New Century Saxophone Quartet


About NCSQ

New Century Saxophone Quartet
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Michael Stephenson
soprano saxophone
Chris Hemingway
alto saxophone
Stephen Pollock
tenor saxophone
Drew Hays
baritone saxophone

The only ensemble of its kind to ever win First Prize of the Concert Artists Guild Competition, the New Century Saxophone Quartet is a pioneering and versatile group. Winning new-found enthusiasm for the saxophone quartet and its diverse repertory, the ensemble’s program ranges from the Baroque to innovative contemporary works to imaginative transcriptions. The recipient of grants from the National Endowment of the Arts, The Aaron Copland Recording Fund, Chamber Music America and the North Carolina Arts Council, New Century has been heard in major concert venues in Los Angeles, New York and Amsterdam; on radio and television in the United States, Europe and Central America, including its own radio series in North Carolina; in recordings for the Channel Classics label; and in unusual concert settings, ranging from two command performances for President Clinton in the White House to a concerto performance with the United States Navy Band. New Century premiered “New Century Suite,” a concerto for saxophone quartet and orchestra by Peter Schickele with the North Carolina Symphony in September 2000. A November, 2000 performance of the concerto with the Canton (OH) Symphony was featured twice on National Public radio's "Performance Today."

New Century’s 1993 New York debut at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall earned the group praise for their “virtuosic display of dexterity and keen ensemble work,” in which the “players handled all the music with panache (New York Post). Upon becoming the first saxophone quartet presented at the Ambassador Auditorium in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times heralded the Quartet’s West Coast debut: “Tackling brave new territory in the conservative-leaning realm of classical music takes a unique blend of conviction, refined talent and a bit of damn-the-torpedoes ambition. Those qualities are amply in evidence with the New Century Saxophone Quartet, not to mention a finely-honed musicality deserving wider acceptance.”

Other engagements include Chicago’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Atlanta’s Spivey Concert Hall, Boston’s Symphony Hall and Gardner Museum, New York’s Merkin Concert Hall and the Kosciuszko Foundation Townhouse, Washington, D.C’s Strathmore Hall, the Juneau Jazz and Classics Festival in Alaska, the Villla Schönberg in Zurich Switzerland, the Conservatoire de Musique in Esch Luxembourg, the Macau International Music Festival and the Academy for the Performing Arts in Hong Kong China. New Century also was the first saxophone quartet to be presented at La Huaca del Complejo Atlapa in Panama City Central America.

The New Century Saxophone Quartet has appeared on television and radio across the United States in features on National Public Radio’s Performance Today, the Voice of America and North Carolina Public TV. New Century has been the resident ensemble of two radio stations in North Carolina, WUNC in Chapel Hill (1995) and WHQR in Wilmington (1996). Outside of the United States, Panamanian TV aired a documentary and live performance, and in the Netherlands, Dutch radio presented a live broadcast from the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. In January 1998 the ensemble participated in a special performance for the Chinese New Year that was broadcast live to over 100 million people on television throughout the world.

Recording exclusively for the Channel Classics label, the quartet's 2000 release and 4th recording was "A New Century Christmas," featuring unusual arrangements by a wide range of American composers. The recording won enormous critical acclaim ("the aural equivalent of spiked eggnog," according to the Chicago Tribune) and was featured on NPR's "Weekend Edition." Early in 2002 the quartet released its 5th disc, "Standards," a recording of major works in the saxophone quartet repertoire, and in 2003 the quartet recorded all of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “The Art of Fugue" which was released in early 2004. This disc is the quartet’s first recording in full “Super Audio” (multi channel recording). Due to the technology advancements at Channel Records, you can play this disc on any cd player. The “Bach Project” is actually in two parts. The second part is an animation project with Misha Films. The quartet and Misha Films, a leading design and animation house, are partnering in the production and presentation of a series of live concerts of Bach’s final unfinished work. The animations by Misha Films will be based on their original designs as well as interpretations of creations of other artists in various media. The premiere performances of the first set of animations took place in January and March 2004, at Purdue University (Purdue Convocations), the University of Missouri-St. Louis (Premiere Performances), and North Carolina State University (NCSU Center Stage, in cooperation with the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild).

Their third recording, “Home Grown” (1999), features all new music commissioned by the group, including works by Lenny Pickett, David Ott, Sherwood Shaffer, Benjamin Boone and Thomas Massella. New Century’s second recording, “Main Street USA,” including NCSQ’s arrangements of music by Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, and Morton Gould, was released in 1996. New Century’s first recording, “Drastic Measures,” released in 1994 by Channel Classics, won critical acclaim from Fanfare Magazine: “They combine great technique and elegant musicianship with a wonderful sense of chamber music. They have put together a CD with the same logic and thoughtfulness usually reserved for a concert or recital, always conscious of how each piece works within the context of the whole.”

Moving beyond the traditional repertory for four saxophones, New Century performs works covering composers from Jan P. Sweelinck (1562-1621), Bach, Mozart to Carol Florio, a turn-of-the-century American composer who was one of the first composers for saxophone quartet, and genres from Classical works to contemporary works with funk and jazz influences. For more than a fifteen years New Century has been responsible for a significant broadening of the repertoire for saxophone quartet through its commissioning projects, premiering new works by Peter Schickele, Sherwood Shaffer, Arthur Frackenpohl, David Ott, Ben Johnston, Benjamin Boone, Ken Valitsky, Thomas Massella, tenor saxophonist and Saturday Night Live Band leader Lenny Pickett, and well-known composer and jazz saxophonist Bob Mintzer. Most recently the quartet along with Lew Tabackin commissioned a new work by Toshiko Akiyoshi entitled "Interaction” for Jazz Trio and Sax Quartet. The work had it's premier in July 2003 at the World Saxophone Congress in Minneapolis Minnesota where NCSQ was joined by the Lew Tabackin International Jazz Trio.

 

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