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Russian sax player: keeping the music alive
17-year-old Dmitry Pinchuk from Moscow won the world's most prestigious saxophone competition held in Dinant, Belgium, the hometown of the saxophone's inventor, Adolphe Sax. The competition showcased the triumph of the Russian saxophone school, with three Russians among the six finalists. All three are not only students at the Moscow Frederic Chopin College but also disciples of the renowned Russian saxophonist Nikita Zimin.
“Of course, we were surprised that three Russians were allowed to reach the finals, let alone win in our time,” commented Dmitry. In an interview with Russkiy Mir, he shared how Russians were received in Belgium, the differences between Russian saxophonists and musicians from other countries, the Russian saxophone school, and the unique teaching methods of his mentor Zimin.
"We expected the worst and hoped for the best.”
- After your victory in Belgium, the first thing you did was to thank your teachers on your social media page. How did it happen that all three of you have made it to the finals?
- Nikita Zimin is actually an outstanding musician, by far the best saxophone performer in the world. And he is a wonderful teacher. Of course, we were surprised that all three of us have reached the finals, especially in the current situation. We expected the worst and hoped for the best.
- What is your teacher's secret?
- Nikita Mikhailovich knows his work very well, besides he has an individual approach to each pupil. The key aspect of his approach is granting freedom and fostering independence for each student.
- In 2014, Zimin won the Adolf Sachs Saxophone Competition. Did he tell you about it?
- Of course, it was very important to him. He went there in 2010 as well, and took the second prize. He was determined to win and he finally won. By that time he was already an outstanding musician.
- They say this is the major competition for saxophonists. Is that true?
- Viewing it from a historical standpoint, it is undoubtedly the most important. However, the Andorra Sax Fest holds significant esteem as well. Nikita Zimin draws an analogy between Adolf Sax Competition and the FIFA World Cup, Andorra Sax Fest to the Champions League. Deciding which is more prestigious isn't immediately evident.
- You said after the competition that Russians were received with a warm welcome in Belgium. Did you communicate with colleagues from other countries?
- Yes, we didn't feel any negativity, everything was good in that respect. There were a lot of acquaintances from different countries, we had good communication with everyone. We kept more to our own company, but we also made new acquaintances.
- The contest organizers assert that winning not only brings a cash prize but also adds a notable line to your resume, opening the door to a world tour. Do you have such plans?
- In a year, I'll be showcasing in the same Belgian church not as a contestant but as a performer, that time with an orchestra. Sometimes past winners often serve on competition juries, amplifying their recognition and opening new opportunities.
"The saxophone was not my choice, but I'm happy about it."
- How did it happen that you chose the saxophone?
- I've been playing the saxophone since I was seven. Before that, it was the block flute and a bit of singing. My journey started with a recommendation from my vocal teacher to attend music school, where I ended up choosing the saxophone somewhat randomly among other wind instruments. It wasn't a conscious decision, but I'm thrilled with how it turned out.
- Did you quickly did you fall in love with the instrument?
- The saxophone has always special for me. When compared to other wind instruments, it stands out with its rich and versatile sound, boasting a wide musical and dynamic range. Its myriad possibilities have consistently drawn me in, making it a captivating choice for musical expression.
12-year Dmitry plays at one of the contests
- Which competitions do you remember the most?
- The most recent ones are the Belgian Dinan and the Andorra Sax Fest, which is held every year in Andorra. In the Andorra Sax Fest, my journey evolved from making it to the semi-finals in my first attempt to securing second place in the third contest. With another competition just around the corner, my sights are set on nothing less than victory. The preparation is intense, but the goal is clear – clinching the win.
- Are there any major competitions for saxophonists in Russia?
- I don't know now, but some time ago there were a few good competitions. I've been part of competitions like Pushkin Sax. Yekaterinburg hosts another notable competition, and this summer, I had a fantastic experience at the Baikal Sax camp.
Russian youth beats foreign experience
- What's your take on the proficiency of the Russian saxophone school? And is the saxophone a prevalent instrument in Russia?
- It's unfortunate that the saxophone isn't represented in Russian conservatories. However, Russian saxophonists, often college students, are excelling in international competitions dominated by older musicians. The saxophone's limited status in Russian conservatories as a jazz instrument contradicts its widespread popularity among audiences in Russia and beyond, as seen in the full house at the finals in Belgium.Do Russian saxophonists focus on their own national repertoire, or do they mainly perform works by foreign composers?
- Certainly, there's a notable Russian repertoire for the saxophone, with Grigory Kalinkovich's works standing out. Alexander Glazunov's renowned saxophone concerto remains a staple in global saxophonist performances. Moreover, the versatility of the saxophone allows for organic arrangements of classical music, including pieces by Russian composers, especially on the soprano saxophone. This adaptability sets the saxophone apart from other wind instruments like the oboe, which may not capture the same resonance in such arrangements.Do Russian saxophonists have a distinctive feature that you can identify by ear?
- In my observation, Russian saxophonists often exhibit a more soulful style of playing. Interpretation and sound are very important. When you look at a Russian saxophonist during a performance, you can see that he is immersed in the music.
- I love listening to it, but playing is not my thing. Jazz is always about freedom, and I'm strict with myself, I like precision and I always plan my performance. In jazz, you have to improvise, but for me everything has to be in order.What are your plans for the near and distant future?
- Currently, we've got numerous tour arrangements with our quartet, featuring our teacher Nikita Zimin. Our journey will take us across Russia. And after graduating from college, we’ll dive into our individual projects and a series of concerts, keeping the music alive. Peering into the future, the idea of teaching appeals to me. I'm inspired by my teacher's past endeavors, where he extensively toured Russia, popularizing the saxophone and discovering gifted students along the way.