Amherst Sax Quartet
Lament on the Death of Music
Several common threads are woven throughout the fabric of this, the Amherst Saxophone Quartet’s fifth recording. As it happens, it is something of a ‘theme album’, – a creature more common to rock than to ‘serious’ music.
All the compositions were written in the last few years and take on the question of what ‘classical music’ is (or may be) at the end of the 20th century. All were composed for the ASQ or submitted as entries in its International Saxophone Quartet Composition Competition.
Leila Lustig read an editorial in The New York Times suggesting that Western music might be dead. Being a composer, she felt the only sensible response to this ‘news’ was to write an oxymoronic lament on the death of music.
Chan Ka Nin’s music may be said to embody a classical harmonic aesthetic, but this does not mean that it speaks the ‘harmonic language’ of, say, Mozart. Chan is interested in the harmony of human beings attaining unanimity of purpose and friendship – both necessary ingredients in the playing of chamber music. In this respect, his quartet can be considered ‘classical’ in Eastern as well as Western senses.
Anita Perry’s Quartet is deliberately neoclassical, both in its four-movement form – Sonata allegro, Rondo, etc. – and in its harmonic idiom.
Finally, Andrew Stiller’s Chamber Symphony adheres strictly to forms common in Haydn’s and Beethoven’s day to comment on both the classical style and the music of today.
Each of these compositions makes use of bent or altered pitch, a feature uncommon in the repertory. Lustig calls for the saxophones to groan in a quasi-blues style. Chan has individual saxophones sliding pitches up and down in a subtle and magical way that is quite distinct from the jazz vernacular. Perry uses pitch in a burlesque manner, taking her ‘Scherzo’ [joke] literally. Stiller calls for extensive use of quarter-tones, which are not, strictly speaking, ‘bent’ pitches but rather tones halfway between the steps of the normal scale. Since saxophones, like most other instruments, are not built to play quarter-tones, a new and intricate fingering system had to be devised.
Stiller’s first movement takes the form of a classical Sonata Allegro. In this form, the second theme is traditionally in the dominant – the key five scale tones up from the key of the first theme, or tonic. This shift in tonality, or modulation, was readily apparent to concert audiences two hundred years ago, but may not be noticed by contemporary ears. To address this perceptual problem, Stiller chooses to modulate up one quarter-tone. Moreover, the modulation is accomplished one voice at a time. Hence three voices are sometimes in one key while the fourth voice is a quarter-tone away. The effect this produces, which can sound like very questionable intonation, has caused intense reactions – of both annoyance and amusement – in listeners. But no one mistakes the arrival of the new key. Quarter-tones are used again, but more sparingly, in Stiller’s third and fourth movements.
Humor is never far away on this recording. It is a marvel that soprano Christine Schadeberg is able to enunciate so clearly, considering Leila Lustig’s instructions to the singer to “place tongue firmly in cheek.” Chan’s music falls squarely under the heading of Good Humor; as his piece progresses, friendliness and even joviality bubble forth. Perry’s Scherzo is vaudevillian slapstick, even calling for some sight gags (which may work better on the recording than they do in live performance). Stiller’s Symphony displays many colors and shades of humor, from the multiple palindromes to the sardonic quotation just before the end.
Finally, these four works are unusual among the several hundred in the ASQ’s repertory in calling for a human voice. Lustig’s piece is scored for four saxophones and soprano. Chan asks for a chanted note of contentment from three of the quartet’s members over a baritone saxophone pedal. Perry, at one point, has five people speaking. (The fifth voice belongs to the recording’s producer, Judith Sherman, here making her performing debut.) The words shouted in Stiller’s last movement signal: 1) the final return of the Rondo theme. 2) the end of the movement, 3) the end of the Chamber Symphony, and 4) the end of the recording. (The quote was reportedly the last radio transmission of a young geologist stationed atop Mt. St. Helens on the wrong day.)
— Stephen Rosenthal
Leila Sarah Lustig was born in Louisville, Kentucky. She studied voice and composition at UCLA (AB, MA) and the University of Wisconsin at Madison (PhD). Leila worked for a number of years as a coach-accompanist, then turned to producing music for public radio stations. Since moving to Canada in 1987, she has worked as an arts publicist and marketer, and in public relations at Brock University. While Ms. Lustig has composed for all media, her main focus is the human voice. Her other work for the Amherst Saxophone Quartet is “The Language of Bees.” She recently has provided music for two theatrical productions.
Chan Ka Nin was born in Hong Kong in 1949, and moved with his family to Vancouver, Canada, in 1965. While pursuing a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of British Columbia, he studied composition with Jean Coulthard. After graduation he undertook further studies in music with Bernhard Heiden at Indiana University, obtaining master’s and doctoral degrees in composition. Since 1982 he has been Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto, teaching music theory and composition.
Dr. Nin won the Béla Bartók International Composers’ Competition in 1982 with his String Quartet No. 2. His other awards include the Barlow International Chamber Music Competition (1991), the International Horn Society Composition Contest (1982), the Alienor Harpsichord Composition Award (1986), the James Madison University Flute Choir Composition (1988), PROCAN Young Composers’ Competition (1979), the Violet Archer Orchestral Prize, and the Vancouver New Music Society’s Orchestral Composition Contest (1976).
Anita (A.D.) Perry has long been fascinated with sound and as a child spent countless hours listening to her grandfather’s 78’s of symphonic and orchestral music. She started her formal musical training at the age of eight, and later studied piano with Lee Kum Sing and composition with Cortland Hultberg at the University of British Columbia. She has won several awards for her compositions and has had works performed in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Ms. Perry prefers not to write “avant garde” music but rather that which “more directly expresses and communicates emotion and feeling.” Her commissions have ranged from a children’s ballet to a double concerto for violin and clarinet; she has also completed two albums of electronic music: White Dreams and Inspirations.
Andrew Stiller (b. 1946, Washington, D.C.) studied with Lejaren Hiller and Morton Feldman at the State University of New York at Buffalo. In the 1970’s he was a member of Lukas Foss’s Center of the Creative and Performing Arts, performing his own and other avant garde works at Carnegie Hall, in Buffalo, and on tour. He also performed with the Decapod Wind Quintet, the Age of Reason Baroque Ensemble, the Buffalo New Music Ensemble, and Network for New Music. In 1991 he founded Kallisti Music Press, which published his own music as well as that of Hiller and the early American composer Anthony Philip Heinrich. Stiller is the author of a critically-acclaimed Handbook of Instrumentation, and his writings on musical topics have appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Opus, Musical America, Musical Quarterly, and the New Grove Dictionary of Opera.
Christine Schadeberg, Soprano
With a repertoire spanning four centuries, soprano Christine Schadeberg enjoys a remarkable and varied career. She has performed with chamber ensembles and orchestras across the United States and Europe, and has premiered over 100 works by emerging composers, many written especially for her. Also in great demand as a recitalist, she has won special recognition for her interpretation of American song.
Ms. Schadeberg has performed under the batons of such noted composers as Gunther Schuller, Lukas Foss, and Luciano Berio, and created the leading role in the opera The Mysteries of Eleusis, written for her by composer Joel Feigin. She is a member of the Naumberg Award-winning Jubal Trio, and concertizes with them across the United States in a broad repertoire for soprano, flute and harp. She can be heard on the CRI, Opus One, Bridge and Orion Master labels; recent recordings include Elliott Carter’s A Mirror On Which To Dwell.
Amherst Saxophone Quartet
The Amherst Saxophone Quartet, one of the leading professional ensembles of its kind in the world, divides its time between touring and a residency at the University at Buffalo and in Buffalo and Erie County, New York.
Formed in January, 1978, the ASQ is currently celebrating its 21st full season. It has played in Japan, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, and, in the U.S., from Maine to Hawaii. Concert highlights include appearances in Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Chautauqua Institution, and broadcasts on National Public Radio, “St. Paul Sunday,” the Voice of America, and NBC-TV’s “Tonight Show.”
The ASQ was awarded Chamber Music America Residency Grants for three seasons beginning in 1985-86, and First Prize for Adventuresome Programming from CMA/ASCAP in 1993. The ensemble has received commissioning prizes from CMA, NYSCA, and the NEA.
In addition to this Innova recording, the ASQ has recorded albums for MCA Records, Musical Heritage Society, and Mark Records. These include another recording of new American music, an all-Bach album, an all-Eubie Blake disc, and a collaboration with Lukas Foss. In 1997, the ensemble released a videotape, ASQKids, one of the first of its kind introducing children to chamber music. The Quartet has been a performing member of Young Audiences of WNY since 1979, and has worked with young people’s programs at the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Aesthetic Education Institute (Rochester, N.Y.), and Arts in Education (Buffalo, N.Y.). The members of the ASQ are clinicians for the Selmer Company and Vandoren Reed Products.
The ensemble’s long-term goals include maintaining a permanent ensemble of the highest international caliber and encouraging composers to create for saxophone quartet a 20th- and 21st-century repertory comparable to that for the string quartet.
Salvatore Andolina, soprano, was a founding member of the ASQ. He studied saxophone with Edward Yadzinski and John Sedola and clarinet with James Pyne and Stanley Hasty. He received a BFA in Music from SUNY at Buffalo. Mr. Andolina is a member of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and has performed with the Artpark Orchestra and the Creative Associates.
Russ Carere, alto, studied saxophone with John Sedola, and clarinet with James East while attending SUNY at Fredonia. Since 1978, Mr. Carere has performed with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Artpark Orchestra, and for major musicals in the Western New York area. He joined the ASQ in January of 1990. An avid composer, he has written 13 Jazz and Ragtime works for the ASQ, and has released a solo CD of his original music.
Stephen Rosenthal, tenor, is a founding member of the ASQ. He studied saxophone with Edward Yadzinski and John Sedola, and clarinet with James Pyne. He received a BFA in Music Performance from SUNY at Buffalo, and has performed with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Mr. Rosenthal serves on the boards of Chamber Music America and the American Composers Forum, and has been a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts.
Harry Fackelman, baritone, is a founding member of the ASQ. He studied saxophone with Edward Yadzinski and clarinet with Allen Sigel. He received an MFA in Music from SUNY at Buffalo. Mr. Fackelman has performed with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
CD design by Stephen Rosenthal.
Mr. Rosenthal created the cover art using 3DStudio Max R2.5, Raygun2, and Photoshop.
Recording released courtesy of MCA Classics, under license from Universal Music Special Markets, Inc.
Thanks to the Board of The Amherst Saxophone Society, Inc.,
Michael McGee, and Michael Burke.
Program notes edited by