Looking to hook kids on the sounds of sax

Buffalo News, The

By HERMAN TROTTER     
News Music Critic

There will be no big hoopla to accompany the Amherst Saxophone Quartet's 20th anniversary season.

No dancing bears, no fireworks, no tight formations of the Navy's Blue Angels zooming overhead when the season opens at 8 p.m. Thursday at Slee Hall, on the University at Buffalo North Campus.

Just a commitment to doing more of the things they've been doing so well. And that includes a slightly increased concert series, a compact disc to be released this fall, an expanded range of responsibilities in the Slee Residency at UB, a four-concert October tour of the British Virgin Islands and a new partnership in Buffalo's Olmsted schools.

The quartet's spokesman, Stephen Rosenthal, said one departure from the ordinary is a video, which should be on the market by early October.

"It will have the title 'ASQ Kids,' so that shows the .audicnce we want to reach," Rosenthal said. "This just may be the first chamber music video ever released specifically for kids of grammar school age and below. My son's only 2, but he can't get enough of it. He asks to see it just about every evening."

The 43-minute video will be available through a wide network of video and music stores, and at the ASQ concerts.

The subtitle of the video is more specific about its objectives - "Introdueing Children to the Lifelong Joys of Chamber Music."

A preview showing of "ASQ Kids" revealed the members of the quartet - in addition to Rosenthal they are Sal Andolina, Russ Carere and Harry Fackelman - in their usual spontaneous, audience-friendly form.

It was taped during sessions in front of the students and teachers at one of the Olmsted schools. The players entered one. at a time, each playing a short jazzy riff in order to establish for young ears the sound, range and tonal character of the soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones that make up the ensemble.

Though the music they played veered toward the light side, ranging from a "Fantasy and Fugue on 'Oh, Susannah'" through a group of Joplin rags, with Bach's Fugue in C minon as a classical centerpiece, there' was no compromise in quality of performance, and no tampering with the music itself.

Among the many instructive aspects of the video is a sequence in which the players take the instruments apart, describing the elements of the saxophone and playing them partially assembled to illustrate how the sound of the instrument is "put together."

It's all very absorbing, but what seems to make it an experience kids would clamor to see again and again are the special effects, which include an imaginative and seemingly endless variety of "dissolves" that carry the visuals from one sequence to the next, and the use of extremely engaging animations.

During the playing of "The Flight of the Bumblebee," for example, there are stylized animated bees flitting around the heads of the players, whose eyes suspiciously follow the bees' flight even while playing the music immaculately.

The quartet's international and local involvements will continue with its October tour of the British Virgin Islands. The tour is not the result of some government grant. Rosenthal says, "It's a purely conventional tour which our agent arranged, and we're being paid our standard fee."

On the other hand, the "new partnership" with the Olmsted schools will include four concerts and 20 other services of a more interactive nature, funded in part by the Cultural Leadership Group's Cultural Incentive Funding Program. Another large part of the funding is simply time donated by the quartet's members.

"With such a residency in another city," Rosenthal explained, "we could get paid up to $10,000. But we feel the musical ability we have is a gift, and in our own city we want return part of that gift in the form of exposing youngsters to music. All four of us are unanimous in the belief that we can change lives by opening up this joy to young minds and ears. Not enough places are doing this sort of thing, and we want to be one of those places."

The quartet's residency at the University at Buffalo also continues, with individual saxophone instruction, a course in popular music for non-music majors, and a new course in "the business of chamber music" on the curriculum. And, of course, part of the ensemble's concert series is based in UB's Slee Hall as a university function.

During this anniversary year, the themes of the four concerts will be a sort of musical recap of the ensemble's career, starting with a program that is a repeat of its first-ever concert, which was at that time billed as "Brunch With Bach" and presented on March 12, 1978, in the Ellicott Square Building.

The major works from that first concert were Jean Francaix's "Little Quartet for Saxophones," Pierre Lantier's "Andante and Scherzetto," Rusty Dedrick's "Modem Art Suite" and Eugene Bozza's "Andante and Scherzo." Transcriptions of works by Bach, Boccherini, Gabrieli, Tchaikovsky and Debussy rounded out the program, and all will be repeated in the opening concert.

"But in those 20 years," Rosenthal explained, "we have commissioned a lot of new music and have had a lot of music written for us. So we're going to include at least one of those new works on each program. For the opening concert we've added 'Phantom Melos' by Buffalo-born composer Rocco DiPietro."

In the expansion of last year's local programming commitment, this opening concert will be presented four times. After Thursday's Slee Hall debut, it will be repeated at 7 p.m. Oct. 1 in School 64; at 8 p.m. Oct. 15 in the Bijou Grille in the Theater District, and at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19 in Iroquois High School.

The other three concerts in the season's "musical recap" will be "Our First Carnegie Concert Ever," with its first performance at 8 p.m. Nov. 12 in the Bijou Grille; "20th Birthday Bash," which opens with a 3 p.m. performance at Slee Hall on March 1, and "Fast Forward," at 7:30 p.m. April 22 in Iroquois High School.

Amherst Saxophone Quartet: Looking to hook kids on the sounds of sax
Amherst Saxophone Quartet: Looking to hook kids on the sounds of sax