When musicians take risks – and end up winning awards
MSU Saxophone students capture top honors in noted competitions.
Successful musicians have several qualities in common. They work very hard at their craft. They set goals and forge ahead with determination. They network and take risks by trying new things with new collaborators. And they don’t let traditional boundaries inhibit their creativity. MSU College of Music saxophone students Kyle Landry and Julian Velasco have that in common.
Landry’s curiosity and willingness to dive into new endeavors like composition and instrument building and Velasco’s melding of classical and jazz play a part in what has been an award-winning season for both students of Professor of Saxophone Joe Lulloff.
Landry, who says he has always been interested in sound, was inspired to pen a piece for a saxophone quartet that captured first place in 2017-18 North American Saxophone Alliance composition competition (NASA). Velasco, who says Lulloff’s studio grounds him in classical and contemporary genres while his studies with Associate Professor of Jazz studies, Saxophone and Improvisation Diego Rivera shape how he listens to and performs music, won the prestigious Vandoren Emerging Artist Competition.
“Both Kyle and Julian are devoted to music, always looking to be the best they can,” says Lulloff. “They’re also just great individuals who contribute to our culture of collaboration, learning and building a musical tradition here at MSU.”
Landry earned his master’s in saxophone performance from MSU in 2015 and is on track to complete his MSU doctorate in 2018. Velasco completes his undergraduate degree this spring.
Lulloff has mentored both students and has been with them through creative ups and downs. “It’s inspiring to see them dive into new music and expand their musical creativity,” he says.
Following their path
Both young musicians say they discovered saxophone in fifth grade. Landry chose it mostly because he loved the sound.
“I didn’t come from a musical family,” he says. “But my parents always knew I would be involved in something artistic. The saxophone just came as a bit of a surprise.”
Velasco originally studied piano, but with a professional saxophone player for a father the switch was fairly easy.
Eventually, both found themselves working with Lulloff at MSU. By all accounts, they are dedicated to their craft and creative in their approach.
Landry has performed as a soloist and as a member of the Viridian Saxophone Quartet – the same quartet that will perform his nine-minute award-winning composition for the saxophone called “Aeolian Harp” at the NASA conference in March. His curiosity about the science of sound led him to invent and build instruments with the intent of showcasing the physical effects of music.
In addition to Lulloff, Landry also studied composition with David Biedenbender, an MSU assistant professor of composition. During that time, Landry wrote his prize-winning piece and undertook an instrument building project that resulted in the composition NODE—performed in 2017 at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.
“Kyle is wildly creative,” says Biedenbender. “He’s ambitious, hardworking, and, most importantly, he’s not afraid to take risks and to experiment. Whether it’s practicing an existing work, writing a new piece, or building a new instrument, he workshops, he tinkers, and he refines until he gets it right.”
Velasco, a student of both classical performance and jazz studies, says MSU has been supportive of any and all directions he takes, including the high profile competitive opportunities in the world of saxophone performance. He also mentioned the profound impact of the late David Maslanka on his approach to music. The renowned composer and MSU alumnus mentored Velasco in 2017—just a few months before he passed away. Shortly afterward, Velasco began working with Maslanka's son Matthew to scan, catalog and archive every recording, dissertation or article written by the composer. The end result will be a website replete with photos, video, personal recordings, correspondence and interviews with individuals who knew or worked with Maslanka.
“Julian's studies with David Maslanka were a milestone for him,” says Lulloff. “It brought him into a whole new world of music that combined with his overall musical studies and talents have given him all the opportunities he’s worked so hard for.”
In addition to winning the prestigious Vandoren competition—a recognition capped by performance opportunities in Paris, France—Velasco also advanced to the live rounds of the NASA competition in March, and to the national rounds of the MTNA Young Artist Solo Competition.
“It’s an incredible honor and very exciting to be recognized,” says Velasco. “It’s great to have all this hard work pay off, and to get the opportunity to share my musical voice.”