Quartet brings unique music blend to Amp

Chautauquan Daily

By Kate Maloney, Staff Writer

If the Amherst Saxophone Quartet's performance is as sharp as spokesman for the group Stephen Rosenthal's tongue, tonight's audience is in for a concert on the cutting edge.

"We're a string quartet with no strings attached," Rosenthal quipped in a recent telephone interview. The Buffalo based quartet — Salvatore Andolina, soprano; Russell Carere, alto; Rosenthal, tenor; and Harry Fackelman, baritone - is currently one of the only fuIltime groups devoted to a large repertoire of chamber music that ranges from classical to jazz to ragtime to modem to "any other music that strikes our fancy," according to Rosenthal.

"We're a strange group," Rosenthal said "We're serious about our repertoire, but we also like to have some serious fun." Part of the fun comes from the good relationship between the audience and entertainers that is promoted both by the group's informality onstage and by Rosenthal's running commentary on the music. What one critic has called his "front parlor humor" is right on the mark, since chamber music was really created as parlor entertainment for royalty.

Their now-extensive repertoire was fairly unknown before the Amherst Saxophone Quartet's inception in 1978. Since then, the quartet's impressive appearances from Carnegie Hall to "The Tonight Show" have let people know just what a sax, let alone four, can do.

It's especially interesting to hear the group's treatment of Bach and Mozart, whose compositions pre-date the invention of the saxophone. Their first album, "Bach on Sax," received rave reviews, including Time Magazine's "Critic's Choice." The ensemble finds that although Baroque music transcribes well, they don't often work with well-known compositions. "We wouldn't want to offend the composer," Rosenthal said.

The late Eubie Blake was one of the few exceptions. "We had his blessing," Rosenthal said of the ragtime master who music has become a trademark of the Amherst Saxophone Quartet. "They play my music the way I meant it to be," Rosenthal recalled Blake saying before his death in 1983. Their snappy tune "Eubie Dubie" pays tribute to him on their second album, "Mozart to Modern."

This 1990 release documents the group's movement into somewhat uncharted territory. Pianist Lukas Foss' "Saxophone Quartet," written expressly (or the Amherst Saxphone Quartet, blends neoclassic and jazz styles in an effort to avoid the stereotypical saxophone sounds. "Definitely a disk with sax appeal," said a critic from The New York Times - an appropriate reference in light of another piece written for the group by Pittsburgh-based contemporary composer David Stock titled, "Sax Appeal."

The imaginative side of the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, what one reviewer called a "nose for innovation," just might be due to the limited amount of literature for saxophone quartet. The group has used this limitation to their advantage, recently sponsoring a competition that resulted in more than 200 compositions for their unique Quartet. This summer, Rosenthal said the group would be working on all such music written for them.

It's been a busy summer so far for the Amherst Saxophone Quartet. Last Sunday June 30, they made their second appearance at Carnegie Hall with Bobby Short, who first heard the quartet in 1980. "He invited us to play at private party in his apartment. We thought we'd just be background music, but it turned out to be a half hour command performance for the planners of the JVC Jazz Fest!" Rosenthal laughs. This summer will mark the ninth season of their concert series in Buffalo; the will also play their first concert series in Pittsburgh.

The quartet has resided in Buffalo since they received a three-year residency grant from Chamber Music America in 1985. Rosenthal called the grant "seed money to establish permanent residence," which the group certainly has done, with help from continued funding from the city. "We are technically artists-in-residence in the city itself," Rosenthal said.

"We perform more in Buffalo because we have this funding — at the normal venues and literally almost anywhere people want us to play."

"We bring music to where people are, since it seem like people today aren't going where the music is," Rosenthal said.

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet will bring their music to Chautauqua tonight exactly three years to the day after their first appearance in 1986.

Amherst Sax Quartet: Quartet brings unique music blend to Amp