Saxophone Quartet features diversity of classical, modern music at spring recital

Members of the UConn Saxophone Quartet perform in von der Mehden Recital Hall on Friday, April 7, 2017. (Lucy Littlefield/The Daily Campus)

University of Connecticut’s Saxophone Quartet brought a diverse collection of music to the von der Mehden Recital Hall at their spring recital on Friday.

The program opened with a march by Henry Fillmore. The quartet performed “Rolling Thunder,” a song originally composed in 1916 for a full wind band, then re-written for a saxophone quartet. The piece moved at a fast tempo, with the Baritone saxophone keeping a steady beat to support the upper parts’ intricate and moving lines.

Following “Rolling Thunder” was Dmitri Shostakovich’s “String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110.”  This piece, originally arranged for two violins, one viola and one cello, was again a transcription to be performed by saxophones, rather than in its original form for strings.  The piece was a dramatic contrast from the opening march.

Shostakovich composed this five-movement string quartet in just three days.  It was allegedly written as a response to the horrible news of his being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and being forced into joining the Communist Party in Russia all within a short period of time.

This piece featured an eerie motive that presented itself across the entire piece. In the first movement, “Largo,” the motive is presented in a slow and lyrical way. Things become more frantic and fast-paced as the quartet moved directly into the Allegro Molto and then the Allegretto. The fourth movement, “Largo,” featured a back and fourth pull between stable harmonies versus dissonant harmonies.  Finally, the last movement, also titled Largo, closed the piece with a soprano saxophone solo, followed by the return of the fugal writing that was heard in the first movement.

The piece was about 15 minutes long and earned a loud applause at its conclusion.  It was the most challenging piece of the program, but was consistent with the ensemble’s impressive musicality present throughout the recital.

“The Shostakovich piece is a staple of [string] quartet literature and we adapted it to saxophone,” said second-year master’s student in saxophone performance Patrick Slattery. “It presents intricacies not necessarily idiomatic [of the saxophone].”

To overcome these challenges as a group, “the amount of responsibility per player increases 100 fold,” Slattery said.  “But it’s also a group effort because there’s no one conductor telling [us] what to do.”

After a brief intermission, the quartet returned to the stage with “Introduction et variations sur une ronde populaire” by Gabriel Pierné. The piece began with a slow introduction, then gradually became more lively with each saxophone assuming both independent and co-dependent melodic parts.

The final piece was titled “Groove Machine,” written by Marc Mellits, and is the fourth movement of a larger work called “Revolution.” The piece introduces each member of the quartet individually, starting with the driving groove from the baritone saxophone.  As the piece builds, a second section contrasts the first with sparse and staccato melodies.  The third section featured chordal motion, similar to that of a chorale. These three main sections dominated the piece, presenting themselves several times in varying orders throughout.

“It’s rewarding to take individual students through their development to what they produce as a group on stage,” said adjunct professor of saxophone and ensemble coach, Greg Case. “It motivates me.  [The ensemble] keeps me more engaged as a musician myself.”


Lucille Littlefield is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at lucille.littlefield@uconn.edu.