publisher contended would not sell well, Dvořák wrote a second series of Slavonic Dances (Op. 72). The fee was 3,000 marks, ten times the amount tendered for the earlier set. Though he did not quote actual folk melodies in this music, as had Brahms in his Hungarian Dances, Dvořák was so imbued with the spirit and style of indigenous Slavic music that he was able to create such superb, idealized examples of their genres as the Czech furiant in the Slavonic Dance in C major, Op. 46, No. 1.

— Program note  ©2024 Dr. Richard E. Rodda.


The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Paul Dukas (1865–1935)    10 minutes (1897)

“This interesting novelty is by a composer little known to the musical world and whose name now appears for the first time on the programs of these concerts,” were the words that introduced this music when Theodore Thomas conducted the U.S. premiere of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Chicago on January 13, 1899. The orchestral scherzo quickly became an audience favorite—the Chicago Symphony played it nearly every season in the first decades of the twentieth century—and with the 1940 release of Walt Disney’s Fantasia, in which Mickey Mouse gives technicolor life to each gesture in Dukas’s score, Dukas’s novelty became one of the best known of all symphonic works.

The essence of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is the same in Goethe’s ballad Der Zauberlehrling, in Dukas’s scherzo, and in Disney’s animation. A magician’s apprentice has observed his master’s ability to bring a broomstick to life in order to do the sorcerer’s bidding. Left on his own, the apprentice orders the broomstick to fetch water, only to realize that he has no power to stop it. As the magician’s house begins to overflow with water, the apprentice tries to avoid disaster by chopping the broom in half, which merely produces two brooms and even more water. Only with the return of the sorcerer himself, and a masterful wave of his hand, is the disaster stopped and calm restored.

— Program note by Phillip Huscher, program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Reprinted with permission © Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association


Saxophone Concerto

Henri Tomasi (1901–1971)    20 minutes (1949)

Composer and conductor Henri Tomasi, born in Marseilles in August 1901 into a working-class family of Corsican descent, began studying music at age seven at the city’s conservatory and progressed so rapidly on piano that he complained about feeling “humiliated to be on show like a trained animal” when his father introduced him at social gatherings as a child prodigy. Young Henri supplemented the family’s finances during World War I by playing anywhere there was work, from fancy hotels to brothels and movie houses. In 1921, he received a scholarship from the city of Marseilles to attend the Paris Conservatoire to study composition with Georges Caussade and Paul Vidal and conducting with Philippe Gaubert; he also studied privately with Vincent d’Indy. Tomasi proved to be a model student — one classmate marveled that “he showed up with a new fugue every week. He was indefatigable, an inveterate workaholic!” — and he took second place in the Prix de Rome upon his graduation in 1927. He established parallel careers as composer and conductor soon after leaving the school, and from 1930 to 1935 he worked for the French National Radio as music director of its programs beamed to Indochina and other Far Eastern lands, an experience that stimulated his interest in world music and influenced the settings and style of several of his compositions. Tomasi was inducted into the French army in 1939 and served as a band director near Nice until the Germans overran the country the following year. He continued to compose during the war and also conducted the Orchestre National, which had been moved from Paris to Marseilles because of the hostilities. Tomasi was named principal conductor of the Monte Carlo Opera in 1946, and he enjoyed considerable success conducting many of France’s finest orchestras until the loss of hearing in his right ear forced him to retire from the concert stage in 1957. He thereafter devoted himself to composition until his death in Paris on January 13, 1971.

Tomasi’s creative output includes nine ballets, five operas, sixteen concertos (for most of the orchestral instruments), an oratorio, a few independent orchestral works and some chamber pieces. Among his last works are a Chant pour le Vietnam and a Third-World Symphony, in which he expressed his outrage at contemporary events. Of Tomasi’s creative personality, the French composer Arthur Hoérée wrote, “He excelled in evoking wide spaces by means of great frescoes, rich in contrasts and sometimes violent or exotic. His music is intensely direct in feeling, occasionally dissonant and highly colored; he absorbed influences from his French contemporaries (chiefly Ravel) while retaining an individual voice.”

Tomasi composed the Saxophone Concerto in 1949 for Marcel Mule, the pioneering French virtuoso who helped establish a place and a repertory for his instrument in the classical realm; Mule premiered the work on May 2, 1950 in with the Orchestre National de l'ORTF under the direction of the composer. Tomasi was working at that same time on a short oratorio based on the La noche oscura del alma (“The Obscure Night of the Soul”) by Saint John of the Cross, the 16th-century Spanish mystic whose poem narrates the “obscure night” through which the soul must pass on the unknowable journey to mystical union with God. Tomasi considered sharing musical material between the two pieces, but ultimately decided to borrow elements instead in the dance sequences of his opera L’Atlantide. Though the Concerto and the oratorio are distinct musically, the slow opening section of the saxophone piece may reflect the mysterious, somber quality of St. John’s mystical poem. That music, and perhaps St. John’s mystical journey associated with its inception, become more animated in the following section, which is urged on by a repeating two-note motive in the bass in a limping meter: 3 beats + 2 beats. A solo cadenza, with the limping bass figure heard softly in the background, is at first contemplative, then more excited. The cadenza is followed by a passage of greater urgency before the movement closes with a recall of the mysterious music with which it began. The second of the Concerto’s two movements is titled, in French, Giration (whirling, circling, rotating), and it is indeed music of great energy and breathtaking virtuosity that abates for one lyrical episode and another fiercely contrasting one, as well as reprises of the mysterious music from the introduction, including the one that ends the Concerto with a powerful but unsettled chord.

— Program note  ©2024 Dr. Richard E. Rodda.


Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88

Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904)    38 minutes (1889)

The Eighth Symphony was completed in 1889, a period in which Dvořák composed a number of works full of Czech folk elements. The structure is a good deal more rhapsodic and less governed by Teutonic norms than in Dvořák’s other symphonies, and the G Major key perfectly fits the pastoral character of the themes.

Allegro con brio. The very opening theme functions as a kind of marker, denoting the beginning of the exposition, the start of the development, and, most prominently, the climax of the movement and start of the recapitulation when played by the trumpets and trombones.

Adagio. The slow movement combines a feel of melancholy with a pastoral landscape, including bird calls on the woodwind instruments.

Allegretto giocoso. The scherzo movement of the Romantic period is replaced by a Czech version of a waltz, or possibly a dumka, but retains the basic ABA form of most third movements. The quick music which ends the movement is actually the theme of the middle (B) section, but transformed in a Lisztian manner.

Allegro ma non troppo. After a trumpet fanfare, the lower strings set forth the main theme, which will undergo a series of variations. However, the second variation, loud and brassy, recurs twice more during the movement, creating the feel of a rondo structure. The final few variations linger on as if Dvořák can’t bear to end, until the final reprise of variation two brings the symphony to its resounding conclusion.

— Program note by David Ellis.