New Century Saxophone Quartet

Standards (2002)

Standards CDMichael Stephenson, soprano saxophone
Robert Faub, alto saxophone
Stephen Pollock, tenor saxophone
Brad Hubbard, baritone saxophone
Premier Quatuor, Op. 53 (1857)   Jean Baptiste Singelée (1812-1875)  
1. Andante, Allegro (783KB MP3)
2. Adagio Sostenuto  
3. Allegro vivace  
4. Allegretto  
Quatuor (1962)   Alfred Desenclos (1912-1971)  
5. Allegro non troppo  
6. Calmo  
7. Poco largo, ma risoluto / Allegro energico   (796KB MP3)
Quartet for Saxophones (1982)   Elliot Del Borgo (b. 1938)  
8. Quickly    
9. Gently  
10. With Vigor (859KB MP3)
Quartet #1 in Three Movements   Bob Mintzer (b. 1953)  
11. Allegretto (839KB MP3)
12. Slowly  
13. Allegro  
14. July (1995) (852KB MP3) Michael Torke (b. 1961)  

Total time: 69:24

Program Notes


The saxophone quartet repertoire is and has always been a paradox; since the ensemble itself is still seen by many people as a rarity, the assumption quickly follows that there must not be much repertoire. The fact is that the saxophone quartet is a very common chamber ensemble and has been since shortly after its invention. In universities and conservatories it is as common to find saxophone quartets as it is string quartets. Since the ensemble itself is almost 150 years old it follows that that there is a large volume of repertoire, larger than even many saxophonists are aware. The problem is that, while there is great breadth in the literature there is not a corresponding depth. This is not unusual - the same can be said for the music of just about any instrument - it's just that due to the relatively late invention of the saxophone we missed having music written for us by many of the great composers throughout history, and so by comparison to string quartets (for example), we saxophonists come up admittedly short in the area of masterworks.

On the other hand, what we lack in quality we make up for in quantity. Saxophonists are known for actively pursuing composers to write for them, and composers are generally willing because they know that (because we do not have many masterworks) we will actually play their music! As with any genre, over time musicians filter through the vast volume of music and distill those works of lasting value. These somehow work their way into the "standard repertoire," and become the measure of a player or a group of players.

In the life of any ensemble there comes a time when these standard works must be addressed and one's "stamp" must be placed upon them. For New Century Saxophone Quartet, that time is now. There are several reasons why this is so. For one, as an "up-and-coming" ensemble the group long held to the philosophy that one way to make a mark in the chamber music world was to commission new music and perform it at a very high level. Our last two recording projects were the end result of these efforts, and while those efforts to contribute to the quantity and quality of saxophone quartet repertoire continue in earnest, we felt it was time to fill in the gaps in our own repertoire that inevitably resulted from a long-term focus on new music. Additionally, we thought it would be interesting to us and to other saxophonists to take the elements we bring to our new commissions and apply them to existing works. We imagined the result would be a freshness and energy that is often lacking in performances of long-standing "war horses." We will let the listener decide if that was achieved.

Having been in existence for 20 years and recognized internationally for at least 12, we feel it is time to shed that "upstart" label and do some things that other senior chamber groups do - like record standard repertoire! There is almost a duty to the music and the composers that we believe it has come time t o fulfill.

Lastly, we recognize that not all of the music on this disc is considered (at this time) standard repertoire. While the works by Singelée and Desenclos have unequivocally earned their status as "standards," the other three works have not been around long enough to fully qualify. We think the quality of the music will distinguish them and that perhaps this recording will contribute to their recognition as modern standards. After all, recordings and performances of existing repertoire by more than one ensemble is what begins the debate and piques the interest of other groups to add those pieces to their own repertoire. It is our sincere desire that this would happen, and our firm belief that all of this music deserves to be thought of as "standard" repertoire - required listening, if you will, for saxophonists and other chamber musicians.


We would like to thank Channel Classics and Jared Sacks for the standard of excellence he brings to his recordings, Robert Besen our manager for his tireless efforts on our behalf all these years, all the presenters that have gone out on a limb to bring a saxophone quartet to town and all the audiences who backed them up. A special thanks goes to our families for everything they do to make it possible for us to make music - this is part of the dream!

Jean-Baptiste Singelée (1812 - 1875)

Jean-Baptiste Singelée (1812-1876) was born in Brussels and studied at the Royal School of Music in Belgium. He was the violin soloist with the Royal Theater of Brussels and directed orchestras there and in Gand. Singelée was one of the first composers to treat the saxophone as a serious classical instrument, evidenced by his composing over 30 Solos de Concours for Sax and his students at the Paris Conservatory. As a longtime friend of Adolphe Sax (they met as students at the Royal School of Music) he encouraged Sax to develop the four principal members of the saxophone family, and composed what is very likely the first work ever written for the quartet, "Premier Quatuor, Op. 53," completed in 1857. In addition to his saxophone works, Singelée is credited with composing 12 concertos, many solo works for violin and other instruments as well as music for ballet.

Premier Quatuor is different from the rest of Singelée's work, written in a somewhat "old-fashioned" style for the time that could be classified as post-classical. The piece has the style and character of an overture, containing a two-part first movement (an introduction followed by a theatrical allegro), a rhapsodic adagio second movement, a lively scherzo third movement, and a rousing finale.

Alfred Desenclos (1912 - 1971)

Alfred Desenclos was born in Portel (Pas-de-Calais) on February 7, 1912, and died in Paris March 31, 1971. He studied at the Roubaix and Paris Conservatories and won the first Prix de Rome in 1942. He was director of the Roubaix Conservatory from 1943-1950 and then taught at the Paris Conservatory. In 1956 he won the Grand Prix Musical de la Ville de Paris.

In the words of saxophonist Jean-Marie Londeix:

"Far from embracing any particular progressive compositional system, Alfred Desenclos was content to compose in a traditional tonal language, without any pretense or lofty ambition. Interestingly, he did not embrace serialism. He expressed himself largely in the musical language of his teachers and was inspired primarily by the works of J.S. Bach, Fauré, and Franck. Busy with pedagogical and administrative tasks, he wrote very few pieces. Each of his works is the result of profound reflection. Alfred Desenclos was a romantic without overt passion, who possessed a charming sense of melancholy. He sought to avoid extremes of sentimentality and he preferred performers who represented his work in a sober and classical manner."

Desenclos composed several symphonic works, including concertos for violin and trumpet, a requiem mass, and a collection of solo and chamber works. His Prélude, Cadence et Finale (1956) and Quatuor de saxophones (1964) have long been considered staples in the saxophone repertoire.

While much French saxophone quartet music can be categorized only as light divertimenti or character pieces, the Quatuor is a substantial work. Through the use of extended harmonies, pentatonic and octatonic scales, and other devices of the Impressionists, Desenclos pays homage to Debussy and Ravel, while still establishing his own musical language. The first movement represents a sort of sonata form, with alternating themes in 3/4 and 6/8. It features intricate interplay between all the instruments as well as some dramatic fortissimos where the soprano is set against the lower three voices. A folksong melody forms the basis of the reflective second movement, although this movement is not without its dramatic moments. The final movement begins with a modern fanfare and transitions into an allegro that is actually a rondo, where an almost "jazzy," syncopated theme alternates with new material as well as material recalled from the previous two movements.

Elliot Del Borgo (b. 1938)

Born in Port Chester, New York, Elliot Del Borgo holds a B.S. degree from the State University of New York, an Ed.M. degree from Temple University, and an M.M. degree from the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music, where he studied theory and composition with Vincent Persichetti and trumpet with Gilbert Johnson. In 1973 he was granted the doctoral equivalency by the State University of New York and was elected to membership in the American Bandmasters Association in 1993.

Mr. Del Borgo taught instrumental music in the Philadelphia public schools and was Professor of Music at the Crane School of Music where he held teaching and administrative positions from 1966 to 1995. An award-winning member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), he is a frequent consultant, clinician, lecturer, and adjudicator in the United States and abroad. Mr. Del Borgo is an internationally known conductor of bands and orchestras. In addition to his music for the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, he has published nearly 500 compositions for a variety of media.

His music has been described as "reflecting the aesthetics of twentieth century musical ideals through its eclectic nature and vigorous harmonic and rhythmic style." This can be said of his Quartet for Saxophones, composed in 1982 for the Texas Saxophone Quartet. In this chamber work he was able to capture many of the same textures and idioms his music for concert band, for which he is best known. This is most apparent in the outer movements where he has taken advantage of the brass-like quality of the saxophones to create music that is driving and energetic. The middle movement features a flute-like recitative for the soprano saxophone, which frames a more lush, lyrical middle section.

Bob Mintzer (b. 1953)

Bob Mintzer is one of the most versatile musicians in the world. Besides being a tenor and soprano saxophonist, Bob also plays flutes, clarinets, EWI, and is world-renowned as a composer, arranger, and educator. He has been active in the jazz, pop, classical, latin, and world-music genres.  "I've always been intrigued by the differences and similarities between cultures and their respective art forms," says Bob.

With the Bob Mintzer Big Band he has made eleven recordings, garnering 4 Grammy nominations. He also has 8 small group recordings to his credit. Bob has been a member of the contemporary jazz group the Yellowjackets for 10 years, receiving numerous Grammy nominations and participating regularly at major jazz festivals throughout the world. In addition to his commitments with the Yellowjackets he teaches saxophone at the Manhattan School of Music and gives educational workshops around the world.  Bob appears on over 300 recordings, and has performed and/or recorded with Buddy Rich, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band, Louie Bellson, Jaco Pastorius, Michael Franks, Take Six, Bobby McFerrin, Dave Liebman, Randy Brecker, George Gruntz, Steve Winwood, Diana Ross, Queen, the American Saxophone Quartet, New York Philharmonic, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, and Mongo Santamaria.

Although he is recognized mainly for his jazz compositions, Bob also composes in a classical style, most notably for saxophone quartet. In Saxophone Quartet No. 1 in Three Movements he has translated some of his most successful compositional techniques from jazz into this chamber setting. The first movement highlights his exceptional use of rhythmic counterpoint, featuring each instrument at different moments, all while keeping the most important element from jazz - a subtle but constant "groove." The slow second movement is beautiful, with long flowing lines and colorful harmonies. It features a lengthy alto saxophone cadenza in the middle. And the finale recalls textures and colors of Mintzer's big band writing, with full, close, fast lines juxtaposed against intricate syncopation, all set apart by the occasional and effective use of silence.

In the composer's words:

"The Saxophone Quartet no.1 is my first stab at saxophone quartet writing. It is written somewhat in the style of the French composers who wrote so beautifully for the saxophone. Many other influences come into play, as is generally the case with the things I write. Medieval music had an influence on the first movement by way of the "over the bar line" phrases and syncopated rhythms which were prevalent in that style. A harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic approach coming from jazz and other "groove musics" is also a major factor in determining the sound and mood of the quartet. I tried to compose melodies and harmonic settings that would be both memorable and beautiful, with a strong sense of melody and swing."

With a grant from Chamber Music America, New Century Saxophone Quartet has commissioned Mintzer to write a work especially for them. Saxophone Quartet No. 3 will be premiered in January of 2002 in New York City.

Michael Torke (b. 1961)

Michael Torke was born in 1961 in Milwaukee, WI and attended the Eastman School of Music where he studied composition with Christopher Rouse and Joseph Schwantner. He did his graduate studies at Yale University where he studied with Jacob Druckman and Martin Bresnick. The winner of many prizes and awards (among them the Prix de Rome and an NEA fellowship) he has had his works performed by the world's finest orchestras and musicians. Torke is well-known for his "Color" works which include the orchestral works Ecstatic Orange, The Yellow Pages (one of his most frequently-performed works), Bright Blue Music, Green, Ash, Rust, as well as Copper (a brass quintet concerto), Black and White (a ballet), and Bronze (a piano concerto).

July (commissioned by the Apollo Saxophone Quartet) and December (an orchestral work written for the Des Moines Symphony) were both composed in 1995. Torke writes about July:

"When I am drawn to a particular rhythmic groove from an overheard pop song, I scratch my head and think: "I like that, how could I use it?" To me, it's not worth trying to write another of the ten million songs out there. But I've found that if I take a small part of the drum track and assign it to the non-percussion instruments I'm writing for, then interesting things happen. You lose the original context (in this case a baritone sax does not sound like a kick drum), but you gain immediacy and a freshness in the instrumental writing. There will also be a cohesion of compositional intent if you have a strategy for those pitch assignments. When writing this piece, keeping in mind the incredible agility of the saxophone, I wrote a series of rapid notes which form a foundation, or a kind of 'directory' from which I pulled out pitches to assign to those original rhythms (as notes fly by in real time). What fascinates me is that this act of translation seems to completely remove the original reference from my music; sometimes I can't even remember what the original song was that inspired me and, if I do, it's hard to even hear the connection. But what remains is a kind of energy. Like December for string orchestra, the piece that preceded July, I'm trying to incorporate contrasting themes and moods together in a single movement work. To me this evokes a wider range of impressions. Instead of single-mindedly exploring one color, as in earlier pieces of mine, the music now corresponds to an experience of time - the energy and heat we find in the month of July, as well as cooling breezes of repose that come, perhaps, in the evening."

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