Thursday, March 18, 2010

New Century Saxophone Quartet

Morrison Artists Series
March 14, 3pm, McKenna Theatre

The New Century Saxophone Quartet

Michael Stephenson, soprano saxophone
Chris Hemingway, alto saxophone
Stephen Pollock, tenor saxophone
Connie Frigo, baritone saxophone

J.S. Bach (1685-1750): The Art of Fugue
Contrapunctus I
Contrapunctus III
Contrapunctus VII
Contrapunctus IV
Contrapunctus IX

Ben Johnston (1926-)
O Waly Waly Variations (1999)

John Fitz Rogers (1963-)
Prodigal Child (2004)

Jacob ter Veldhuis (1951-)
Heartbreakers (1999)

Russell Peck (1945-2009)
Drastic Measures (1976)

Encore: Shostakovich: Folk Dance

I came out for this concert for the chance to hear a saxophone quartet, something I have never heard live before. The ensemble sound is mellow & glowing & works as well for the Bach fugues as for the modern jazz compositions. In the Contrapunctus IX it was great fun to listen to Connie Frigo's rapid-fire bass lines. She's a dominant force in the quartet & also fun to watch, resembling somewhat the sax-playing Lisa Simpson.

I liked the John Fitz Rogers piece, Prodigal Child, which builds in intensity as it moves through several contrasting sections. It ends with a humorous race of descending runs. Jacob ter Veldhuis's Heartbreakers is a complex piece which requires the quartet to the play with pre-recorded audio & video. The recorded audio includes samples of emotionally charged moments from daytime TV talk shows. It's all a bit frenetic & loud. Halfway though, the performers stopped playing & Ms. Frigo left the stage. When she came back she explained that the wrong DVD track had been cued & that they would have to restart a little before the interruption. The quartet performed Russell Peck's Drastic Measures without music, so they could walk around & play to each other. It was as if they were having a conversation & telling jokes. As an encore we got a joyfully demented Shostakovich Folk Dance.

The members of the quartet each took turns talking during the program, adding perhaps 20 minutes to the show. Ms. Frigo explained, among other things, her 9 month leave of absence & told us that this was her 1st performance with the quartet since last June. The audience included a baby, who occasionally had things to say during the 1st half. At the start of the show, a cell phone went off right in a rest in the Contrapunctus I, causing a commotion as the phone was snatched up by its owner, who was then chastised.

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