The jazz musician Steve Lacy once famously advised that, “you can work on the saxophone alone, but ultimately you must perform with others.” At the first Midday Monday concert of the semester (a series of lunch-time concerts on the first Monday of the month), the four saxophonists of the fhiladelfia saxofone fourtet demonstrated their excellence in both individual work and group performance. The quartet (Ron Kerber – soprano, Joe Vettori – alto, Chris Farr – tenor, Mark Allen – baritone), which has only been together for about half a year, played a dazzling repertoire of pieces ranging from a solemn hymn to an energetic tango.
They began their program with “The Weimar Quartet”, a piece composed by Kerber that commemorates his grandparents, who lived in interwar Germany. In it, the quartet successfully attempted to evoke the confused atmosphere of a war-torn country trying to rebuild itself. The eerie undertones of the first movement, “After the Great War,” contrasted with the hopefulness of the second, “Masquerade Ball”, while the final movement, “Praying Hands,” brought the piece to a powerfully somber close.
In a post-performance interview, Kerber said that he set his grandparents’ story to music for four saxophones because, “there are just so many possibilities, sonically.” Taking advantage of the fact that “the saxophone is very much like the human voice,” Kerber tried to recreate his grandparents’ dialogue with melodic conversation between the soprano and the bass. “That means you,” he said, pointing to Allen, “are my grandpa, and I’m my grandma.” He laughed, adding, “That’s a bit weird, actually.”
This performance was the first time Allen has played a “quartet gig.” He said that playing in a sax quartet, often a rare ensemble, holds unique and special challenges. “There’s a very specific role we have to fill,” he said. Farr agreed: “we’re responsible for everything musical: time, pitch, harmony.” Despite that responsibility, Farr said that “it’s great to be with like instruments.”
The musicians certainly reflected this sentiment in their performance; the saxophones had an almost magical connection to one another, blending beautifully when playing similar musical lines and standing out with individual clarity when creating harmonies. As such, it seems practically absurd to focus on any single player in the quartet. The vibrant sound that filled Lang Concert Hall was most certainly greater than the sum of its parts.
An unexpectedly large portion of the audience was made up of third graders from Grace Park Elementary, a local school. This was the first time that the students had been to a concert like this as a group. The idea to invite the children to the concert came from music professor Jonathan Kochavi, whose son Noah goes to Grace Park. Noah, who plays the piano and clarinet, said that he enjoyed the concert very much. “My favorite piece was the last one [Grave et Presto by Jean Rivier],” he said. “I liked how it was slow at first, and then it became fast.”
Midday Monday Concerts take place on the first Monday of every month at 12:30 p.m. in Lang Concert Hall.
Correction: the name of the elementary school present at Monday’s concert is Grace Park Elementary, not Green Park Elementary.