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After 15 years (2004-2015) of successfully managing and leading SAXGO, Matjaž Drevenšek will not put his name on the 24th International Saxophone Meeting. For many years, Drevenšek managed the festival and the saxophone summer school. He has certainly played his part in making the saxophone recognizable and accepted as an instrument that is at least equivalent to other wind instruments in both classical and jazz music. In all these years, many distinguished and eminent teachers, concertists, researchers and performers have lined up under the SAXGO brand. Today, the International Meeting of Saxophonists is recognized around the world and is a symbol of quality, innovation, creativity and interdisciplinarity. With deep respect, exceptional gratitude and responsibility, Jan Gričar and Boštjan Simon took over the baton as artistic directors in 2019. Former participants of the Saxophone Summer School, who have paved their way both at home and abroad, were invited to talk about SAXGO plans in the near and distant future. Barbara Poša Belingar, project coordinator, spoke with Jan Gričar, artistic director for classical saxophone.

SAXGO 2008 poletna sola Jan Gricar

Jan Gričar - SAXGO12 Saxophone Summer School, 2008, photo: Atelje Pavšič Zavadlav

Where does the love for the saxophone come from and what led you to decide to play this not yet 200-year-old instrument?

The love for the saxophone came more or less spontaneously. When I enrolled in the Trebnje Music School, I wanted to play the clarinet. Since there was no school instrument available, my second option was the trumpet, but I remember saying at the last minute that I could also play the saxophone. I was sure all along that I would play the trumpet. Then, on the first day, I was met on the stairs by saxophone teacher David Kocijan. He introduced me to the saxophone and music and through my years at the music school brought me so close to it that it now represents my way of life.

2 SAXGO 2013 7.tekmovanje Jan Gricar 2. mesto 4

Jan Gričar (fourth from the left) in the finals of the 7th International Saxophone Competition - SAXGO17, 2013, photo: Atelje Pavšič Zavadlav

You graduated from the Academy of Music in Ljubljana with honours - ‘summa cum laude’ - and then continued your studies in France at the Regional Conservatory in Versailles where you studied under Vincent David. There you also successfully completed your master’s degree in the class of Claude Delangle. Today, you teach saxophone and chamber music at the Music and Ballet Conservatory in Ljubljana. You stay faithful to classical saxophone, playing a wide variety of compositions of classical and contemporary music. The repertoire you recreate covers both early periods and contemporary music. Who inspired you to go in this direction?

My taste in music grew and evolved during my school years and university. Already as a high school student, I attended subscription concerts of the RTV Slovenia Symphony Orchestra and the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, concerts of the silver subscription, the Music Youth of Ljubljana and the Music Youth of Slovenia, etc. I decided to study saxophone so it seemed completely natural and normal for me to attend concerts as an integral part of my education. There, I could also learn a lot and get additional motivation to practice. Later, in Paris, I attended concerts at the new Paris Philharmonic which was located so close I could practically go there with my slippers on. I also enjoyed visiting museums and galleries during my free days. It is true that I am a classical saxophonist by education but that does not mean I do not listen to or try other musical directions. I work a lot with composers because I believe it is a privilege to have "live contact" with the composer. In this way, you can participate in the creation of a new work. This is a musical symbiosis that is very important, as it maintains the condition and vitality of the interpreter.

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Jan Gričar at the performance of the 7th International Saxophone Competition (conductor: En Shao), where he won the 2nd place - SAXGO17, 2013, photo: Atelje Pavšič Zavadlav

You attended the International Meeting of Saxophonists for the first time when you were still in lower music school. When exactly was that and how did you feel in Nova Gorica at that time?

I attended the international meeting in Nova Gorica for the first time in 2005! The memories are very genuine and pleasant. The atmosphere was incredible. We were very motivated, we practiced all day, and attended exceptional concerts in the evening. I have really fond memories and the International Meetings of Saxophonists in Nova Gorica have been, for several years, a mandatory destination at the beginning of my summer holidays.

8 SAXGO 2016 8. tekmovanje gricko 1. mesto dir Simon Krecic 1

Jan Gričar at the final performance of the 8th International Saxophone Competition (conductor: Simon Krečič, where he won the 1st place - SAXGO20, 2016, photo: Matej Vidmar

Despite your age (1992), your biography is teeming with flattering collaborations with various Slovenian, European and also international names. You are also the recipient of many national and international extremely important awards and recognitions. Which one means the most to you and why?

There have been many moments and musical experiences that will stay with me forever and I think that’s what makes music so very wonderful. Collaborations with other artists and musicians are always special because I learn a lot from them. Exchanging ideas and different views on music is always welcome because music knows no boundaries. Recognitions and awards come spontaneously, they strengthen the motivation and at the same time they are a confirmation of the years of effort and work put into it. Of course, during my studies, the role of teachers who stood by my side, supported me and offered me their knowledge was very important. Let me list them in order - David Kocijan, Dejan Prešiček, Matjaž Drevenšek, Miha Rogina, Vincent David and Claude Delangle.

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Jan Gričar, winner of the 8th International Saxophone Competition, together with the four finalists, members of the international jury and representatives of the Organizer - SAXGO20, 2016, photo: Matej Vidmar

Achieving all the aforementioned results certainly requires faith in the instrument, hard work, curiosity, openness and dedication. Is there any other quality that could encourage young saxophonists to make their dreams come true?

That's right, all of the above and of course the joy of doing what you do. If you do something with joy and dedication, then you can achieve anything. Of course, music also requires some talent, but it is mostly hard work and immense will, sometimes even renunciation. And above all, you must believe in yourself and in what you do, and walk the world with your eyes open.

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Jan Gričar, mentor of the Saxophone Summer School - SAXGO21, 2017, photo: PoBa

This year's Saxophone Summer School will take place at the Nova Gorica Music School from 27 June to 1 July. It is suitable for participants from the 4th grade of lower music school onwards. In addition to the jazz saxophone workshop with Boštjan Simon and Daniel D'Agaro and the masterclass in composition and improvisation with the American saxophonist and composer Steve Lehman, together with Matjaž Drevenšek and Miha Rogina you will conduct a classical saxophone workshop. How have you envisioned it, what will this year's programme be like and in what way will the work with participants be carried out?

In this year's edition, we focused mainly on Slovenian teachers and performers as the coronavirus has impacted us all. The summer school of classical saxophone is intended for participants who would like to further improve and upgrade their knowledge and playing. This year’s summer school mentors will share their knowledge, energy and experience during saxophone lessons. Participants will be able to establish genuine contact with teachers and further delve into the selected repertoire - everything from standard saxophone works and arrangements to novelties. Each participant will also have the opportunity to practice with two exceptional pianists - Sae Lee and Neža Koželj. The summer school will be dedicated not only to practice, but also to socializing and attending concerts of the rich festival programme - from classical music to jazz. SAXGO21 will wrap up on 1 July with the final concert entitled ''ALL TOGETHER NOW'' featuring all mentors and participants. The concert will take place in the large theatre hall of the Kulturni dom Nova Gorica on 1 July 2021.

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Jan Gričar, Matjaž Drevenšek and Nicolas Arsenijević - mentors of the Saxophone Summer School at the final concert ALL TOGETHER NOW - SAXGO21, 2017, photo: Matej Vidmar

Since taking over the SAXGO artistic leadership (Matjaž Drevenšek was the artistic director until 2019), you have not actually had the opportunity to prove yourself as last year's plans were thwarted by the corona crisis. Together with Boštjan Simon, the co-artistic director of the meeting, you have created an excellent festival programme and Summer School. However, it hung suspended in mid-air due to the crisis. In designing this year's edition, hoping that SAXGO would remain synonymous with quality, connectivity and good company in the future, you have worked hard and prepared an enviable festival programme which, like the Summer School, features mainly local performers and teachers. What are your feelings and expectations at this point, on the day the registrations for the Summer School are opened?

The current situation in Slovenia and the world is, of course, very unpleasant. Probably a few years ago, no one imagined that a rapidly evolving modern world could be stopped by a pandemic. It has particularly affected the cultural sector since there have been no real concerts and performances for over a year now. I firmly believe that people urgently need art and culture because it broadens our horizons and strengthens our creativity. I hope that young saxophonists will recognize the varied, attractive and quality programme that SAXGO21 is offering. In this time of uncertainty, we probably all want the world to return back to normal. I hope that the situation will allow us to carry out this year's edition safely by taking into account all the necessary measures.

SAXGO 2017 Gricar Grm DrevensekJan Gričar with Nejc Grm (on the accordion) at the concert of the SAXGO21, 2017, photo: Matej Vidmar

Why would you recommend attending the classical saxophone workshop in Nova Gorica?

I would recommend everyone to participate in the classical saxophone workshop mainly because I believe that all three teachers will do their best and share their enthusiasm among the participants. We, too, are very eager for live interaction with young saxophonists and we really can’t wait to be able to meet them.

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Jan Gričar and Nicolas Arsenijević at the concert of the SAXGO23 Festival, 2019, photo: Matej Vidmar

In the end, can you tell us what plans you have for the future? Do you have, in your rich constellation, any wish that you could share with us and all your followers?

My wish is that my first CD with the RTV Slovenia Symphony Orchestra will be released soon. We recorded the material last August and it is currently in the making. One of the biggest responsibilities and plans is the quality management of the SAXGO Festival. I am very honoured that I was entrusted with this function by the exceptional team of the Kultrni dom Nova Gorica and Matjaž Drevenšek. With his vision, unwavering energy and professionalism, Drevenšek paved the way for the saxophone and all young people who wanted to embark on a professional musical path. Together with my colleague Boštjan Simon, we will do our best and make sure that we will be able to host and hear the greatest masters of this instrument in Slovenia also in the future.


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