News and Observer (Raleigh, NC)
January 25, 2000
New Century Saxophone Quartet a Knockout
By Roy C. Dicks
RALEIGH — Four saxophone players on a classical chamber series?
So might the usual audience members for the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild
ask. High marks then for the large crowd that showed up Sunday,
despite the ice and snow, for the New Century Saxophone Quartet at the
N.C. Museum of Art.
The audience was treated to a fascinating program featuring mostly new
music composed specifically for four saxophones. The stereotype
of smoky jazz or rip-roaring pop was quickly dispelled by the musicians
as they played what could only be termed “classical” or “serious”
music for this unusual combination.
The quartet is made up of four graduates of the N.C. School of the Arts
who each play a different category of the instrument: Michael Stephenson,
soprano; Robert Faub, alto; Stephen Pollock, tenor; and Brad Hubbard,
baritone. Through their acquaintances and connections, they have
amassed an impressive number of pieces written expressly for them, many
of which they have recorded on Channel Classics CDs.
The program opened with a three-movement work titled “Sinfonia
for Saxophone Quartet,” a 1992 piece by Sherwood Shaffer, a School
of the Arts teacher under whom the performers studied. The first
movement has a skittering, perky quality with bubbling runs up the
scale in close succession. The second movement has a hazy, nighttime
feeling, while the third revels in a nervous energy and a trainlike rhythm.
This 20-minute work has the four instruments playing together most of
the time, making for thick, massive sonorities and requiring intense concentration.
The four players amazed with their absolute control, their pinpoint precision.
David Ott, whose output includes symphonies and cello concertos, wrote
“Three Moods” for the group in 1998. Here, in a somewhat
lighter vein, the three sections display different qualities of the sax
sound. The first has an orchestral feel to its long, mellow lines,
the second sounding Weill-like in its jaunty, angular melodies (enhanced
with claps, snaps and instrument taps from the players), the third
a march with rapidly repeating figures a la Raymond Scott. Here
again the four showed rocklike confidence in their attack of the rhythms
and harmonies, playing as one.
Bob Mintzer, a well-known sax player, composed Quartet No. 1 in Three
Movements. The carefree, loping quality of the first movement is
contrasted with the slowly shifting harmonies of the second, while the
third is peppered with short spurts of chords. The players employed
their most mellow, smooth tones for this more introspective piece.
“Alley Dance,” the last work on the program, was written
for the quartet in 1996 by Benjamin Boone, and it comes closest to the
traditional sounds of the saxophone, with sensuously slurring lines and
bluesy rhythms building to a driving, catchy bounce. The joy of
the playing communicated electrically to the audience.
Other pieces on the program, some Stephen Foster tunes and three numbers
from Bach’s “Art of the Fugue,” were played well enough,
but juxtaposed with compositions expressly for the combination, they lacked
Kudos to the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild for such imaginative, innovative