Los Angeles Times
February 9, 1994
by Josef Woodard
Tackling brave new territory in the conservative-leaning realm of classical
music tradition 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.
While one half a house showed up at Ambassador Auditorium Monday night
for the North Carolina based quartet’s West Coast debut, those in
attendance proved a conspicuously appreciative gathering. Polish and vitality
distinguish the group - soprano saxophonist Michael Stephenson, altoist
James Boatman (also the group’s arranger), tenor Stephen Pollock
and baritone Brad Hubbard.
Outside of jazz and theater music, saxophones have always had a rough
time gaining respect in the classical world. As shown again in Pasadena,
this bias is unfortunate, because this is a hybrid instrument of great
luster and versatility.
Opening with the formality of Jean Baptiste Singelée’s First
Quartet (1857), the ensemble immediately displayed its winning voice,
a warm, reedy and creamily unified collective sound. Three short Shostakovich
pieces, of marginal interest, established further connection with the
classical orthodoxy. But the most refreshing music came from living composers.
Sherwood Shaffer’s handsome Sinfonia for Saxophone Quartet had
the group contrapuntally weaving and intersecting voices, while Elliot
del Borgo’s Quartet featured both rampaging triplets and dark-toned
introspection. Morton Gould’s Pavane (from his American Symphonette
No. 2) contained some of the evening’s most overt jazz references
but in coy, quirky style.
Better-integrated jazz ideas came with the concert’s highlight
and closer, Russell Peck’s “Drastic Measures.”
Inherently, the New Century Saxophone Quartet is a crusading unit, spreading
the gospel about this maligned instrument’s serious aspirations.
They made believers here.