New Century Saxophone Quartet

On Track: Commissions Vol. 2 (2008)

On Track CDMichael Stephenson, soprano saxophone
Christopher Hemingway, alto saxophone
Stephen Pollock, tenor saxophone
Connie Frigo, baritone saxophone
Special Guests
David Cutler, piano
Jeff Grubbs, bass
Tim Adams, drums
To order this CD and others click here
Heartbreakers (2004)
1. Part One
2. Part Two
Jacob ter Veldhuis (b. 1951)
Franciscan Chant (2005) Barbara Kolb (b. 1939)
Revolutionary Etudes (2006)
1. Etude No. 1, lyrical and hard
2. Etude No. 2, with unstoppable force
3. Etude No. 3, with kindness
David Lang (b. 1957)
Prodigal Child (2004) John Fitz Rogers (b. 1963)
O Waly Waly Variations (1999) Ben Johnston (b. 1926)

Total time 67:35

Recording dates and locations
October 1, 2007, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA. (Rhythm Section for “Heartbreakers”)
October 10-12, 2007, Mount Lebanon United Methodist Church, Pittsburgh, PA
October 13, 2007, Digital Dynamics Audio (Alanna Records), Pittsburgh, PA
Executive Producer: Thomas Kikta
Producer and recording engineer: Jared Sacks
Tracking Engineers: Jesse Naus and Francisco Rodriguez
Layout and Design: Jim Manly
Quartet photo: Lenny Cohen
All photos at railroad: Katie Seehusen

Program Notes

It’s been eight years since our first commissions recording “Home Grown” and since then New Century has made a Christmas recording, a recording of Standard Quartet repertoire and the   recording of J. S. Bach’s “The Art of Fugue.” Each recording marked a new period of growth for the quartet as the music moved our focus in new directions. During this period the quartet has also changed personnel three times which has also allowed us to grow in new ways as new members always bring fresh perspectives into the directions we take as artists. One of the things that has remained a constant in our career is the desire to commission composers to continue writing good music for the saxophone. Like any artist that strives to better his craft, we feel that working on music that is totally new, with challenges that haven’t been presented before, can only help improve us as musicians. Jacob – your ability to create art from everyday human interaction evokes powerful emotions in us and our audiences. You’re unforgettable. Barbara – the serenity and simplicity of your writing is breathtaking. David – we are honored to become the first saxophonists to commission you.  You created a monumental work that engages our mental and physical energy in a way that every musician should be so lucky to experience. John – you delivered a piece that lights us and our audiences on fire, no matter where we perform. Ben – there are no words to describe the beauty we feel from your music.  You are an absolute gift. Through commissioning, we are constantly trying to raise the level of the music we perform, as well as further hone our craft as chamber musicians. We feel that this second installment of commissions keeps us right “ON TRACK” to doing just that. We hope you enjoy this music as much as we enjoy playing it!

“Heartbreakers” by Jacob ter Veldhuis

“Heartbreakers,” a suite for jazz ensemble and sound track, was written early 1999 for the Dutch band The Houdini’s. A new arrangement for saxophone quartet was commissioned by the New Century Saxophone Quartet in 2004 with financial support from the Netherland-America Foundation. The soundtrack is composed of samples of emotional confrontations from American talk shows of the 90’s. The one-liners and dialogues between hosts and guests make ideal musical themes because of their emotional content and intensity. Each and every note is derived from the melody and rhythm of the spoken word. The music is written out from beginning to end, with the exception of the improvised solos for piano and alto saxophone at the end of each of movement. Intuitive association has resulted in a collage of jazz and rock clichés, the typical idiom of musical interludes of talk shows.

-Jacob ter Veldhuis
Dutch “avant pop’”composer Jacob TV ( aka Jacob ter Veldhuis, born 1951) started as a rock musician and studied composition and electronic music at the Groningen Conservatoire, where he was awarded the Dutch Composition Prize in 1980. During the eighties he made a name for himself with melodious compositions, straight from the heart and with great effect. “I pepper my music with sugar,” he says. Jacob TV is preoccupied with American media and world events and draws raw material from those sources. His work possesses an explosive strength and raw energy combined with extraordinarily intricate architectural design. He makes use of electronics, incorporating sound bytes from political speeches, commercials, interviews, talk shows, televangelists, and what have you - a colorful mix of high and low culture, of classical music, rock, pop, rap, rhythm & blues and jazz. 

Jacob TV is particularly fond of the saxophone, which has led to ensemble works, quartets, solo works and an alto saxophone concerto, all performed by soloists such as Arno Bornkamp, Branford Marsalis, Claude Delangle and eminent ensembles like the Aurelia Saxophone Quartet, the Prism Quartet, and the New Century Saxophone Quartet.

“Franciscan Chant” by Barbara Kolb

Based on a monophonic 12th century chant which later became associated with St. Francis of Assisi, it was my intention to enhance a freely flowing melodic line - characteristic of Gregorian chant - by adding harmonies which occasionally resemble those of Gesualdo. Structurally, the music is through-composed. Not only do the harmonies change when the chant repeats, but so do the sonorities, with each saxophone taking the melody at different intervals of time. The result is a gradual movement in time - from the past to the present. This work was commissioned by the New Century Saxophone Quartet through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

-Barbara Kolb
Born and educated in Connecticut, Barbara Kolb has collected numerous awards including a Fulbright Scholarship to Vienna, two Guggenheim Fellowships, an Institute of Arts and Letters Award, and seven NEA grants. She became the first American woman to win the Rome Prize in Music Composition (1969-1971). Barbara Kolb's music is characterized by interwoven, impressionistic textures and a freely atonal yet deeply expressive harmonic language. Many of her works draw upon ideas and images that have their sources in literature or the visual arts. Kolb has been commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, Atlanta Symphony, IRCAM (Paris, France), the Fromm Foundation, Koussevitzky Foundation, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. She has held posts at Brooklyn College, Temple University, Eastman School of Music, and The New School in NYC. In 1986, Kolb created a music theory instruction course for the blind and physically disabled under the auspices of the Library of Congress. She was also a clarinetist in the Hartford Symphony for six years.

“Revolutionary Etudes” by David Lang

After the New Century Saxophone Quartet asked me to write a piece for them they sent me all their past recordings. I listened to them with curiosity and enthusiasm, and I heard something that totally changed my thinking about the genre.  It was their recording of “The Art of Fugue,” by J. S. Bach.  The first thing that struck me was the absolute mastery of tone of the ensemble — this music was played with such great control and discipline.  It was hard not to get excited about the possibility of working with them.

What impressed me the most, however, was the monumentality of the project.  There is so much light music for saxophone, music that can't make up its mind if it should be classical or jazz, if it should be serious or funny, restrained or aggressive.  A lot of this music is truly enjoyable – I don’t mean to say anything bad about it.  This Bach project, however, is on an entirely new level — it is asking to have the saxophone taken seriously, for all that it can do.  
As a composer I immediately imagined how important for the medium it would be for a composer to take this seriousness, this monumentality into consideration, in the creation of a new work.  

I started with what became the second movement of my piece, writing seemingly endless streams of notes, trying to trick the melodic and harmonic changes to emerge virtuosically from the dense fabric of the material.  Somehow what I was doing reminded me of what Chopin did in his Etude, Opus 10, Number 12 – make a ridiculously fast and vaguely minor scale last forever.  Chopin’s piece is of course called the Revolutionary Etude.  I decided to make a set of these myself.

Revolutionary Etudes was commissioned by the New Century Saxophone Quartet, with generous support from the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, the Rockport Chamber Music Festival, the University of South Carolina, Tom Kenan, and Freda Silberman.

-David Lang

“There is no name yet for this kind of music," writes Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed, but David Lang is one of America’s most performed composers and audiences around the globe are hearing more and more of his work: in performances by such organizations as the Next Wave Festival at BAM, the Santa Fe Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the Munich Chamber Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, The Cleveland Orchestra, the London Sinfonietta, and the Kronos Quartet; at Tanglewood, the BBC Proms, The Munich Biennale, the Settembre Musica Festival, the Sidney Olympic Arts Festival and the Almeida, Holland, Berlin and Strasbourg  Festivals; and in the choreography of La La La Human Steps, Susan Marshall, Twyla Tharp, the Paris Opera Ballet, The Nederlands Dans Theater and the Royal Ballet in London. Lang holds degrees from Stanford University, the University of Iowa, and Yale University. His teachers have included Donald Jenni, Richard Hervig, Jacob Druckman, Hans Werner Henze, and Martin Bresnick. David Lang is co-founder and co-artistic director of New York's legendary music festival, Bang on a Can.

“Prodigal Child” by John Fitz Rogers

"Prodigal Child" was composed in 2004 as a kind of anguished response to domestic and international politics. The work features jarring shifts of character: sometimes lamenting and sorrowful, sometimes driving or sarcastic, oftentimes angry, and at the end of the work, nearly apocalyptic, with chromatic layerings of polymeter and complex cross rhythms. The preface to the score quotes Psalm 43, the first stanza of which reads "Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation: / O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man. / For thou art the God of my strength: / why dost thou cast me off? / Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?"
"Prodigal Child" was commissioned by the Capitol Quartet, New Century Saxophone Quartet, and the San Francisco Saxophone Quartet, and was premiered by the New Century Saxophone Quartet in March 2005.

-John Fitz Rogers
Composer John Fitz Rogers's music has been programmed and performed around the world by leading ensembles, festivals, and venues such as Carnegie Hall, Bang on a Can Marathon, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the American Composers Orchestra, the Albany, Louisville, Charleston, and Tulsa Symphony Orchestras, the New York Youth Symphony, Eastman Wind Ensemble, the MATA, Rockport, Bumbershoot, Bowling Green, and Keys To The Future festivals, the World Saxophone Congress, and by individuals and chamber ensembles such as Antares, Lionheart, Composers, Inc., Opus Two, Meehan/Perkins Duo, Bent Frequency, and the Ambassador Duo. Rogers has received many commissions, fellowships, and awards, including those from ASCAP, the American Composers Forum, American Music Center, Music at the Anthology and the Mary Flagler Cary Trust, National Flute Association, MacDowell Colony, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, as well as a consortium commission by seven universities for a concerto for alto saxophone and wind ensemble. He holds formal degrees in music from Cornell University, the Yale School of Music, and Oberlin College, and is currently an Associate Professor of Composition at the University of South Carolina School of Music, where he founded and directs the Southern Exposure New Music Series.

“O Waly Waly Variations” by Ben Johnston
Back in the late 1990’s I remember going to a Kronos Quartet concert with some fellow members of the New Century Saxophone Quartet. On the program was Ben Johnston’s String Quartet No. 4 “Amazing Grace.” The members of the quartet and I were so moved by the piece that we decided we needed to contact Johnston to see what possibilities might exist for commissioning a new work for New Century. It just so happened that Ben lived in North Carolina where the quartet was based at the time. When we finally got in touch with Ben we told him how much we liked his “Amazing Grace” and that we were interested in a commission. We applied and received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for a set of works from Johnston, one of which was “O Waly Waly Variations.” We consider this set of variations on the beautiful melody, most often called “The Water is Wide,” our own “Amazing Grace” from Ben. It’s definitely one of the quartet’s favorite pieces in the repertoire.

In talking with Ben about the piece he shared with us that his first association with this melody came from the time he lived in Champaign, Illinois, when he converted to Catholicism and subsequently became the organist at a local Catholic church. While there Ben found “O Waly Waly” in a set of British hymns. He decided to re-harmonize the work as part of his emergence from a time of personal crisis to a time of growth and peace in his life. It’s from this harmonization, many years later, that he created our set of variations of the tune. He said that it was interesting that we considered the piece our “Amazing Grace” because he used the same treatment, or “parallel effort” as he called it, in “O Waly Waly” that he had used in “Amazing Grace.” However he felt that “O Waly Waly” was “more experienced because of life’s many lessons.”

-Stephen Pollock
Ben Johnston was born in Macon, Georgia on March 15, 1926, and holds degrees from William and Mary College, the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and Mills College. Johnston taught composition and theory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 1951 to 1983. He began as a traditional composer of art music before working with Harry Partch, helping the senior musician to build instruments and use them in the performance and recording of new compositions. After working with Partch, Johnston studied with Darius Milhaud at Mills College. It was in fact Partch himself who arranged for Johnston to study with Milhaud. It should be noted that Johnston struggled with how to integrate just intonation into his compositions for a number of years. Since 1960 Johnston has used, almost exclusively, a system of microtonal notation based on the rational intervals of just intonation. Johnston also worked with John Cage, who encouraged him to pursue the composition of just-tuned music for traditional instruments. His volume of work includes music for orchestra, solo instruments and chamber music including 10 string quartets. He has received many honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1959, a grant from the National Council on the Arts and the Humanities in 1966 and two commissions from the Smithsonian Institute.

Johnston's students include Thomas Albert, Manfred Stahnke, and Kyle Gann.


We would like to thank Jacob, Barbara, David, John, and Ben for your wonderful compositions and our new found friendships. It was an inspiration to collaborate with you all. Without great composers writing great music for our medium we would truly be lost. We would also like to thank the supporters of these commissions: The National Endowment for the Arts, the Netherland-America Foundation, the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, Tom Kenan, the Rockport Chamber Music Festival, the University of South Carolina, and Freda Silberman. Thanks to our guest artists Tim Adams, David Cutler and Jeff Grubbs for your fabulous work on “Heartbreakers”. To Duquesne University and Mount Lebanon United Methodist Church for allowing us to record in your spaces. To our new label Alanna Records and everyone at DDAI including Thomas Kikta, Jim Manly, Jesse Naus, and Frank Rodriguez for all your hard work. We also want to seriously thank Thomas and Elizabeth Massella for keeping “The Girl” during the session! Thanks also to Wildacres Retreat and Henry and Jean Pollock for providing rehearsal space to learn this music. To Cannonball Musical Instruments for your wonderful saxophones and Rory Mazzela and Rico for your support. We would like to thank our manager Robert Besen who still stands behind us after all these years. And a very special thanks to our long time producer from Channel Classics Records in Holland, Jared Sacks. Jared, we never want to do this without you man. Last but not least to our spouses and families who give us constant support so we can continue to chase the dream.

Special support to make this recording came from:

The Aaron Copland Fund for Recording   
Freda Silberman
Keller Cushing Freeman
Jodi and Robert Shochet
Rial C. Jones
Grace W. Vickery
Rick and Maureen Kroncke
Karen and Val Frigo
Pierre Ravacon
Bill and Linda Swayne
Jennifer Baker and Ted Terrenoire
Gene Wagoner
Harry and Bobbi Stephenson
Col. Earl and Ann Putnam
Glenn and Ele Haynes
Jo Ann T. Walker
Meredith and Alan Warren  
Brett and Jenn Taylor
Stephenson and Stephenson Law Firm
Mark and Laura Lorek

Thanks to all of you for believing in us and everything we do.

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