Music Interview: Saving classical music with a sax

By Chad Utke

What best describes a classical saxophonist? Images that come to mind include overweight dead Europeans with no relevance to our lives. Don’t let that presupposition fool your impression of Michael Ibrahim, a fresh new face in an area of so-called desolation in North America.

The classical music movement is far from flourishing on our side of the pond, but Ibrahim hopes to change that. This 25 year old originally from Melville, Saskatchewan is an internationally acclaimed classical saxophonist and play the Millennium Music Foundation concert with Peter MacGillvary (singing baritone) and Winston Choi (decorated pianist) March 3. Only in his mid-twenties, Ibrahim has earned an undergraduate degree for his time at the U of C and the University of Regina. He also has a Masters degree from Bowling Green State University.

“I’ve just really enjoyed playing music, that’s how I’ve gone through it so easily,” remarks Ibrahim about his quick trip through school.

The pieces in the show include Johan Sebastian Bach’s compositions and poetry from Lord Tennyson put to music. But the most interesting piece might possibly be one composed by Ibrahim himself, entitled “Red, Brown and Green.”

Ibrahim seems apprehensive about playing his own creation with such talented people.

“Winston is an international award winner at piano and Peter is a very talented baritone.”

Each movement of the piece has three unique parts to it: a musician plays an improvisation, another plays a modal, earthy melody, and the final plays a more progressive style of music. He hopes this synthesis will allow for Peter and Winston to use their musical gifts appropriately and create an enchanting sound. Michael’s musical ear doesn’t stop at the term classical, apparent in the music he listens to such as Coldplay, Radiohead and The Roots, all of whom have a skill for composing great music beyond their four-chord counterparts.

Just as with the bands named above, Ibrahim hopes he can incorporate a popular and innovative type of music with a well-rounded composition. Ibrahim agreed with the notion of fewer people interested in the classical music movement in North America, but with popular influences that may change.

“When I played in a German youth orchestra we had no trouble playing in front of large crowd. It was rejuvenating.”

He realizes the classical genre in North America has high society connotations, mentioning people shouldn’t be afraid of going to the show because of their casual dress style. Although Ibrahim feels there is a lack of attention paid to the chamber music scene, he recognizes the opportunity for renewal among people in Canada and the United States. It’s time to move beyond the pale spectre of fat European composers.


Leave a comment