An Interview with Croatian Saxophonist, Dragan Sremec
by MUCS Timothy E. Roberts
On January 26th and 27th, 2001, the Navy Band hosted the 24th International Saxophone Symposium. Each year the band dedicates a week to exploring one of the youngest and often misunderstood instruments of contemporary wind ensemble. Through recitals, concerts, guest lectures, and vendor displays and demonstrations, the Navy Band offers the public an extraordinary opportunity to learn about and appreciate the many and varied attributes of the saxophone in both the classical and jazz genres. A cornerstone of the Navy Band's symposium is the guest appearance of a saxophone artist from abroad. We strive to find someone of the very highest musical standards and accomplishment to whom American audiences have had limited exposure. We were pleased to feature Mr. Dragan Sremec of Croatia in 2001. The Navy Band's principal saxophonist, Senior Chief Musician Timothy Roberts, spoke with Mr. Sremec at last summer's World Saxophone Congress in Montreal.
First, thank you for accepting the Navy Band's invitation to perform at January's Saxophone Symposium! We had a great event last year, and enjoyed hosting Claude Delangle. We look forward to hearing you perform with us. Tell me a bit about yourself. Specifically, how did you begin to play the saxophone, and what was your early musical education in Croatia like? Was it difficult to find a good saxophone instructor in Croatia?
I started my musical education rather late (for Croatia) at the age of 13, persuaded by my parents. I didn't want to go. The choice of the instrument was accidental - my father had a great role in selecting it for me. I decided to be a professional musician after hearing one exceptional performance of Verdi's Requiem conducted by the legendary Croatian conductor Lovro von Matacic. I started to study conducting at the University of Zagreb Music Academy in the class of Igor Gjadrov. Incidentally, I began saxophone study in the newly founded class of Josip Nochta, Professor of Clarinet and the solo clarinetist of the Zagreb Philharmonic. At that time (the late seventies), in the former Yugoslavia and, I'm certain, in all of Middle Europe, there was no specialized saxophone teacher - only clarinetists with some experience with saxophone.
After graduating with a degree in saxophone and conducting, I earned a master's degree in saxophone. I continued my studies as a French government grantee with Daniel Deffayet, Professor of Saxophone at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique de Paris, and as a Fulbright grantee with Eugene Rousseau at the Indiana University School of Music. I was already an experienced musician when I was working with Dr. Rousseau, and his enormous musical knowledge enriched my playing and broadened my musical horizons and my musical personality.
Although conducting is my primary musical profession with experience as a regular guest conductor of the Croatian Amy Symphonic Band, the Zagreb Symphony Orchestra and the Zagreb Philharmonic, I'm currently more focused on saxophone performance and pedagogy as the professor of Saxophone at the University of Zagreb Music Academy. My goal is, of course, to perform as much as possible, but also to gain new pieces from good composers. I wish we had music for the saxophone from Shostakovich, Prokofieff, Britten, and Lutoslawsky.
You spent time studying with Eugene Rousseau in Indiana, but unfortunately had to return home to Croatia after only a few months because of the war in the Balkans. How did you find the American education system to be different from that in your homeland? Do opportunities exist for highly trained musicians in Croatia to develop their careers in military musical ensembles?
Overall the education system is rather different in Croatia than in the U.S. Music students start their education as they do all over the world. String players and pianists begin at an early age of five to seven, and others at the age of 10 to 11. But of course there are always exceptions! After completing their studies, young musicians have the opportunity to maintain their careers in one of several professional symphonic or opera orchestras in Croatia or to pursue a pedagogical career. In Croatia there are two professional bands: the Croatian Army Band and the Croatian Navy Band which are composed of mostly young musicians. Unfortunately, saxophonists confront the same problem marketing themselves here as in the rest of the world.
Therefore, I always suggest to my students to learn a great deal of music besides saxophone music, to listen to performances of masterpieces from music history, and to listen to the performances of great artists. I think that is the best way since as saxophonists, we are not always exposed to the great music.
A large part of your professional endeavors seem to be spent leading the Zagreb Saxophone Quartet. Could you tell us a little bit about the group and what they are currently doing?
For the last eleven years I have worked a lot with the quartet and have had a great deal of success with them. For example, last summer we performed in Munich at the Europamusicale Festival. In October we began recording the saxophone quintets of Baker, Fox, and Kechley with Eugene Rousseau. That month we also premiered Mladen Tarbuk's Concerto for Saxophone Quartet, Strings, and Percussion with the Slovenian Philharmonic. Next April we will premier two Japanese quintets (morceaux imposees for the Paris Conservatory final exams in 2001) with Claude Delangle at the Music Biennale Zagreb, one of the world's foremost festivals of contemporary music. By the way, in May I will perform the Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra, a piece written for me by Boris Papandopulo, one of the leading twentieth century Croatian composers. This performance will be with the Zagreb Symphony Orchestra.
What do you enjoy doing when you're not playing the saxophone?
I always enjoy all types of music! I'm fortunately one of those whose hobby is music. I love to conduct - it is a great feeling to make music that way. I also enjoy spending time with my family. I've never been to Washington, DC. I'm looking forward to getting there and performing with the renowned Navy Band!
Visit the International Saxophone Symposium to learn more about the event.