Lev Pupis - Passionate Slovenian Saxophonist - 04
About Lev Pupis
Lev Pupis is a Slovenian saxophonist, teacher at the Conservatory in Ljubljana and is a senior lecturer at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz, Austria. After a brilliant graduation in 1998 at the University of Music in Vienna, he studied saxophone in France with Jean-Yves Fourmeau and Vincent David.
Lev is a multifaceted and versatile artist. He plays both as a soloist and as co-founder of the 4saxess quartet. He is the artistic director of Emona Music Festival, the international woodwind competition and runs the internationally recognised AS Festival each year in the scenic town of Bled, Slovenia.
He has performed as soloist with orchestras in Graz, Ljubljana, Maribor, Belgrade, and Vienna and since 2015 he has been an elected member of the International Saxophone Committee.
I first met Lev at the World Saxophone Congress in Strasbourg in 2015. He seemed somewhat startled to be elected to the International Saxophone Committee but he quickly became one of our most the most enthusiastic members. For the first time in the history of the World Saxophone Congress, he brought together all of the members of the saxophone committee for a special planning meeting as well as numerous solo and chamber music concerts in the historic and snow-covered town of Bled, Slovenia. If you listen carefully, you may hear the bells chiming from the Church of St. Martin in Bled just across the lake from our hotel.
- Starting saxophone was a coincidence.
- Nobody liked to hear my performances with piano.
- Not a typical education for a classical saxophonist.
- Practising like hell in the early years.
- Studying abroad is an essential step.
- Curiosity led me to Gap, the European saxophone summer university,
- In Gap, I learned that I’m a nobody.
- We have to leave the nest to really grow up.
- Respect is my secret weapon.
- Is the saxophone a tool or a toy?
- Our country is very, very, very small, but the sax community is big.
- Thoughts on memorisation.
- The romantic style is my most natural language of expression.
- Opportunity and intuition, they are my kind of words.
- Be brave.
- If we share music, not just show music, then we can really go far.
- An obligation to leave a trace on the saxophone world.
- The Slovenian saxophone school is recognised throughout the world.
- The importance of collaboration.
- If we don’t understand the mistake, that is the mistake.
- Never think that you are the best.
- The saxophone is really the instrument of the future, and its time is still to come.
Links from the show
Transcript of Podcast Interview with Lev Pupis
Barry Cockcroft: Perhaps a good place to get started, is you could tell us how you got started with the saxophone.
Lev Pupis: Well, it has been a while, and it was a coincidence, actually. I had started with clarinet at the age of 10, and I had bad luck continuing because my teacher was an oboe player, and he didn’t recognise that my mother bought an A clarinet instead of B flat. So it was, of course, everything wrong, false, and nobody liked to hear my performances with piano. That’s it. It’s really simple.
And there was one teacher at this music school where I was raised, who was a great musician, he was a flute player, percussionist, and jazz flute player. And he said, “Well if you are not going to change the instrument, you had better stop. But I suggest to you that I will start teaching you the saxophone. You could come into my class. I would like to have you there.”
And he talked to my parents, of course. I was a minor at that time. And my father and my mother, they accepted that. So we bought a saxophone, and I started at the age of 12, I started playing saxophone.
Barry Cockcroft: Wow. That’s actually about that same age I started.
Lev Pupis: Really?
Barry Cockcroft: Which, compared to a lot of students now, is quite late. Because people are starting younger and younger, which is interesting. I also started with clarinet for a little while. A year. And I was so bad at the clarinet, they begged me to learn the saxophone.
Lev Pupis: Right.
Barry Cockcroft: Yeah.
Lev Pupis: So it’s practically the same story. But I have an excuse that the instrument was not okay, not me. My education is not typical for a classical saxophonist. As I mentioned, my first teacher was a jazz flute player, percussionist, not a sax player. But as a jazz lover, he played some saxophone.
My first teacher was jazz man, and then when I came to conservatory … You would say, probably secondary school. It’s not academy. At the age of 14 I got to Ljubljana’s Conservatory. And, again, my teacher was a jazz sax player. Beause at that time Matjaz Drevensek has just returned from Lyon, and he was the first classical sax teacher in Slovenia. But I was not lucky enough to enter his class, so they put me in a class of very, very experienced musician, a sax player. But he got his position and he made his career through the big band of Radio House, National Radio House of Slovenia.
So, again, for four years I’ve been stuck with a jazz teacher. He was great, the personality, and I learned so many other things from him. But not how to play the classical saxophone. And especially not how to play the modern techniques, modern way of blowing, embouchure. It was everything by par hasard
My first really classical teacher was Oto Vrhovnik. It was all a coincidence, how we got to know each other. I was 18, and at a national competition, and I was a complete outsider because, really, I didn’t get the kind of sound the kind of articulation, the style, or how to play Glazunov Concerto. It was not in that style, what the jury would expect. But apparently, they recognised something different in me, and they gave me a first prize. And Oto Vrhovnik, a teacher at Vienna University, he invited me to come to study with him in Vienna.
And so, at the age of 18, I started with ordinary Londeix, Bichon school of vibrato, blowing, Ferling études, three hours per day. Really, I got so much to catch up, so I really was practising like hell those years. I remember from 18 to 20 I was really practising to catch up all the time.
Barry Cockcroft: Did you have to study in a different language then?
Lev Pupis: Yes. At university in Vienna the only language is German. So, okay, Slovenia is related historically with the German Austro-Hungarian Empire, and also in the school our subject was also German language, but not as a first foreign language. I had to correct my writings, my grammar, of course. But I stayed long enough in Vienna to be able to do that.
Barry Cockcroft: I’ve met many saxophonists who have studied overseas. We say overseas. In Europe you don’t have to go overseas. It seems to me, sometimes an important step is to move countries in order to concentrate on your new studies. It’s very common, and certainly Australians invariably go overseas to study with a different teacher. Do you think this is an important step for a student to remove themselves from their home environment and go somewhere else?
Lev Pupis: I would say it’s an essential step. It’s so, so important, not only to change a teacher. Personally, I believe that after a while you have to change a teacher. Also, I suggest to my students, even if there is somebody, a prodigy or somebody who really talented, after couple of years to go to study with somebody else. I don’t want to keep him for me. It’s not my treasure. I am just teaching them for a while. I’m accompanying his career for a while, but I have to open his horizons, or her horizons.
So that was my personal experience. So at age 18 I went to Vienna for five years. And I thought, “Vienna, that’s it. So now I’m safe. Now I’m going to be a star. Yes. Cool.” But, of course, my curiosity led me to Gap, to this European saxophone summer university, where I have seen that I’m nobody.
And so I continued visiting Gap for two, three years regularly each year, and step by step I discovered the French school. So I wanted to change the university. I wanted to go to Paris to study with one of those really big names, and experienced personalities in classical saxophone worlds.
And not only, as you asked me, if this is important. Not only that, to get new knowledge on our subject, as sax players. How to play the saxophone better. How to enlarge the repertoire. Also, from the cultural, larger point of view, it’s very important to go abroad. To leave the nest. So in that case, we are obliged to grow up. Not to stay at home, Mama’s Hotel, but to go and to survive. To find one’s career or identity. Becuse you’re obliged to do it. It’s so, so important that you learn to survive in life. This way you come home and you are stronger because you know how to deal with life.
There is nobody who helps you in Paris, in the jungle. You have to go and, okay. Find the carte de séjour [foreign residents document], go to the office and they tell you, “No, first you need the confirmation that you are a student.” And then you go to your school and they tell, “Yeah, but first you need the carte de séjour” So you get a problem, and now you solve it. So here is where the magic of life happens. Somewhere between the rules that we set.
Barry Cockcroft: So if you can make your way through a French administration, you will succeed in life.
Lev Pupis: That’s it. That was one very important thing for me to learn. I can tell you a very funny story. How I got my room at Cité International Universitaire in Paris [student housing], which is a big campus. And when I was accepted to study with Jean-Yves Fourmeau, of course I was not expecting. Because Jean-Yves told me on the phone that this really will be difficult. I called him because we met in Gap, and I said, “I want to study with you. What should I do?” “Oh, just apply in two hours because the application is almost over.” And so I did and he said, “But take into consideration that I have 38 candidates, and only three spots.”
Okay, finally I got accepted, but there was a problem also with lodging, with my place where I will live in Paris. But I already came with cases, saxophones, ready to stay. I was on a waiting list, from September, but they told me, “Yes, you could stop by in February. We’ll see if there is a room for you.” And finally I asked Jean-Yves what to do, and he said, “Just use my name. I suggest to just tell that I can come and have a meeting with the director of Cité Universitaire [student housing], and we see what will happen. If necessary, I will come.”
And I said to the administration desk, to a lady, that my professor would like to have an interview, rendezvous, with Cité Universitaire [student housing] for my room. I was just there, just to arrange this meeting with him. And she went away, and five minutes come back, and said, “Your room is available. After tomorrow, you can have your room.”
So these kind of things. But this is what was much bigger lesson for me for life. And which helps me, also now, when I’m organising, when I’m in charge of many important things. That I know that everything is possible with creativity, to be brave, and talent, and of course to respect people. If you respect everybody, they respect you. This is also very important, very important thing, in a career. Also for musician because when we share a stage, and if we do respect each other, we can do magic with one single rehearsal. But if we don’t have this respect for each other, and for music of course, we can not convince the audience. Never.
Barry Cockcroft: So if you apply respect on your way through life, you’ll always use it.
Lev Pupis: Yes. This is my weapon. I can not pay, because I’m not rich, but I can look you in the eyes and I can try to communicate on a really high level with an honest heart, and with clever mind. That’s it.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, looking at the different schools and teachers that you worked with as a student, could you outline perhaps some of the different teaching styles that you came across as a student? And then, as you became a teacher, did you adopt those styles, or did you merge them and come up with your own style? What was your approach?
Lev Pupis: I got, as I mentioned before, quite many different approaches to music, to classical music and to classical saxophone.
So I was really obliged to work on music with my head, not only with only with talent. Because until I was 18 I could use that, but after, it was impossible if I would like to continue my career as a classical saxophonist. So I had to follow some rules, and as I was quite old for that, I had to really change my embouchure and to change my way of blowing.
So nowadays I’m really thankful for that. For having, not bad teachers, but for having incorrect approaches to classical saxophone playing because I had to reinvent through different ideas from my teachers, like Oto Vrhovnik, Jean-Yves Fourmeau, Vincent David, and Matjaz Drevensek. These were my teachers after my age of 18 and everybody gave me something.
In order to survive in this classical saxophone world, I had to learn these tools. I had to get tools to play, to be able to play in a correct way. So really, each technical aspect I needed to theoretically put through my head, and really to analyse the reason. And then experiment, and practise, and again supervision from my teacher.
So I got kind of a lecture for life, which I really use now as a pedagogue, as a teacher. Because almost for each technical problem, I believe I can find a solution, as I needed to find it for me first. It was not just natural for me.
So yes, on that way I learned that there can be many different solutions for one problem, and this is what I use now in my teaching. I take each student as an individual, and I try to approach according to his personality, his level, and also his way how he is. So I need to, in order to be a good teacher, my first goal is to analyse his personality and try to approach in his way, so he would understand me better.
Barry Cockcroft: Would you have a piece of advice to give to a beginning student? Is there something that most students really should heed? Something that would be helpful for them as they start their journey?
Lev Pupis: Very important is the relationship to his instrument. Is it a tool? Or is it a toy? Or is it something else? But I think if we help this young personality, young boy or girl, to understand that this instrument is just his media, how he can express himself, I think this is already something very important at the beginning. Before all techniques and everything. So that he can have a tool in life. Okay, it can be also a voice. To sing, or rap, or beatbox, whatever. But we have this need, human beings. Show this to a young person, that an instrument can be also his way of expression. We did this a lot because we open the horizons really wide and he will find himself in this ocean of ideas, and notes, and styles, and musical genre, from classical to pop to jazz. We did everything because we didn’t limited him or her from the very beginning.
Barry Cockcroft: As a student, you practise in certain ways in order to learn the instrument. But now, as a seasoned professional, what does your practise look like?
Lev Pupis: First of all, very practically, okay? I must be practical because I have three kids, I have a full time job. And not only that, I am an artistic leader of music society who gathers more than 60 sax players in Slovenia. We are the biggest here. I have to mention that our country’s very, very, very small, but the sax community is quite big. So I am in charge of that. I need to plan things, I need to have the overview for the present and for the future of our activity. So quite a responsible job for me.
So it takes time. And of course I want to remain musician, I want to play with friends from all over the world, to have projects too. And not even that, also I always play with my students, no matter if they’re beginners or after graduate. Because it’s also a language for me. It’s not that I want to make copies of me, but I express myself easily through music than talking about music.
Anyway, I see the practise like a day, like starting a day. For me, each practise starts with playing notes, correct notes. With tuning, with scales, with some chords, intervals, in arpeggios. Because I believe that the good intonation is the goal to good playing because our mind hears very well. And if our brain hears all the time a bit false, it’s going to the nerves, and to our nervous system, and we become nervous. We become not comfortable. And when I’m not comfortable, it’s difficult to play Denisov third movement.
So it’s kind of this approach. I start with octaves and fifths, then chords, I use some thirds or sevenths, to find some dissonance, some unclear intervals, like fourths and fifths. So I practise even if I use only five minutes for that. It’s like brushing your teeth. It’s like beginning a day and going for a date with a nice girl without washing your hair, or without taking a shower. That’s it for me.
And also I finish the day like that. So it’s the practise, of course.
Barry Cockcroft: How do you balance the technology of everyday life and keeping your music going? While I’ve been seeing you this week, of course you’ve been organising a festival, so you’re constantly taking calls and messages and dealing with things. But in the every day, how do you deal with this bombardment of messages and information?
Lev Pupis: I don’t use my phone and I’m offline when I’m practising because this is disturbing me too much. And if I would have six hours, as I had as a student, no problem. Okay. But now I’m obliged to really to focus on the time I have, and if I have two hours to practise Barry Cockcroft’s Concerto, I don’t have time for text messages and for that. Because there’s so many techniques in the piece that I physically need to repeat over and over, and find problem, where is a problem. I always locate a problem of one passage, and then I start like a doctor. Diagnosis, where it hurts, and then I try to look profoundly, and see why there is a problem. To find a scale, maybe it’s hidden somewhere else, it’s not in the problem we see. And it takes time to come to the solution, because it’s not always the solution where we see it, where we think we see it.
Like you mentioned, bombarded by other external things such as, I don’t know, normal, daily, regular problems, or whatever. It is disturbing this process.
Barry Cockcroft: Do you think the students are managing this issue?
Lev Pupis: As a father of three children, I’ve been told, but through experience I see it with me the same. Okay, of course they have this problem. But if I am an example, and if I don’t use phone, if I don’t use tablet, whatever, while doing classes, if I don’t go out, if I don’t write text messages while I’m teaching … I think this is the first step, and the most essential step, which I show to my students. That music is sacred, and that we cannot disturb it with some other things.
Barry Cockcroft: I’m always curious about the process of memorization. Do you have any special approaches that you use in order to memorise music, and do you think memorization is important?
Lev Pupis: Yeah. It’s also a topic which I’m very interested in. I don’t really think I have a method. Sometimes I use the talent, sometimes I use my memory, but sometimes I use the head also. But in most cases all three. It’s kind of a mixed thing, how I approach. Things that I cannot memorise, I really need to analyse, through chords, through some techniques which I have. Like playing scales in this mood, and then finding what kind of chain of notes is in. And sometimes I find a very funny solution, and then I know, okay, it’s a pentatonic. It’s great! No problem, just not starting on the first step. On the third, maybe. So it’s easy. Okay. And when I come after, I use this technique when there is a problem at the stage. Of course, now this passage is coming, I start to laugh in myself. Now the pentatonic part, okay, we know that, and we go through. So this is where I use head.
But in most cases it’s kind of subconscious process, which I control with practising with music and without music. Not only without music. This is dangerous for me. Maybe the best approach will be to play first, like jazz men do. Not to learn by with the score, but learn by heart. Like transcription of solos that they do, we could learn that Bach’s suite, for example, with same method. Just by heart. So using our ear and with experimenting, trying. Personally, I don’t use that very often. If I would start again in music, I would recommend this approach.
Barry Cockcroft: Do you have some music that you prefer? Do you like the newest things? Do you prefer older things? Or a mix? What sort of music is your preference?
Lev Pupis: I would say, to choose, I would be more on the Bach side and the romantic style. That is my most natural language of expression.
Barry Cockcroft: Even though you have a preference for those earlier periods of music, you also work closely with composers, right?
Lev Pupis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Barry Cockcroft: So with new music.
Lev Pupis: Yes.
Barry Cockcroft: So could you describe the relationship you have, perhaps with Slovenian composers, to create new works?
Lev Pupis: Of course. I’ve been involved in couple of premieres. Let’s say around 20 and 25 pieces have been composed through some deals between me, or my quartet, and the composers for certain occasions. And it is really interesting to see that the mind of a composer is quite different. It’s really more holistic. They have a whole picture. Myself, sometimes I’m more concentrated on the expression of music. Not matter which kind of music. But I always try to find my language to speak. This is my preoccupation.
But when I work with composers, they already know that I’m kind of a lyrical guy, so they help me with that. And if they need something more structural, something more German, let’s say, then probably we don’t collaborate so much.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, your musical career, has that evolved through a plan and a series of goals? Or has it been more organic, and you take opportunities as they arise?
You mentioned a good word, opportunity. It’s kind of my word. I act like that. I’m more intuitive, although my colleagues or my coworkers tell me that I’m really structural, that I’m really well-organized mastermind, whatever. But I personally feel myself more go with the flow. If I feel, I go. If I don’t feel, I don’t. Maybe I try, but later I see that my feeling was correct and I did, not a mistake, but a wrong step maybe.
So we have to know that there is always a way back in a career in order to change direction. So, again, to be brave is important to step on a career. If we think too much whether this is good for me or not, whether this is well-paid or not well-paid, or will I lose time … This kind of questions have minor importance to me.
I think really important is that we follow our dreams. I always tell to my students that they have to follow their dreams, because if you don’t … Maybe this is a bit Hollywood thinking, but if we don’t search for our limits, if you don’t go til the end, if we don’t even try because we think it’s not possible, we will really come nowhere. Not even on a halfway. Maybe the halfway of my dreams is enough for me to be happy. You know what I mean. I am
So be brave and be open for collaborations. Be open to share my world with others because this is also something adding value. When I open my small world to other musicians, I don’t lose. I just win. Because I show them who am I. Maybe they enjoy, maybe they say, “Okay, it’s fun.” And sometimes we repeat this kind of project somewhere else, so it’s also good finally for me. And if we share music this is really the true meaning. Sharing music, not just showing music, then we can really go far.
Barry Cockcroft: Perhaps an example of what you’re talking about is what we’re doing this week, because you’ve taken a festival that you’ve been running for a little while, but you perhaps expanded dramatically this year to invite people from many different countries. How did you come up with this idea, or this concept?
Lev Pupis: We run the winter festival AS – the Adolphe Sax festival, and we started for the 200th year of his birth. That was 2014 of course, and we just started with a one day gathering of sax players, amateurs, professionals, jazz, classical, in Slovenia. Now each year it is becoming more international and more recognised. Of course, this year is a special one because we are just a couple of months before the World Sax Congress. And as I have been elected to the World Saxophone Committee in 2015 in Strasbourg, I felt sort of an obligation to leave a trace in this organisation where I am. Kind of my contribution to our saxophone world.
So it was a logical step to invite all the members of ISC, International Saxophone Committee. And to my big surprise, everybody said yes, so that’s where the problems began. But it is a really sweet problem. I’m really happy to lead a team. This is something very good, and maybe that’s also why I enjoy playing chamber music. Because it’s, again, the matter of respect and integrity of each individual who is involved.
So I’m running this festival, but I have six coworkers, mostly from the Slovenian Orchestra of Saxophones, SOS Orchestra. And we are having this association where we also have our 40 junior members, children who are involved in the young section of this orchestra. And they’re working almost at a professional level with new pieces, and also going to the World Sax Congress with five new premieres. So it’s really kind of complex. This festival is also a way where we can show our work to the world, and to meet also with parents. It’s kind of social meeting, and sax meeting, and meeting with other international artists. We want to show you our way of making music, our way how to socialise with saxophone. How to take care of the culture of our future, the young generation.
Here I feel a big responsibility because I also had these opportunities. My colleagues, Matjaz Drevensek and also Oto Vrhovnik, they really did a lot for that. They organised this kind of meetings in summer, and through that I had the opportunity to meet big names. And now it’s my turn to continue this tradition. That’s why, maybe also, the Slovenian sax school is quite recognised in the world.
Barry Cockcroft: There’s a lot of collaboration between the Slovenian teachers. You’re very good at working together.
Lev Pupis: We are known, the sax community is well known in Slovenia for having a good collaboration between and among each other. I think this is a heritage that, as I mentioned, Matjaz Drevensek, who started in Slovenia with this modern-classical saxophone. I learned through him that it is very important to collaborate, and to invite, and not just to keep my small garden only for me. To invite others and to share different opinions. And this is a kind of heritage, or I’d say his legacy. NowI feel the same obligation towards the young generation.
Yes, I’m happy that somebody from abroad sees like that because we can only be really successful when we collaborate. And it’s much more fun. As to have fights, as to have war between schools, between my project and your project. Because at the end, the children lose, not us. I lose a friend, okay. But if I’m not doing it in the right way, and he’s not doing it in the right way, the customers, let’s say, or students and young children, they lose. I’m too much aware of that to be stupid and do things only for me.
Barry Cockcroft: Has travel been an important part of your performance career?
Lev Pupis: It’s important in many ways. Of course, when I’m invited for some masterclasses abroad, or do some concerts, it gives me self-confidence that I’m doing right thing. It gives me motivation for each daily practise, of course. Because with projects I need to constantly – I’m on a test – if I’m on the level, of course. So in this way, subconsciously, I keep my level. I know in a couple of months I’m there, and there, and there, so I need to practise. It will be much easier to watch TV or go to the movies, but I go to practise because I know that in two months I’m on the stage. And these hours now, two months before the concert, is the effective time of really working towards my near future.
So it’s good to have this, and to be abroad, the unknown, it frightens me more. So I really know that I have to be even more powerful, and show really good quality in order to fulfil the expectations of the audience who don’t know me yet. So this is kind of a responsibility, which I have for me and for the audience. So it’s much more difficult to play abroad, and to show myself to a new audience.
Barry Cockcroft: How do you balance your young family life with these busy activities?
Lev Pupis: First of all, I must say that my wife understands me very well, as she’s musician. And also she respects me in the way … She understands, really, that this is my mission. This is not my job. And as she got this through the years, that the same importance for my life is my music as family … When she accepted that, everybody’s more happy. I’m not just a family man when I’m at home, but I’m really with my family.Of course, I love staying with them. I love play with my kids, help them for homework, everything, to be a good husband, and regular things of course. That I’m also becoming a bit more, let’s say, not public personality, but also responsible for some bigger activities. And she knows that they’re maybe not such minor things, and she really supports me. So I have to be just honest to her, and when I’m at home I’m really at home. I don’t work on the festival when I’m at home.
Barry Cockcroft: If you just had one piece of music that you could play from now on, just one, which piece would it be?
Lev Pupis: Probably one of the Bach partitas.
Barry Cockcroft: Why? What draws you to this piece?
Lev Pupis: It’s the endless possibilities, endless harmonies, and a galaxy of ideas.
Barry Cockcroft: Right. If you just had one hour to practise, how would you fill that hour?
Lev Pupis: I’ve had this problem many times so I know exactly! A couple of minutes of exercises, and then acouple of minutes of new music reading, just first reading, and then half an hour of the problems in the music that I need to practise.
Barry Cockcroft: Who do you consider to be one of the most important contributors to the world of saxophone, in your experience?
Lev Pupis: I would say Claude Delangle because he’s really a personality, a full personality. First of all, he’s very honest with what he does. He works in many fields as a researcher, as a pedagogue and as a artist. He doesn’t give minor importance to any of this. He gives a lot of importance to all of these activities. And because his personality is also great.
Barry Cockcroft: If we learn from our mistakes, is it okay to make them?
Lev Pupis: We have to make mistakes in order to correct them. So if we don’t understand that it was a mistake, that is a mistake.
Barry Cockcroft: Before you have a performance, what’s the most important thing you do personally to prepare for that performance on the day?
Lev Pupis: Okay, the most important thing is that I focus on the present time, so I know that what was done, was done. We cannot do better. Now is the time of the moment of truth. And then I try to prepare myself for the present, not to be in future, and not to be in the past with my mind. So practically this means that I try to focus on the piece that I have to play, or on the concert, the whole concept, and just try to be confidend in myself. Sometimes it helps to remind myself, of some great success which I had as a soloist in the orchestra, or recording a nice CD, or playing at the World Sax Congress with a big soloist accompanied by orchestra. So it’s kind of a self-motivation. I’m trying to motivate myself to give myself the courage.
And this is the most important, just before going on the stage, that I really believe in myself. I mean, honestly. That I say, I say to myself that I have nothing to lose. That I did that, so many things in life, and now it’s another step. So let’s go.
And I see that people are frightened before concerts, really frightened. And this is the biggest possibility that things go wrong, even if you practise enough. Because you lose hours of practising in one minute of frightedness. So it’s kind of a psychological way and approach in how to win in the situation, before even going on the stage.
And I also teach this to my students. They ask me after, some colleagues, “How is this possible that everybody’s so confident on the stage? How you do that?” And it’s like I told you before, it’s trust. You need to trust yourself first, and of course if we deal with younger personalities, we need to trust them.
Like my mother, she told me, “I trust you. You will do that.” Oh, if she thinks like that, I’m capable. I didn’t question myself anymore. If I show fear to my students, or to myself, then I lose this game. Because the fear is endless. It’s really very, very scary what the fear does does us. Especially in this kind of situations with stress, with a full house in the concert hall. The fear is really scary.
Barry Cockcroft: If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would that be?
Lev Pupis: Not to think that you are the best.
Barry Cockcroft: Have you seen any changes to the saxophone world so far? And have you seen some things that haven’t changed that you thought might have changed?
Lev Pupis: I’m constantly aware, I’m aware that the saxophone is really the instrument of the future, and its time is still to come. We can see all the sax festivals which are growing in the world, and also new premieres, pieces which have been written daily. I don’t know how many piece per year are written for saxophone, but I believe this is the leading instrument in new modern music.
And this is really something which amazes me, that I’m part of it. And it’s really also something that I share with my students, that our time is coming. So be courageous, be brave, go into the world and make your careers. Because I don’t know what is happening now, but in 20 years or when they will have their career, really there will be a possibility for professional sax player to survive in this music scene.
So this is probably going faster as it went before, when the World Sax Congress was the only meeting every three years. But now you have, each month on a world basis, you have festivals which you can attend. If you create an event, and if somebody else creates an event, and another one creates an event, we give the possibility to younger students to go and to play. And that’s it.
Barry Cockcroft: Is there a project you’re working on at the moment?
Lev Pupis: I felt that this is the moment where I can do something for the community here in Slovenia. And we, as I mentioned before, we run this orchestra of professionals, professional teachers, the SOS Orchestra. And we run the junior section, which is very important also for our festival such as AS, such as ALPSAX Summer, which we have in the summer. And the mission here is to open the Slovenian sax school to some nearby
countries such as Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Italy. We believe we have a strong school. We have a lot of players, a lot of projects, and we want to share them with our neighbour countries. And this is my project, also through the AS Festival, to invite teachers, ensembles and soloists from nearby countries, and include more countries into the movement.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, where can people find out more about you? What’s your go-to for putting out information about your activities?
Lev Pupis: We have a website. It’s vincero.si, like the famous aria of Puccini, and of Turandot, Vincero. It means, “I will win.” This is also my personal goal, my personal attitude to life. So they can find information about the SOS Orchestra, about the junior section, about the small septet called Saxpload, which is the crème de la crème of the SOS junior. And these are young professionals taught to survive and to be able to be successful in their jobs. We found the best players.
We do on two basis. One is the quantity, and the other is quality. So we, first of all, in this SOS junior, we open the gates and everybody’s invited to come. The most important is that they have a saxophone, and that they have the joy to play. And then we guide them, and after some years, five, six years, we created an octet, but now it’s a septet of most talented and most well-experienced young musicians. And now they are becoming, also, they’re getting involved in our pedagogical activities. So they start to work as assistants to the teachers of SOS, to lead this big orchestra. And they do some sectional rehearsals, but we give them supervision. We guide them, so that they also get the experience of how to be a teacher, which is important for their lives.
The other thing is also to help them understand professional musical life. How to organise a concert, how to deal with managers, how to put on a programme, how to create, how to do your own transcriptions, how to programme your musical life, actually. But they are taught to do that at the age of 16, 17, which is kind of very early for that. But in our life, in our time where we live, this is an essential tool.
Barry Cockcroft: All of these incredible contributions you’re making, and have made, what’s next for you? What do you see coming down in the next 10, 20 years?
Lev Pupis: Apart from leading these activities, I would like to focus more on me. I have some projects which I want to do. Some recordings and I have many ideas about what I want to say in music. So probably in the next 10 years I will be focusing
more on my personal career.
Barry Cockcroft: Thank you very much for your time today. It has been fascinating. I think it’s time that we go and drink some coffee.
Lev Pupis: Yes. Thanks. Thanks, Barry.
Barry Cockcroft: Thank you.