New Century Saxophone Quartet


Home Grown:
Commissions Volume 1 (1999)

Home Grown CDMichael Stephenson, soprano saxophone
James Boatman, alto saxophone
Stephen Pollock, tenor saxophone
Brad Hubbard, baritone saxophone
Sinfonia for Saxophone Quartet (1992) Sherwood Shaffer (b. 1934)
1. Quick and Vibrant (837KB MP3)  
2. Lyric  
3. Presto  
Saxophone Quartet #2 (1995) Lenny Pickett (b. 1954)
4. Moderato (856KB MP3)  
5. Largo  
6. Allegro  
Three Lyrics for Saxophone Quartet (1998) Thomas Massella (b. 1952)
7. Pierce Clouds  
8. Hands Hold Up the Sky  
9. Seven Stars  
10. Saxomophone (1998) Ken Valitsky (b. 1961)
Three Moods (1998) David Ott (b. 1947)
11. Touch of Meloncholy  
12. Carefree and Creative!  
13. Downright Slap-Happy (882KB MP3)  
14. Alley Dance (1996) (788KB MP3) Benjamin Boone (b. 1963)

Total time 74:42

Program Notes

Preparing for a recording of chamber music is a long and arduous process. The recording you have in front of you has been in preparation for a long time. While this is New Century's third CD thus far it was in fact already in the making back when we were having the sessions for our first release. The music featured here is more than a representation of the individual composers;  it serves as a historical marker, so to speak, of the musical growth of the New Century Saxophone Quartet.  Each recording has been a milestone for us in the evolution of becoming a better chamber music group.

While the first recording, Drastic Measures (CCS# 5994), was of course our debut CD, it was also an attempt to show that we could play many different periods and styles of music, and to demonstrate that we felt that it was important to be musicians first and saxophonists second who are not to be limited by the instruments we just happened to be playing. 

The second recording, Main Street USA (CCS# 9896), was an answer to many of our followers who wanted us to play some music that they recognized. So we prepared a disc of music of well known American composers: Gershwin, Bernstein, and Gould.  To keep it from being too pop-ish we decided not to just play the tunes in the traditional four part writing (the melody on top, two  inner harmony voices, and a bass line) but rather to follow the composers' orchestral scores, trying to match different colors and orchestrations.  This gave everyone a chance to do things on their instruments that you don't usually hear, like the soprano playing the bass line or the baritone playing the melody throughout a whole piece. 

We are constantly trying to expand what the saxophone can do in a chamber music setting.  We feel that to limit ourselves to the saxophone literature that is already out there (most of it of which unfortunately isn't very good) in the same old way doesn't allow the saxophone quartet as a genre to gain any ground or respect in the chamber music world.  It only seemed natural then to become very active in the process of getting good composers to write good music for us.  This we have been doing almost since the beginning of New Century's existence. 

Every piece on this disc presented new challenges for the group and enabled the ensemble to grow and bloom in new directions, while making each of us better, more mature chamber musicians.   To be able to encourage the creation of a new work that can become an important part of the repertoire, prepare the music in rehearsal, work with the composers, perform, and finally record this music so the whole world can hear it has been a real joy for all of us.  These works are what we consider the best of what has been written for NCSQ thus far.  Our continuing goal is to commission important and lasting music to add to the Saxophone Quartet repertoire.  This recording represents a first installment towards that goal. 

The following notes are the thoughts of each of the composers whose music is represented on this recording. 

Program Notes by the Composers 

Lenny Pickett

SAXOPHONE QUARTET NO. 2 , commissioned for NCSQ by Concert Artist Guild, is a three movement piece that uses American vernacular music for its themes. The sources are specific but the melodic fragments have been altered by my fuzzy memory of them and by the whimsy of my composing process.  I wanted to write a piece that would fit the character of the group and would be an honest reflection of my musical interest. The saxophone is an odd beast, neither fish  nor fowl.  The classical music world has yet to admit the saxophone as a full fledged member to it's ranks and popular music audiences don't recognize the instrument out of its usual context.(They don't attend concerts of 20th century art music anyway.) Composers are like poets or butterfly collectors, there's not really much of a job there. (No practical value.)  So, in a way, composers and saxophone quartets were meant for each other, both being largely useless. I feel particularly well suited because I am a saxophone player and I compose music that nobody has much use for.  I am self taught.  I'm not a serialist, a minimalist, or any other-ist.  At times I use elements of popular dance music in my compositions (very gauche) and I've made my living playing every thing from Broadway shows to stadium rock concerts (horrors). But we are who we are and the music is what it is. Listen for some unusual voicings and hidden musical quotes.  Also, note texture variations through the use of unusual registers and that the three movements relate to one another. I enjoyed working with the group.  They surprised me in how well they intuited my intentions.  Thank you for listening. 

Ken Valitsky

SAXOMAPHONE is a dance piece influenced by a variety of cliches normally associated with the saxophone.  There are melodic lines derived from an variety of pop and jazz genres such as Ska, Reggae, and Hard Bop.  I've taken these cliches and put them in contexts in which they are not normally heard.   One of the aspects of writing a sax quartet I found most interesting was seeing how the actual timbre of the instrument is dependent upon the musical situation in which it is placed.  A saxophonist playing Charlie Parker's Ornithology sounds very different than one playing Paul Creston's Sonata.  I've tried to use a variety of these sounds as essential ingredients.  For me, as a composer, notes are actually a small part of the compositional process.  The structure, the macro- and micro-rhythms, the mood and, mainly, the overall sound of the instruments are much more important.

Thomas Massella

THREE LYRICS FOR SAXOPHONE QUARTET was inspired by various descriptive titles from Tai-chi, a12th-century Chinese art form based on dance-like movements used as a method of relaxation.  In all, some 24-108 movements are described.  The poetic nature of these titles sparked a musical palette from which each work was written.  The three titles, however, were used only as catalysts and do not serve as verbal descriptions translated into musical language. Cast in 6/8, Pierce Clouds is a dance-like opening, with motivic elements that are continually exchanged throughout the movement.    The slow Hands Hold Up The Sky explores the rich  sonorities of individual instruments within the quartet.  The short, aggressive Seven Stars completes the work with quick exchanges and a race to the finish. 

David Ott

THREE MOODS was written on a joint commission from First Arts of Fort Walton Beach, Florida and the New Century Saxophone Quartet.  It received its premiere at the First Arts Tenth-Season Anniversary Concert in 1999.  The opening movement, "A Touch of Melancholy", opens with a brief introduction that encompasses alternating sections of unison writing and freely-created chordal textures.  The main body of the movement is based on a single long-stemmed, winding melody that is encased in an essentially descending succession of somber harmonies.  This haunting and introspective melody is first stated in the soprano saxophone and then moves throughout the quartet and is interrupted by abbreviated recollections of the introductory material. Though traditional in rhythmic and harmonic structures, both are given free treatment.  The Movement never strays far from its melancholic and inward reflections.  By contrast the middle movement, "Carefree and Creative", is joyful and lilting.  The texture involves significant interplay between the quartet members, with occasional short duets and motivic declarations in a give-and-take fashion.  The movement is sectional in structure with the middle portion the most unusual.  Here, a number of non-saxophone sounds are created by the members and interjected and then interspersed with normally-produced sonorities.  Near the end the pace quickens and closes with a rush of activity.  The final movement, "Downright Slap-Happy", is jolly and upbeat, tinted with jazz influences, even a little boogie-woogie and blues. The highly active movement bubbles with enthusiasm and only briefly does it slow to catch any breath.  The work closes with a quick barrage of fast-changing  triadic harmonies and is over in a snap! 

Sherwood Shaffer 

SINFONIA was composed for the New Century Saxophone Quartet during the Summer of 1992, for their New York debut as winners of the Concert Artist Guild Competition.  Since then, it has been widely performed by them in other New York recitals as well as throughout the United States.    Intended as both a showpiece to explore the artistry of NCSQ as well as a contribution to the "classical" chamber music repertoire, SINFONIA is in three movements. The first, Quick and Vibrant, is a modified sonata form with a first theme group highlighting the ensemble by tossing back and forth among all the players cascades of rushing scales and sweeping melodic fragments.  The second theme group combines a prancing staccato accompaniment under a singing melody (first in the tenor saxophone and later in augmentation by the baritone saxophone) with alternating paired arpeggio sweeps (soprano/tenor verses alto/baritone).  After a brief development, the recapitulation begins with the second theme group, this time with the melody first in the alto sax, later by the baritone sax, in quick rather than augmented time.  The return of the first theme group quickly rushes the movement to its end.  The Lyric slow movement, marked "like a haunting old ballad", focuses on one line of melody at a time.  The opening theme (first in the alto sax, later in the soprano sax) sings over a quietly pulsating accompaniment.  It alternates with a more energetic tutti refrain in which all players are rhythmically in agreement.  The soprano and alto saxes reverse roles as the first theme grows in its returns before quietly closing the movement as it began.  The Presto finale brings back quick dialogue trade-offs between all instruments alternating with rhythmically vigorous tutti pairs (this time soprano/alto and tenor/baritone combinations).  The movement is in rondo form with near perpetual-motion excitement to the end. 

Benjamin Boone

ALLEY DANCE, "Highly aggressive and energetic -- jazzy, but not jazz -- virtuostic and full of energy, but expressive-- a real closer."  This was the kind of piece NCSQ said they wanted when they commissioned me to write a quartet.  Of course, I thought!  A piece that reflects the personality of this outstanding quartet: a juxtaposition of calm and funky.  So I started experimenting on my sax with a minor third expanding to a major third.  Then I added octave displacements, making sure that each member of the quartet had a featured part.  The Alley Dance title came from two images.  First, imagine walking down an abandoned street late at night and hearing music in the distance. Look down an alley and you see street musicians playing and dancing - some moving slowly, others wildly.  You go and join in the alley dance.  Secondly, my wife's name is Alice and sometimes I call her Ally ... and she really likes to dance!  "Alley Dance" was written for NCSQ with funds provided by the North Carolina Arts Council.

Composer Bio's

Sherwood Shaffer (b. 1934) is a founding faculty member of the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, where he teaches composition. His catalogue of over 130 works extends from solo to choral, symphonic, and operatic compositions. His opera WINTERS TALE was nominated by the Charlotte Opera for Opera America's first Composers Showcase in 1981 and his QUINTET NO. 2, written for the Clarion Woodwind Quintet, was chosen for PBS and Voice of America broadcasts in celebration of the bicentennial, 1976. The American Record Guide said of Shaffer, "this is one composer to keep an eye on" when reviewing his 1986 CONCERTO for Piano and Chamber Orchestra recorded on the Opus One label by Max Lifchitz, 1976 first prize winner of the Gaudeamus International Contemporary Performance Award. Shaffer's LINES FROM SHELLEY for piano is recorded on a Vienna Modern Masters CD album, Max Lifchitz Performs American Piano Music, which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1992.

His Orchestral work CATHERINE WHEELS has been recorded by the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic of Czechoslovakia on the Vienna Modern Masters series, Music from Six Continents. Showcased at the 1991 American Symphony Orchestra League Convention in Chicago in a performance with conductor Paul Anthony McRae and the Lake Forest Symphony Orchestra, CATHERINE WHEELS has also had performances by both the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra, as well as in Europe (including Berlin and Switzerland). Shaffer's JONGLEURS was premiered in 1989 by Vakhtang Jordania and the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra in celebration of the opening of that orchestra's newly renovated Tivoli Theatre and his QUARTET NO. 3, commissioned for the New World String Quartet, was premiered on tour by that group in 1991.

With a number of commissions funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, the North Carolina Arts Council, and the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, Mr. Shaffer has had works performed throughout North America as well as Europe, including the Congresso y Festival in Buenos Aires. A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music and the Manhattan School of Music (where he taught before going to North Carolina), Shaffer studied with Bohuslav Martinu and Vittorio Giannini. Recipient of the 1992 O. Max Gardner Award from the Consolidated University of North Carolina, the highest faculty award granted by this university system of 16 campuses in recognition of International professional contribution, Mr. Shaffer is the first musician to be granted this award since its inception in 1949.

Sherwood Shaffers music is available through Kestrel Hall Publishing, 385 Park Blvd, Winston-Salem, NC 27127 (336) 727-0734

Lenny Pickett (b. 1954) is a self taught musician with diverse musical interests. He began his career at age 14 playing the saxophone and clarinet in bars and on the streets in the San Francisco Bay Area. He toured and recorded with the legendary Oakland-based rhythm and blues band Tower of Power from 1972 until 1981, when he moved to New York City with his family. There he is active as a composer, arranger, and studio musician, playing with many popular artists, including, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, The Talking Heads, and many others. He composes music for dance, theater, television, and film as well as concert music (Kronos Quartet, New York City Opera, New York City Composer's Orchestra, Manhattan Marimba Quartet, and the New Century Saxophone Quartet).

Lenny Pickett is currently co-music director for NBC's Saturday Night Live where he has also been the saxophone soloist and arranger since 1985. His music is available through: Lenny Pickett Music, 10 Leonard St., New York, NY 10013

Benjamin Boone (b. 1963), composer and jazz saxophonist, has written works that have received honors and awards from ASCAP, Billboard Magazine, the Olympia International Prize in Composition, the National Association of Composers, and the Southeastern Composers' League. Recent saxophone works include VICISSITUDES for Saxophone Quartet and Band, premiered at Carnegie Hall by NCSQ and the Mt. Tabor H.S. Band, Danny Green Director; ELECTION YEAR, for solo saxophone, premiered by Ken Radnofsky; and SQUEEZE, for alto saxophone and orchestra or chamber ensemble, premiered by Robert Faub.

Boone's works have been recorded by the National Flute Choir, cellist Elizabeth Morrow, clarinetist F. Gerard Errante, violinist Stefan Poetzsch, and saxophonist Cliff Leaman. With diverse musical interests, Boone has conducted extensive research on the fundamental frequency of English speech, assisted a biologist with the infrasonic recording of rhinoceros vocalizations in Zimbabwe and Zambia, served as a music business manager in New York City, and performed as a saxophonist in a number of jazz groups across the U.S. and in Europe -- most recently with the German violinist Stefan Poetzsch. Boone, who currently teaches at the University of Tennessee, has studied with Gordon Goodwin, Jerry Coker, John A. Lennon, Charles Fussell, and Bernard Rands. His music is available from Eble Music (319) 338-0313 / www.eble.com.

Ken Valitsky (b.1961) composer and guitarist, was a Fulbright Scholar in Germany where he studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen and Helmut Lachenmann. He has worked with artist as diverse as Kathy Acker, Lydia Lynch, Dora Ohrenstein, the Doug Elkins Dance Company, producer/director Mark Obenhaus, Bermuda Triangle, and the Soldier String Quartet. In addition his own ensemble, which includes Thomas Chapin and Regina Carter, plays throughout the United States and Europe. The Kronos Quartet has given frequent performances of his "nada Brahma", which they commissioned. He has received grants and commissions from a variety of organizations and performance groups including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Jerome Foundation, and Meet the Composer. Works in progress include an opera in collaboration with Kathy Acker, which was commissioned by American Opera Projects in New York. Valitsky's music is recorded on Knitting Factory Works, C.R.I. and, in Japan, on Riot Records.

Thomas Massella (b.1952), received his musical training at the North Carolina School of the Arts, the Hartt School of Music, and the Cleveland Institute of Music. He has had numerous performances of his instrumental and liturgical music throughout the United States and Canada. His music has been featured at the International Double-Reed Convention and several saxophone conventions. Successful collaboration with saxophonists has resulted in six commissions that have received continued performances since 1982. He currently resides in Pittsburgh, PA where, in addition to composing, he is a music instructor and arranger. His music is available through Dorn Publications, Inc. P.O. Box 206, Medfield, MA 02052, (800) 527-6647;
Great Works Publishing, 15788 Mennell Road, Grafton, Ohio 44044, (800) 277-4145; and
National Music Publishers, 16605 Townhouse, Tustin, CA 92680, (800) 829-1850.

David Ott (b.1947), is one of America's most sought-after and critically-claimed symphonic composers, He was born in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and raised in Janesville, Wisconsin. After completing undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville he earned a master's degree in piano performance at Indiana University and doctorate in music theory and composition at the University of Kentucky. A noted teacher as well as composer, Ott has served on the faculties of Houghton College (NY), Pfeiffer College (NC), and most recently DePauw University (IN). In 1991 he was named Composer-in-Residence of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, a position he held until 1997.

Ott has used an essentially traditional palette to create a wide number of compositions that currently enjoy performances throughout the US and Europe. Prominent among these works is his Concerto for Two Cellos and Orchestra of 1987. The success of its premiere with the National Symphony Orchestra and its then Music Director Mstislav Rostropovich led to two national tours of the work. Since its premiere this concerto has received more that fifty performances including the Chicago, Milwaukee, Minnesota, and San Diego Symphonies, and was recorded by the Milwaukee Symphony for Kloss Classics. Among the numerous awards for his compositions are a Fisher Fisher Fellowship for a viola concerto. In 1995, the Lancaster Symphony named him Symphony Composer of the Year, given in recognition of life-time achievement. Ott's recently-completed Preludes and Fugues for Piano is recognized as the first complete set in all keys written by an American Composer.

Ott's works are noted for their lyricism and structural integrity. His recorded works on compact disc, which now number a dozen, continue to win critical acclaim. His catalog include; four symphonies, fifteen concerti, numerous overtures, fanfares and ceremonial music, film scores, and a host of chamber pieces. Recent commissions include a cello concerto commissioned by the New Heritage Foundation, a triple concerto for violin, cello, and piano written for the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson trio, a violin-cello duo for Laredo and Robinson, a saxophone quartet for the New Century Saxophone Quartet, and an oratorio for the Milliken University and Symphony. David Ott's music is available through Park Press Music, 107 Mark St., Destin, FL 32541. (888) 562-3077

***

We would like to thank all six composers for their wonderful contributions to the saxophone quartet repertoire, Freda Silberman for helping make this recording possible, Robert Besen for his die hard commitment to the cause, Jared Sacks for keeping us in-line, always striving for excellence, James Houlik for our inspiration, and most of all our wives and families,...for without their support we could never chase after our dreams.

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