The Premiere Saxophone Quartet is an exciting chamber ensemble that is actively encouraging composers to write new works for the saxophone quartet. Since their founding in 2005 they have premiered several new works written for the quartet, including Laura Karpman’s “Take Four” for saxophone quartet and chamber orchestra, and French composer, Lucie Robert-Diessel’s “Issos” for saxophone quartet and piano which you will find on this “premiere” recording by the quartet. The PSQ regularly collaborates with other musicians, including the San Jose Chamber Orchestra, and pianist Victoria DiMaggio Lington.
The quartet has been artists-in-residence at San Jose State University since 2005. The members, Dale Wolford-soprano sax, Kevin Stewart-alto sax, David Henderson-tenor sax, and Aaron Lington-baritone sax; are all San Francisco Bay Area freelance musicians, performing in a wide variety of settings including the San Francisco Symphony, Ballet and Opera, Symphony Silicon Valley, George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch Orchestra, as well as more commercial groups like the Temptations, Chaka Khan and others.
The impetus to record this album came about as a result of our performance of Lucie Robert-Diessel’s “Magheia.” This “magical” masterpiece for saxophone quartet and piano has been recorded once before not long after the premiere of the piece in 1976 with the composer at the piano. We were so inspired by the work, that we wanted to record it! As a result of correspondence with the composer, we were fortunate to have her write a new work for this combination of instruments, Issôs? Finally, the opening work on the recording is by San Francisco Bay Area composer, Jon Scoville. His lively, minimalist style work, “Sr. Miro’s Saxophone” suite is a regular crowd pleaser at our concerts.
Below are detailed notes about each piece.
Sr. Miro’s Saxophone - Jon Scoville
“This short suite grew out of my longtime love of the saxophone’s sinuous, vocal, golden, tone (and, when needed, percussive, anguished, seductive, prayerful, mysterious, and delirious as well). In fact, as a guitarist and percussionist – both instruments that one must strike rather than breathe through – I am so envious of the sax’s range and expressivity, that I have requested in my next lifetime to come back playing alto in James Brown’s horn section. So move over Maceo. In the meantime, my consolation is in writing for this engaging instrument.”
“The impetus for Sr. Miro’s Saxophone came several years ago when I aquired a synthesizer which had a reasonably passable version of an alto sax, however with none of the felicitous ornaments and tang of the real thing. So rather than try to write music which was idiomatically saxophonic, I decided to address my interest in the linkage of sonority and rhythmically interlocking parts. I took as a visual model the combination of simplicity and eccentricity of the marvelous modernist Catalan painter, Joan Miro.”
“Old friend (and distinguished saxophonist) Andy Connell gave me considerable assistance by notating the pieces and gently pointing out where I had exceeded the Newtonian limits of the instruments’ playability. Originally composed for Bill Trimble’s student ensemble at San Jose State University, it now finds a home with Dale and the Premieres (not to be confused with James and the Fabulous Flames).”
~ notes by the composer
Issôs? for saxophone quartet and piano – Lucie Robert-Diessel
Issôs? was written for, and dedicated to, the five musicians on this recording. The word “Issôs” (perhaps), is Greek, as is Magheia (magic), the title of Lucie Robert-Diessel’s other large work for saxophone quartet and piano, also on this recording. Though written 30 years apart, the two works have much in common besides a Greek title: the telling of a story; the sensuous, exotic nature of the slow melodies; the driving intensity of the fast passages; and always, everything leading to a thrilling climax.
Almost immediately after beginning work rehearsing Magheia in 2006, the PSQ began a correspondence with Ms. Robert-Diessel. We discovered her to be a charming woman – gracious, generous, hard-working and always ready to respond to our questions and requests. We soon inquired if she might be interested in writing another work for sax quartet and piano for us, and were thrilled at her enthusiastic willingness to do so.
It was a labor of love, and a true collaboration, with hundreds of fax pages flying back and forth across the Atlantic. Maybe the best way to illuminate that collaborative process is to recount the following anecdote:
About the time Issôs? was coming into being, Aaron Lington, our baritone saxophonist, and his wife Victoria, the pianist on this recording, adopted a new puppy. Out of affection for Ms. Robert-Diessel they named her Lucie. The composer responded. You will hear puppy Lucie barking as Issôs? begins – the “ruff-ruff-ruff” of the opening rolled piano chords.
Here is what Ms. Diessel has to say in her own words about Issôs?:
“In this piece, as always in my music, I thought of a little ‘scenario,’ a sort of ‘story,’ just for me, and I write the music for this ‘scenario.’ I don’t explain very much in the title because I want that everyone, hearing the piece, may imagine what he wants, freely!...
‘Issôs?’ — ‘perhaps’ — ‘peut-etre?’ What each of us may imagine, or dream, or wish, perhaps it happens?
First, I thought of ‘puppy Lucie,’…and that the arrival of a little puppy in the life of somebody is an optimistic sign, a presage of happiness…and yes, perhaps our dreams will be fulfilled. This was my point of view in composing the piece, but everyone may imagine what he wants about ‘perhaps.’ What is important is to imagine something in listening to music…”
Magheia for saxophone quartet and piano - Lucie Robert Diessel
Magheia was written in 1976 and premiered the same year at the Fifth World Saxophone Congress in London by the Quartet of the Garde Republicaine with the composer at the piano. It was played again in 1979 at the Sixth World Saxophone Congress in Chicago by the Ensemble de Saxophones Francais, again with the composer, and was later recorded by this group.
The piece consists of a series of incantations heard in turn by each instrument. The six movements are played without pause:
1. Introduction et Cantilene (soprano solo, then with piano)
2. Ronde (the alto enters)
3. Recit (the tenor enters)
4. Misterioso e Quasi Una Fantasia (the baritone enters)
5. Recit (the theme from the tenor’s movement is taken up by the four saxophones)
6. Danse (the quartet with piano)
As reflected in its title, Magheia tells a story of magic. Imagine at the beginning a magician playing flute in the forest…little by little the grass, the plants, the trees, the whole forest begin coming to life, wakening up, and eventually building to the ending frantic finale dance.
The power of Magheia, and the strong impression it leaves on the listener, is exemplified by the fact that I initially heard the work at the performance mentioned above in 1979 in Chicago, and the thrill of that experience stayed with me right up until 2006 when I finally had an opportunity to perform the piece with the Premiere Quartet and Victoria DiMaggio Lington. I have talked to others since then with a similar experience, as if the performance had been emblazoned on our brains and ears.
~ notes by David Henderson