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

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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.

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