On her first chamber music album for Berlin Classics, saxophonist Asya Fateyeva looks back to the glory days of her instrument: in the Twenties of the last century, the sax was the voice of modern salon music and an equal partner to the other instruments of the classical chamber ensemble. Even as it enjoyed its heyday, dark clouds were gathering on the horizon. This is an album that occupies the territory between danceable urban rhythms, cultural ostracism and groundbreaking developments in music.
Asya Fateyeva’s album Jonny takes its title from Ernst Krenek’s “mirror-on-society” jazz opera Jonny spielt auf. This is a work pervaded by the zeitgeist of the Roaring Twenties, with a track record that reflects the cultural and social tendencies of its time: 421 performances in 45 different cities during its first season on the one hand, and the use – or misuse – of its black saxophonist on the “Degenerate Music” exhibition poster of 1938 on the other, illustrate the work’s pivotal position. But Asya Fateyeva has spread her net wider than Ernst Krenek: “I am totally fascinated by the different ways in which composers use music to talk their own language and express their own world-view. You almost have the feeling that there must be a few centuries separating them. Adolf Busch, Paul Hindemith and Anton Webern treat the saxophone as a sonic medium, virtually as a means to an end. Erwin Schulhoff, Kurt Weill and Ernst Krenek employ it essentially to express the zeitgeist and to voice the bitterness, the sarcasm and the ambivalent attitude towards life and death that marked the 1920s.”
Her chamber-music “partners in crime” are Emma Yoon and Florian Donderer on violin, Yuko Hara on viola, cellist Tanja Tetzlaff, Stepan Simonian at the piano and Shirley Brill playing clarinet. “The great thing about a chamber recording is that it’s very intimate. We are all in equilibrium, we all play an equal part in the proceedings. It’s not as if I do my thing as a soloist and they are my accompaniment. Each musician and each personality is very important.” You note this concert-seasoned togetherness, the dialogue and the interest in the various musical phenomena of the period. “It’s a kind of panorama – I really like the way you can open a window into the past and see how bold they were, striking out in new directions at that time,” says Florian Donderer. “What’s unusual is having a saxophone in chamber music. The saxophone has never established a real presence and maybe it has not always been taken at face value …”
Asya Fateyeva has long seen it as her mission to draw attention to the saxophone in classical music. With her new album Jonny she sheds light on the moment in time when her instrument was about to take its rightful place in the established line-up of instruments.