Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Musical/Radio Tastes

WSaxQ recently sent CDs to some 30-40 stations. It is our new CD "Different Times, Different Places." The music ranges from Bach transcriptions to original works for saxophone quartet. Initial response was good from a few of the stations, and e-mail exchanges were positive, but since the mailing, which was almost 2 months ago, I'm not sure the CD has been played. In fact, it's not likely you'll hear a saxophone quartet very often on the radio.
It is a curious thing? I do a lot of listening on-line, and for the most part, programming is not too adventurous or even bold. There are some bright spots, including the CBC, but for the most part, music like ours is not likely to be heard on classical radio stations.
Before you say to yourself, "sour-grapes," my comments/thoughts are not only focused on our CD, but the thousands of CDs by groups and individual artists of all kinds in the classical music field.
It is an increasingly narrower spectrum of music that gets played. And I really can't figure out why. There might be a sense that listeners will flee from recordings that are too different. Even so called accessible music doesn't get aired.
There is no question that the core music that is being presented is wonderful. This music is, in every conceivable way, classic and deserves to be heard. It has stood the test of time.
But there is so much more that goes unheard. The only way this will change is if radio listeners and music lovers demand to hear more music and broader repertoire. This is something that needs to be done.
You thoughts...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Two Concerts Worth Mentioning

We performed in Arizona on Friday, Mar. 26, which included a couple of school clinics. Basically successful and fun, although a bit disappointing to hear that one of the schools, (a middle school), was closing at the end of this year. The band director seemed lucky enough to move to the high school for next year. And then that evening we performed for a fine audience with many people hearing the saxophone quartet for the first time. Always a treat! Sold out out CDs!! None to carry back on the plane!!!
Then on the way home I was taken down again after talking with a former student who now lives and teaches music in Arizona. He missed the concert but we were able to talk and get caught up things. We talked about his future and his wife's, who also teaches music. They are expecting their first child this summer. Great news, however their jobs are in jeopardy if a budget bill does not pass. Things are not going well there in Arizona, and throughout the country for music and arts education in general. We need to stay tuned to this. Please read about it and find out as much as you can in your local school district and then perhaps you can do something to help keep it alive and well. These young people are the future!

Tuesday night, March 30, we performed at the Episcopal High School in Alexandria, VA. It was a delightful day...clinic in the afternoon with the students and a concert at night. Very good house and again, some new listeners to the saxophone quartet. Always great to initiate new ears to the sound. Knowing some in the audience, I can say that the age range was pre-teen to 92, and every age in between. Reception followed to meet people and talk about the music. In the music world, being able to communicate right away with the members of the audience is critical.

We musicians have to keep up the momentum for new performance ideas and always look for ways to build the numbers for those may be hearing something for the first time. They're out there. We just need to find them and keep them.

You're thoughts?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Concert/Master Class at Longwood University

This past Sunday afternoon, WSaxQ performed at Longwood University. It was our third visit in the last 12 years or so and we had a great audience, even though the Olympic Hockey final game with USA vs. Canada was at the same time. While that sort of thing shouldn't make a difference, we still wondered.
We were hosted by Charles Kinzer, the Dept. Chair and saxophone professor. His wife, Lisa, who teaches piano and other classes was there as well. We particularly enjoyed their comments, which included the power of music to communicate. One of the sections of the program, which we have been presenting this season, features the pairing of Michael Nyman's "Song for Tony-1" and the "Adagio" by Samuel Barber. These are both very emotional pieces, one intentional and the other has evolved after it's composition. Nyman conveyed very directly and vividly, the anger he felt after the death of a close friend. It is a piece constructed in such an energetic way that after the nearly 4 minutes of performance, there is a sense of exhaustion for players and listeners alike. The Barber is very well known, but never seems to stop evoking deep feelings. Audience response has been very good and encouraging. Some are able to convey exactly the way they feel, while others just allow themselves to "get lost" in the sounds.
The language of music is something our group has been exploring with very young listeners as well and the range of thoughtful emotional response has been nothing short of remarkable. As scientists say...there is some evidence that we are "wired" for music very early in life.

Later Sunday night we conducted a master class and heard some very good playing from the saxophone students at Longwood. Lisa Kinzer played piano (at the last minute) and did a wonderful job of collaborating with the saxophonists. Again, in the process of hearing various pieces and talking about the music, the subject of communicating with the instrument came up, over and over. Music does that so well, it makes you wonder why music teaching budgets are in jeopardy all over the country. It is so vital to education in general. We heard very promising group of students, many of whom plan to teach. We hope that whatever happens in their careers, that they will keep music in their lives. They are off to a good start.

More later...Phoenix, AZ on March 26th

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Preparing to Celebrate our 35th

The Washington Saxophone Quartet was formed in 1976 and is beginning to make plans for some kind of celebration to mark our 35th Anniversary. One thing that immediately comes to mind is to perform as much as possible! That sounds easy enough. And since performance seasons are often mutable or at least varied according to how one thinks of the "Year" vs. "Season", we can begin the festivities in 2010-2011 season and continue right through 2011-2012. Why not stretch it out!

There are many other things related to our anniversary to celebrate, so we'll keep thinking and look forward to ideas.

So to be bold, if anyone is reading this and would like to book our quartet for those aforementioned seasons, or anytime for that matter, we're ready.

Please contact us: wsaxq@aol.com

Visit the website: www.wsaxq.com

Our repertoire is broad and deep, with new pieces added all the time, from the earliest music to the newest.

We look forward to hearing from you...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Recent Concert

Sunday, January 31...a very enthusiastic crowd braved the aftermath of a fairly substantial snow storm, to attend our afternoon concert at St. Peter's Episcopal Church of Arlington.
It was program with many contrasts, including music by Michael Nyman, Samuel Barber, Gyorgy Ligeti...as well as original works for saxophone quartet by Jean Absil (mid 20th century Belgian) and Bob Mintzer (contemporary American).
We also collaborated with the church's fine organist, Emily Koons, to perform a transcription by Telemann. The five of us filled the church with big sounds, and we hope to do it again soon.
The audience enjoyed the variety and had lots of questions following the program. Some were hearing a sax quartet for the first time and wanted to know why it was something they were not aware of already. That always starts a great exchange of ideas about music and the saxophone. Many were intrigued by the broad spectrum of sounds they heard and the range in repertoire. And we also gained more fans from the choral side of things when we told them about our various collaborations with Washington area choirs.
Some in the audience had heard our group on CD but not in-concert. They were pleased with the bigger sounds that can't really be achieved on the recording. A live concert is always something to be savored.
We're always looking for ways to bring "new ears" to our music and for that matter, any saxophone quartet's music.
We're always looking for the day when the surprise factor about the saxophone quartet itself, will not be such a surprise.
At the same time, it's always wonderful to surprise someone!

Sunday, January 24, 2010


This weekend our quartet (WSaxQ) had a wonderful collaboration with Jane Franklin Dance. In fact, it was our third occasion to work with her company. Very creative choreography.
We always have a good time working with the dancers and in the process of performing, gain a deeper insight for our music as well. In a sense, the added visual element helps us to hear new things in pieces we've been playing for some time - a long time in some cases - and gives it a fresh perspective.
For a saxophone quartet, it's offers us a new audience of mostly dance fans. So they frequently say how much they enjoyed hearing a new sound.
For this past weekend we split the program with Jane's group so our group and her company each had a chance to present sections of the program alone as well as together.
We're always open to new collaborations with artists. Next week we are planning to perform with an organist at a church recital.
More later...

Conversation Follow-Up

The orchestra-in-question in the previous post is the Grand Rapids Symphony. A very good group with a fine reputation. I was troubled by the conversation I had had with the young saxophonist who wanted to play Bolero, so I wrote to the orchestra. I received a prompt reply with an explanation about the cuts in the music. To be fair, it was more than just the saxophone parts...which I learned in the reply from the orchestra's GM..."In our Cirque de la Symphonie program entire sections of Bolero were cut to accommodate the time requirements of the Strongmen's routine."
I'm glad (in a way) to find that out.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Troubling Conversation

This past weekend (Jan. 15/16) in the Washington area, hundreds of saxophonists gathered for the annual Navy Band Saxophone Symposium. For 2 days, saxophonists from all over the world perform for each other and the public (it's all free), as well as lecture about all sorts of saxophone things, and talk. Lot's of talk. There is plenty of time to talk and meet new people and renew acquaintances. For me, the chance to hear new works for quartet is always a treat and also hear fine young college groups that hopefully will stay together after graduation. There are performances in multiple venues at the George Mason University Campus all day long.
However, I did have one troubling conversation with a young player who is finishing his doctorate in performance. We lamented some of the same things from different perspectives...his looking ahead, and mine, looking ahead with many years behind me. I urged him to keep his quartet together after he and fellow players finish their degrees in the coming months. His group plays so well, it would be a shame not to hear more of them in the years to come. When we talked about options after school I mentioned how orchestras are not hiring saxophonists to player those few parts in the repertoire, such as Ravel's orchestration of "Pictures at an Exhibition" and Ravel's "Bolero." Both are frequently performed works with fine parts. But alas, to save money, the orchestra will give the parts to a clarinet doubler already in the orchestra. At this point the young man said, "his local orchestra went one step further and cut out the soprano and tenor saxophone parts all together from "Bolero" because they couldn't afford it and didn't have someone in the orchestra to play it."
"Just cut it out!," I said. To which he said, that "he even offered to play for free," but they wouldn't or couldn't do it for various reasons.
Just edit Ravel, if you can't afford a full compliment. I want to get to the bottom of this.

I should say that that I have written to the orchestra-in-question, to find out the details. So I offer this without attribution at this time. But I'm looking forward to an complete explanation. Times are difficult, but editing a major work is a bit too much.

More to come...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Saxophone Quartets

I did a little survey of saxophone quartets on YouTube and found some very good performances by young groups, many in the United States...university quartets playing in recital. Good performances and very good repertoire. Many of these saxophone quartets have continued after college and some have won prestigious awards in chamber music competitions. A great example, is the New Century Quartet which won the Concert Artists Guild prize some years ago and managed to parley that into something beneficial. Most of the time, many young groups will do well in competitions and then not get the kind of performance schedule that a group needs to keep going in the years to follow. They disband and that's the end of it.
Most venues out there just don't generally support the saxophone quartet when they are making choices for their seasons.
The process of finding an audience for the saxophone quartet is many faceted. One way it can happen is through recordings, which in turn creates an interest in the sound that people hear. Radio stations can play an important role in this process. After that, recital venues have to take a chance and hire saxophone quartets to fill out their line-ups. Our quartet (WSaxQ) has been fortunate to perform at the Barns at Wolf Trap as well as other venues in the Washington area. Basically, venues in every city around the country need to make an effort to hire a saxophone quartet that they would enhance their programming.
It will happen...