RASCHER

QUARTET

By Wildy Zumwalt

Photo: Felix Broede 

All rights reserved.

.

The richly varied character of their four voices has been inspiring new compositions left, right and centre… an extraordinarily powerful exploitation of the saxophone’s sheer vibrancy at high pitch, of its surprising agility in the knottiest counterpoint, and of its vivid powers of declamation.  The Times, London

 

… the uncrowned kings of the saxophone in classical music. Wiener Zeitung, Vienna

Sigurd Raschèr worked tirelessly, from the dawn of his career in 1930s Berlin, to establish artistic respectability for the saxophone at a time when it had little. His achievement to that end is without a doubt his single greatest legacy. For the first forty years of his career, he motivated composers to enrich the solo repertoire with many of its most important compositions (works by Dahl, Glazunov, Hindemith, Ibert, Larsson, Martin, Milhaud, et al.) Then in 1969, Raschèr fulfilled a lifelong dream and formed a saxophone quartet with his daughter Carina and two students, Bruce Weinberger and Linda Bangs. With the aim of building an international repertoire, they started by playing transcriptions from previous musical epochs along with folk songs from various lands. In short order, theRaschèrSaxophone Quartet began to inspire composers to write new and challenging works for the medium, which at that time had a very limited catalogue. As the repertoire grew, so did the concert schedule. Since its earliest days the RSQ has made frequent appearances in major concert halls of Europe, Asia and the United States including Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center New York, Kennedy Center Washington D.C., Opera Bastille Paris, Royal Festival Hall London, Philharmonie Cologne, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Musikverein Vienna, Tonhalle Zürich, Parco della Musica Rome, Dewan Filharmonik Petronas Kuala Lumpur and National Concert Hall Taipei, to name a few. 

 

In 2019, as the Raschèr Quartet celebrates fifty years on the world stage, they are able to draw from over 350 original works written for them by leading composers like Aho, Berio, Donatoni, Glass, Gubaidulina, Kaipainen, Keuris, Moe, Nilsson, Rosenblum, Sandström, Stucky, Terzakis, Wuorinen, Xenakis, and Chen Yi.  These composers, along with many others, have shared an enthusiasm for the four musicians’ unique homogeneous tone quality, virtuosity and dynamic interpretation of new and old music. Many of their works are now cornerstones of the repertoire.

 

The combination of the RaschèrQuartet with orchestra has captivated the imagination of numerous composers resulting in more than 40 new works for that combination as well as invitations from some of the world’s leading orchestras, including the Gewandhaus Leipzig, the Staatskapelle Dresden, Bergen Philharmonic, American Composer’s Orchestra, Saint Cecilia National Academy Orchestra Rome, Malaysian National Orchestra, Orchestra de Paris, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and others. 

 

In addition, the RaschèrQuartet has performed frequently with choirs including the London Voices, the Netherlands Chamber Choir, the West German Radio Choir, the Finnish Radio Choir, and the Icelandic National Cathedral Choir. Diverse composers such as Lera Auerbach, Luciano Berio, Giya Kancheli, and Maricio Kagel have been inspired to contribute new works for this combination. 

 

I was lucky enough to catch the RSQ on a recent Friday afternoon via Skype (Buffalo - Freiburg) to discuss the group’s fifty-year history; their repertoire and concert activity - past, present and future; as well as their continued devotion to new music.

 

 

Members of the RSQ from 1969 to present:

 

Soprano

CarinaRaschèr(1969-2002), Christine Rall (2002-present)              

 

Alto

SigurdRaschèr(1969-1980), John Edward Kelly (1980-1991), Harry Kinross White (1992-2001), Elliot Riley (2001-present)

 

Tenor

Bruce Weinberger (1969-2014), Andreas van Zoelen (2014-present)

 

Baritone

Linda Bangs (1969-1993), Kenneth Coon (1993-present)

 

 

WZ:  This sheer number of works written for the Raschèr Quartet is astounding.  But even more so the number of pieces that have become standards in the repertoire. How has the Quartet been able to animate so many important composers to write such fascinating works for the saxophone?

 CR: While running the danger of sounding cheesy, it’s about the love, passion and enthusiasm for the music, and simply trying to play in a way that will always interest composers.  Endurance and optimism are a big part of this.  And I personally think it’s also very important that the quartet was never aiming for a mainstream kind of style but was always looking for something musically very particular.

ER:I think it’s especially relevant nowadays with a lot of young, talented folks who are looking for management.  They want to know how we get concerts.  According to Bruce, Sigurd Raschèr always said you’ve got to start with the most fundamental thing, which is to play as beautifully as possible.  That must be in the foreground.  As a very inspired boy when I heard the group play the first time, the best way I can describe it would be as a “mystery box”.  The RSQ sat down to play and the palette of colors and things that I heard was just overwhelmingly moving.  It’s hard to know what came first, the beautiful playing or the beautiful compositions.  They played beautifully, but the group has always picked amazing composers to write amazing sounds.

AVZ:  Like Elliot mentions, finding the right composer is also very important. When we ask someone to write for the quartet there’s a lot of researching their music and much dialogue between us. And one very important thing that cannot be overlooked is that we have as much dialogue with the composer as possible about writing for the instrument, and specifically writing for us.  

WZ:  What is that dialogue like?

KDC: The process is a long, tried and true one that Mr. Raschèr also had with the composers who wrote for him.  When one of us discovers a composer that we think might be a good match for the RSQ, then everybody listens to that composer’s most recently written works, and we decide amongst ourselves if this is somebody who we want to write for us.  If one person says, “I don’t think this is the best match up”, then we move on, regardless of how enthusiastic one or the other members may be.  It must be a unanimous decision.  I think this makes our success quota pretty high.  No one of us knows more than all four of us.  Also, we spend a lot of time playing for the composers, sending them recordings and meeting with them after the composition is finished.  The RSQ met and played for Keuris over a period of many days.  They met and played for Xenakis in Paris and sent him many recordings.

ER: Another one is Kalevi Aho, a Finnish composer. He heard the quartet long before I became a member.  He listened to the group and went to concerts, but nobody asked him to write a piece because it was simply not the right time.  Yet he was always listening.  Then I remember we got home from a tour of Finland.  Bruce walked in the door at the next rehearsal and said Kalevi would like to write a work for us. The process certainly wasn’t a kind of e-mail transaction. It was something that developed over a rather long period of time that encompassed two personnel changes, a lot of meetings, laughs and hanging out together; talking, eating and enjoying the other’s company.  

WZ:  So it’s a very close collaboration throughout the whole process.

KDC:  As close as we can make it.  That is usually a pretty good recipe for success.  

ER: With Kalevi’s work, when he started writing it he was a month or so into the work when Pehr Hendrick Nordgren, a friend of Kalevi’s who also wrote for the RSQ, passed away.  At the funeral there were these bells in Kaustinen, Nordgren’s hometown.  He heard them and knew that he had to rework the entire piece because of those funeral bells.  The work’s title, “Kellot” means, “The Bells”.  This is important in the sense that Kalevi knew that what he was writing was an important work.  If we hit the right frequencies, then composers going all the way back to Keuris, feel the importance of what they’re about to write, and then it’s not just something that they do as a side project.  It becomes something to which they really devote serious attention.  In this case the work became intertwined with the passing of a dear friend and you literally hear the exact tones of those funeral bells in the piece.  

WZ: Because Raschèr believed that money should not be the primary motivation for a work of art, he often made the point that he never commissioned a piece.  Where does the Raschèr Quartet stand on this issue?

KDC:  It’s a topic that’s been very much misunderstood I think. In my opinion, good composers should be paid like rock stars.  Composers do wonderful work!  If it weren’t for good composers, we wouldn’t have much to do, so I’m a big believer in composers getting paid, and getting paid a princely sum for good work.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that we come to a composer with our wallets open.  Firstly, it wouldn’t be possible from our financial perspective.  Second, I 100% agree with Mr. Raschèr that it’s not necessarily the best basis for getting a good, quality work written.  I’ve been on record saying that I believe the consortium commission process is not the best way to get a work written.  I think there’s a reason why those pieces usually have a very short shelf life.  However, in no way does that mean a composer shouldn’t be rewarded and rewarded handsomely for the treasures they create for us.  There is an article in the “Raschèr Reader” in which Mr. Raschèr writes that there was a patron in Paris at the time who rewarded Ibert for composing the Concertino.  When we approach a composer, especially a composer of a certain notoriety, it’s pretty much expected and accepted that they will receive some sort of compensation for that work.  What we can do is use whatever influence and resources that we have, to try and organize a prominent premiere, which usually involves some sort of commission.  And, we’re happy to do that!  We have a long tradition of mutually beneficial relations with composers and I think they’ve generally done quite well financially through their associations with the RSQ; not only the commissions and notoriety that they’ve received, but also the publishing and recording royalties that they’ve earned.  Particularly from the works that we play very often due to regular demand.  

WZ: Is it safe to say that Raschèrfelt the same way? A composer should be paid but the money shouldn’t be the primary focus...

KDC:  Absolutely! Brahms wrote some of his best works for his friends and musicians who he knew very well.  Josef Joachim, Clara Schumann, etc.  We try to develop the same sorts of relationships; friendly, as well as professionally beneficial.

AVZ: Exactly, you have to see things in the right order. You could simply offer a sum of money to a composer and expect a good piece to be written, hoping that it will then be an important part of our repertoire.  It’s just not how that works.  You need to convince people with artistic capability and then, in the course of the whole process finances become a part of the discussion.  In due time.  But it should never be the first order of business, that would certainly be a very unhealthy situation, artistically.

WZ: Is that often the case in the music business?

KDC: It happens, and to be frank we’ve worked with composers who it was rather clear that was their principle focus.  It’s not an accident that some of those works are less satisfactory on many levels than other works we have in our repertoire.

WZ: The RSQ has been at the forefront of contemporary saxophone music for a very long time, not only pushing the musical and expressive boundaries of the instrument, but also spearheading the quartet concerto genre. How did it come about that RSQ began playing concertos with orchestra? And were there works written for this combination before you started?

KDC: There’s Otto Ketting’s “Symphony for saxophones and orchestra” (78-79) which would pre-date the Tristan Keuris Concerto, so it wasn’t a totally new genre.  However, it was a medium that my predecessors and colleagues took very seriously, and I think it is fair to say that the RSQ did pretty ground-breaking work in terms of bringing those particular performance mediums together and making it “mainstream” for the saxophone quartet.  The same thing could be said for the combination of saxophone quartet and voices. Bruce Weinberger envisioned that possibility as far back as his connection with Luciano Berio.  The saxophone sound is so close to the human voice, and since we tend to bring a very vocal approach to the way we make music, combining the sound of the RSQ and voices is a pretty obvious and logical mix. 

WZ: So there are historical precedents, but the Raschèr quartet has really developed the repertoire it seems in both of these genres. 

ER:  It’s one thing if a singular composer has written for a new genre; for example saxophone quartet with choir.  However when one can say that there is a work by Mauricio Kagel, one by Giya Kancheli and a couple of other really big names, then it’s no longer an anomaly.  It becomes “a thing.”  Whenever I listen to Bruce or Carina or Linda talking about the premiere of Keuris, or especially when I watch the video, then I have the feeling that I’m looking into a window through time. That goes along with this tradition that was started by Sigurd Raschèr.  If we go somewhere where he played, it’s not uncommon that someone will still have their little program book that’s so many years old.  You would think that during one spring cleaning that they would eventually throw it away, but they don’t.  When I watch that video I feel like I’m watching a documentation of that RSQ constellation’s most important evening.  The groundbreaking model was set: a work which can be played with symphony orchestra or by quartet alone; an example which other composers like Philip Glass followed.  Keuris, however, was the first.  The way I see it, he was kind of a Rembrandt of the Dutch compositional world.  Just a one of a kind and we’re lucky that we have that repertoire; all of us.

AVZ:  Can we at this point underlined the fact that the man was Dutch?  In other words, from the Netherlands.  Bold and underlined.

WZ: And sadly, no longer with us.

AVZ: Sadly, yes.

WZ:  Was Keuris the first to write a quartet concerto for the Raschèr quartet?

KDC: I can’t recall the specific details, but I think there is a work from a Swiss-Italian composer named Renato Grisoni, who wrote a piece for the RSQ and orchestra back in SMR’s time.

I think it’s also important to take note of the number of performances of Tristan’s Concerto, which was performed on live TV for the Holland Festival at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, in comparison to other quartet concertos that pre-date the Keuris.

CR:  It’s a well over 50 times.  Actually, closer to 60. 

WZ: Truly a masterpiece. And you can hear the magic of thepremiere on Youtube. It’s electrifying!

KDC:  It’s a watershed work and a watershed moment in the history of the saxophone quartet.

WZ:  I’ve pondered the next questionfor a long time, and I wonder what your thoughts are.  Haydn wrote 68 string quartets, Mozart 26, Beethoven 16, Bartok 6, Glass 7, Xenakis 4.  Why is it that a composer often doesn’t write more than one quartet for saxophones?

KDC:  It’s interesting because when I hear that question I focus on the diminution of the numbers that you mention.  I don’t believe it’s because people think that the medium of the saxophone quartet is a novelty.  You’re comparing a performance medium - the string quartet - which expands over several different musical epochs over a rather long period of time, to the saxophone quartet which is still relatively new.  I think the answer is in that trend:  the diminution of numbers over the course of time.  

WZ: You mean through history they’re writing fewer string quartets?

KDC:  Exactly.  One must imagine for example that in the time of Haydn, the performance mediums were certainly less expansive than what we’re dealing with today.  Beethoven was dealing mediums with were more expansive than those in Haydn’s day.  In the time of Shostakovich they were more expansive than in the time of his predecessors. The same with Elliot Carter, etc. And nowadays you’re not only dealing with string quartets and saxophone quartets but also modern music ensembles, brass quintets, string trios, etc.  I think the answer to that question has less to do with the actual instrument or the performance medium itself, and more to do with the Zeitgeist and the way the music business has changed since the age of Haydn.  If you’re a composer in this day and age, it’s not likely that you want to restrict your entire Oeuvre to just a few performance mediums.  Most composers I know want to try new things. New challenges.  There are certainly composers who’ve written more than one saxophone quartet.  However, many want to write their saxophone quartet, as well as their chamber opera, their modern music ensemble piece, their jazz ensemble piece, etc.  I think it’s just a sign of the times and I don’t think it necessarily has anything to do with the saxophone’s classification and status in today’s musical world.  

CR:  I would agree, but at the same time I find that when I’m dealing with promoters or different festivals, concert series, etc., so many times have I heard them say, “Oh, we just had a saxophone quartet last year and we might want to wait two more years before we have another one in this concert series.”  Sometimes it is on the tip of my tongue to ask, “When did you invite your last string quartet? Do you also then wait before you invite another string quartet?” \

ER:  In front of the Freiburg Konzerthausright now there are two violin soloists featured in the “Albert Konzertreihe”, on the same poster.

CR:  Yes, and a lot of concert series even have their own string quartet series.  Also, there are festivals where there’s a specific focus on string quartets.  I personally think that we’ll just have to wait a little bit longer.  We have more and more fantastic saxophone quartets coming up. But if you compare that to the long, long tradition of the string quartet?  Of course, it’s difficult to find a promoter willing to devote an entire part of a festival to feature only saxophone quartets.  So far, I can only think of one festival that had three saxophone quartets in the same summer series.  As far as I can remember, that was unprecedented.  Personally, I think it has to do with the fact that the instrument is still developing.  There are more and more really good saxophone quartets.  I think the medium itself really interests a lot of people; not only composers, but also the audiences enthusiastically appreciate it.  Things are changing in a very positive way.  But I think it will still take some time, because for a composer it is of course also important how many times a work is going to be played. The chances that a very good work for string quartet is going to be played by many string quartets are much higher.  

AVZ:  All of that really touches on a very important point. In my view we are at a pivotal point in the history of the instrument, in terms of the repertoire we play. It is up to us but also up to future generation of players to entice composers to write groundbreaking works, and perhaps even more than one saxophone quartet during their lifetime.  When the saxophone was introduced in your country (USA) it was seen as a “fashionable foghorn” being introduced “by popular demand”.  We need to make sure that we keep developing and emancipating the saxophone in a way so that it is in fact compared to a string quartet; so that it doesn’t slip back into this role of being a novelty instrument. Looking at some of the current repertoire for the saxophone, I see a very interesting shift happening where sometimes in my view there seems to be a little too much focus on exterior motives. Because the (technical) capabilities of the instrument are limitless, it becomes more difficult to really get to the essence of music and of music making.  There is a lot to be done there in the saxophone community, and we shouldn’t underestimate the responsibility that we have in this regard.  After all, the saxophone is an instrument with a very big span of possibilities which gives us a lot of freedom. But with any large amount of freedom comes an equally large amount of responsibility. These are going to be important years for the development of our instrument. 

WZ:  At thesuggestion of the German-American tenor Georg Walter, who was revered in Europe as one of the great Bach and Händel interpreters, Sigurd Raschèr began playing Bach on the saxophone. And since its inception the RSQ has donethe same.  Why do you play Bach?

CR:  I think it’s very important to have some kind of music that’s, like you would say in German, “Über jedem zweifel erhaben”; a music that is not directly connected to our work with living composers yet is beyond any doubt as to its beauty and quality.  Bach’s fugues and chorales are very important for us.  Not only to find our sound, but also to work on the most important parameters of chamber music.  When we work on a fugue, we are developing a dialogue; finding out how counterpoint should sound and function in order to accompany another voice.  I recently found a very nice little video on Youtube where a fairly young Leonard Bernstein explains to the audience how difficult it is to play Bach’s music.  He shows the audience the music and how little information is given by the composer to the performer.  How much you must find out for yourself about things like phrasing and dynamics.  How much more freedom there is regarding playing loudly or quietly.  When you need to slur or play something very detached, etc.  In the end this freedom gives you a lot of responsibility, so it is highly challenging to find out what the best interpretation of a piece can be. Also, it’s just simply beautiful music! After a summer break or a very intensive phase where we must use the rehearsals very effectively to get all the different pieces prepared -- and as you know we play a huge number of pieces during the year -- it’s always great to come back to Bach and have that as a sort of “Ruhepol”.    We always find each other again through that steadying influence. 

ER: I would like to express three points that occur to me and reflect on how meaningful Bach is for me in our repertoire.  First, when we play a concerto with orchestra, as the spokesman on stage for the RSQ, I can tell you that I can immediately feel the reaction when I announce that we will play a Bach fugue as an encore.  Even if they’ve heard lovely sounds coming from whatever concerto we just played, after announcing that we’re going to play a Bach fugue, you hear everyone gasp because they’re not expecting it.  They have either false expectations or no expectations. I love the notion of offering the audience something that they are not yet fully convinced of.  If we would be playing violins and cellos, then it would be assumed that this should be very good.  In the case of the saxophone, this is a moment where we’ve got to prove what the instrument can do.  I love the reactions before the encore and I love the reactions afterwards.  Second, to arrive at something that is cohesive enough to take on stage, there can be a lot of emotions in our rehearsal room. We all have interpretative ideas as to how we feel we should best express ourselves within the intentions of a composer.  Sometimes we become emotionally attached to these ideas and those discussions can get heated.  On a couple of occasions one or the other of us has expressed a want to shelve a fugue after a performance; that it isn’t worth the turmoil caused by trying to figure out a cohesive interpretation.  On occasions after taking such a work onstage, there have been people who come up to us afterwards and say that they were especially moved by that fugue. Thirdly, I can remember the first motif of the first Bach fugue which was the first piece that I ever played with the RSQ.  I remember sensing a very strong reason behind them choosing that particular work to be the first tones that I played with them.  Even at my very young age, I knew not to ask the completely ridiculous question, “How fast should we take this?”, because I knew that even if I would get it right, I wasn’t yet going to know how to do it all correctly.  I knew that I was going to be changed musically after playing these tones, and that also the group was going to change a little bit.  I just dove in.  I remember this feeling of finding each other and calibrating our brain cells musically, so that the modern music we play doesn’t sound too modern.  We take the old masters with us.

AVZ: In the same way as Christine and Elliot paint a picture of a musical cell from which things that we nurture grow, I also see it as a very important cell that honors our tradition because that is also where a lot of things for our instrument started. 

WZ:  Have your interpretations of Bach evolved over the years?

KDC: Yes absolutely.  The “evolution”, if one wants to use that word, as to how this tradition, vis-à-vis Mr. Raschèr and the RSQ has interpreted Bach over the years, has certainly been dynamic.  One should remember that when Mr. Raschèr received the suggestion from Georg Walter about playing Bach, Bach’s music was and has traditionally been performed in conjunction with the corresponding historical musical currents.  That would explain some of the reasons why Mr. Raschèr interpreted Bach and Händel the way he did, and why the RSQ in the seventies and eighties interpreted that music the way they did.  In the eighties and nineties there was a big revival in baroque performance practice, and one cannot ignore the wonderful artists that have performed this music on period instruments and adhere to certain accepted “rules” of how baroque music is to be performed.  They do a wonderful job, and it would be silly not to pay attention to these artists for whom this music is “daily bread.”  Since they put it onstage more often than even we do, it would be unwise to ignore their results and their product.  That was a big issue with me when I joined the quartet.  I wanted to explore how best to incorporate these elements of baroque performance practice while still maintaining the traditions the RSQ has always brought to the music of Bach and others from that era.  For example, a standard baroque rule that one often hears is that it’s the gesture more than the line.  Now one can and should debate that “rule”, but a big part of the RSQ’s playing tradition is maintaining longer musical phrases.  I can remember Carina constantly talking about searching for the long line; searching for the goal point in a phrase or in a piece.  That is something that was always very attractive to me when it came to the RSQ’s playing.  One thing that I think this group has tried to figure out are ways to incorporate performance practices that translate well to our instrument, because not everything does. Making the effort of searching for these gestures, while still maintaining that long line; that is not easy. It has been a very challenging process. This is why if you were to listen to us the perform baroque music today, it would sound very different than the way the RSQ interpreted Bach in the eighties.  And that’s fine.  Like I said, our interpretations of the Master’s music has indeed been dynamic, and I make no apologies for that.  It makes interpreting Bach’s music very interesting and very lively for us.  It’s also a reflection on how we interpret other pieces that come our way. 

WZ:  So how do you answer a purist who says you shouldn’t play Bach on a saxophone because there was no saxophone in Bach’s time.

 

KDC:  I answer it this way.  I have a lot of skepticism when it comes to ideological purists, in pretty much any topic, whether it be music, politics, religion or philosophy.  I’m HIGHLY suspect of ideological puritanism.  There is a well-known quote from Salman Rushdie in which he talks about the apostles of purity historically wreaking havoc on mere mixed-up human beings.  Now I don’t believe that ideological puritanism is something that should be ignored outright.  If there is a wonderful interpreter of Bach who really breathes life into that music and also holds puritanically rigid ideas about whether or not this music should be played on modern instruments, that’s fine.  That is their opinion.  That is not going to be my driving force as to whether or not I play the music.  I think that we are an advancing people and an advancing society, and that this is an advancing instrument.  If we spent all our time letting our actions be dictated by ideological purists, then I think the instrument would be nowhere right now.  

CR: Moreover, The Art of the Fugue was not written for a specific instrument anyway, so in that sense it can theoretically be played on any instrument. My personal take is that if somebody thinks that it shouldn’t be played on saxophone, then that’s fine with me and he just doesn’t have to listen.  

WZ:  Don’t you think in a way that even though there were no saxophones at the time, playing the music of Bach on the saxophone embraces the spirit of the Baroque period, in the sense that composers in that time wrote and arranged music for whatever instruments happened to be available? Even Bach arranged many of his own works for instruments other than what they were originally intended.  So this music is not always as instrument-specific as music from later time periods.

ER: I always feel that Bach is like the musical bible for musicians.  His music connects all musicians, and we should be allowed to explore all possibilities in order to search for the secrets held within. It also provides a neutral ground when demonstrating our instrument to composers. Some composers tend to get distracted when listening to the music of their colleagues. However, if one plays a Bach fugue, then it’s a masterpiece by someone who has been dead for so long that other composers tend to not mind.

 

WZ:  Do you often play transcriptions of works from other master composers from earlier periods? 

CR: Yes, but rarely. Usually when we play composers from another era it’s connected to a festival that wants to honor a certain anniversary, like the “Oboe Quartet” by Mozart that Ken arranged. That arrangement was initiated by one festival that wanted to honor the Mozart year. Since then we’ve played it quite a bit because we found it to be a successful piece in this constellation.  Also, we really love to perform the “Winterreise”. Once again that is something that Ken arranged, and we have done that on occasion.  

KDC:  We are also diving into a good deal of Bela Bartok’s music now thanks to some wonderful arrangements that Andreas has made.  The difficulty with playing music originally written for instruments that are not the saxophone is that the further away you get from say, standard baroque instruments or early classical instruments, then the more difficult it is for a particular tonal color or particular compositional playing technique to transfer to the instrument.  You must use a lot of taste, a lot of intelligence and a lot of careful observation to find out what transfers and what doesn’t.  That’s difficult and that is what often goes into the decision making. Do we play this piece from Schubert?  From Bartok, or from Dvorak?.  Not everything from Mozart is going to translate very well on four saxophones, regardless of how much and what type of dexterity we have in our sounds and technique. 

AVZ:  Exactly. To “translate” is actually the key word here.  It is very just that Ken words it that way because when you make a transcription, you could just look at the theoretical tessitura of an instrument and then transfer that one line to that tessitura.  But this is quite an unintelligent way to write an arrangement. For me it is more about honoring that original medium, and then making the other medium that you’re writing for sound the best that it can. Not all music is suitable to do that.  In the case of Bartok, he wrote many of his works with a very specific, number of voices, as he did in his Mikrokosmos, which is part of the reason why it translates well to the saxophone quartet.  But still, there is a lot of decision making involved in this process of translation.

KDC:  And I’ll say it because he won’t: Those are just masterful arrangements of Bartok that he’s making. 

WZ:  Would you say that playing music of Bach and other masters influences the way that you interpret new music?

KDC: Absolutely.  There are schools of thought in the saxophone world that that draw a fairly big line of demarcation between what is considered to be traditional, classical works for the saxophone -- that doesn’t only include transcriptions but also works from the early part of the 20thcentury -- and modern contemporary music.  Often within that school of thought there is no bridge between those two categories. Although I’m certainly willing to listen to and consider other people’s opinions on the matter, I strongly disagree with that mindset.  I think that when interpreting and performing contemporary music, it is helpful to have an idea of Bach’s counterpoint, or the instrumentation choices that Brahms, Schubert or Mahler and other masters used in their works.  It brings much more imagination and knowledge to the ways that we interpret Xenakis, Kaipainen, Gubaibulina and Kagel.  

AVZ: The keyword there is structure.  The way these compositions are structured schools us in finding the structure of a new piece of contemporary music, in order to use that as a framework to convey the message that the composer wants the audience to receive.

WZ:  How lively is the interest for new music in Germany and in other parts of the world where you perform, and have you observed any changes positively or negatively over the years?  

CR: it’s obvious that there is much more interest and support for modern music here in Germany than in many other parts of the world. Not only in Germany but in many European countries, one finds a focus on modern music through festivals and financial support. However, it’s important that everybody who likes modern music makes sure that this support continues.  One big and very sad example is the merger of the SWR Symphony Orchestra of Freiburg/Baden Baden and the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra. That was a big shock in the modern music world.  In this light, nobody should take the support of modern music for granted.  And yes, there are certain countries were playing modern music is very difficult and where the audience is not as accepting. However, many European countries support festivals that focus specifically on modern music.  There are wonderful festivals here such as the Donaueschinger Musiktage.  Also, in Scandinavia we find that new music is enthusiastically supported. We have lots of friends, orchestras and choirs there who are very happy to support new works. 

KDC:  It’s not a coincidence that a healthy chunk of the RSQ’s repertoire, as well as Sigurd Rascher’s came out of Scandinavian countries.  Those lands have always had a very lively approach to contemporary music; especially in a country like Finland.  I remember when I first came to Europe, one of the first tours that I made with the RSQ was through Finland.  That was February of 93 and back then Finland and was going through many financial and economic difficulties.  The Soviet Union had just collapsed, and they were a significant trading partner with Finland.  The Finnish economy suffered noticeably for some years afterwards.  However, they made a big effort to keep their cultural traditions going; especially in terms of music.  The Sibelius Academy has a long tradition of producing some of the world’s most prominent conductors and composers. All those great conductors that came out of Panula’s studio.  Salonen, Oramo, Lintu, Franck, etc. Many of the more significant new music composers of our time came out of Finland. Aho, Magnus Lindberg, Saariaho, Kaipainen etc. For such a tiny country population-wise, that is a very impressive record of results and it continues to this day. In America right now, you have many brilliant conductors of major orchestras who are Finns, and that’s no accident.  The culture and the musical training that happens in that sparsely populated country has blessed the world with its musical expertise, wisdom and gifts. 

WZ: Saxophonists reading this interview might be interested in the instruments you play.  What equipment do you use and why?

CR: When I was nine years old I had my very first saxophone lesson with Carina Rascher.  She of course didn’t give me a Buescher and a Raschèr mouthpiece right away, but very soon thereafter she set me up with that equipment.  I never had a reason to doubt it, as I preferred to work on myself rather than the equipment.  I decided that I liked the setup, and therefore to stick with it. 

WZ: What about it do you find so appealing?

CR:  My mom used to always say that when she listened to me she loved particularly the sound.  She described it as a “schwebende Klang”, but more than that it was something very specific.  I guess I am describing a soul belonging to the kind of sound that we can get on these instruments.  When we all four play on them, it is very easy to make chamber music and get a beautiful sound.  I just think one of the most amazing things is when you listen to the RSQ’s recording of “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied”.  When you hear that for the first time it’s just heavenly music and it really sounds breathtaking.  

KDC:  I also play a Buescher horn (Big B Aristocrat, ca. 1949) and a Buescher mouthpiece.  I use Vandoren reeds, strength 5 throughout most of the year and strength 4 during the winter months.  It’s an instrument combination that basically follows the commands that I give it.  I searched a long time for a tool to help me produce a sound that I thought was aesthetically pleasing.  It allows me to be very flexible in a variety of ways that I need for the RSQ and for my own individual playing.  I think back to something that happened when the quartet played with the orchestra in Sevilla.  A student at the conservatory where we were giving a master class came up to me and asked, “How is it possible to play Xenakis on these old instruments?”  I was really taken aback by the question, for while I wasn’t in the room when the RSQ met and played for Xenakis, his exposure to the saxophone was through those four crazy people who were playing these old instruments.  That was the sound he knew.  That was the sound that he wrote for.  That was the sound that he imagined taking in different directions. The question was a bit surprising and a little disappointing.  Obviously it’s a fair question for a student to ask, but it also gives me a window into what is being taught.  Of course it’s possible for us to play Xenakis and other modern music on these instruments.  In fact, a lot of these modern quartet masterpieces were written for these instruments and people should not forget that.  Or, if it happens to be new information for some people, then it’s probably time to get oneself better informed.  

ER:  I play on a Buescher saxophone and a Buescher mouthpiece that my father refaced.  He was my first teacher and happens to be very gifted in mouthpiece work.  I always feel the need to mention that because by the time he finished with his work, I had a mouthpiece that is very tailor-made to how I like to express myself.  Regarding the Buescher: when I was younger I had a Martin saxophone that I really loved. One day I remember my father telling me in the car that it was time to look for another instrument.  When I asked him why, he replied that he felt like I was starting to surpass what this particular instrument was able to give me.  One never wants that.  You always want to feel like the instrument is just waiting for you and that it can do more things than you can actually imagine. The minute you feel like it’s no longer that way and that you’re being hindered by the instrument is when it’s time to go shopping. I play on number five reeds since I made the move to Germany.

 

AVZ:  I play a Buescher Aristocrat I with a Buescher mouthpiece, going back and forth between 5s and 4s.  My instrument is from the late thirties. It is actually only a couple of months older than Elliot’s.  Just as I am only a couple of months older than he is.

 

WZ: For a lot of saxophonists the reeds you’re playing on might seem hard, but what some people might not realize is that the facings tend to be somewhat more closed on the mouthpieces that you use, right?

AVZ:  Yes, it should never feel too hard or unresponsive.  It’s a balance which is something that I especially like about these instruments. A good balance gives you a lot of room to sculpt the tone the way you want, which is a luxurious feeling.  It should never feel like your head is going to explode!

 

WZ:  Do you think there’s a misconception in the saxophone world that because the instruments are older, they are somehow antiquated and incapable keeping up with modern instruments?  I’ve heard them referred to as “Amish-o-phones" or something, and they call those who play them the Amish of the saxophone world.

(laughs from all)

 

AVZ: You can play everything you want on any instrument; you just have to practice. Sometimes with my students, I play an early 20th century recording of a saxophone player and then hand them a saxophone from that time period to play that exact piece. You would be astonished by how high the level of playing at that time was!  But really with these instruments, they’re not so Amish as you would think.

 

KDC:  And again, in this instance as well, I am not an ideological purist.  Obviously, I have my preferences.  But my tonal needs are often dependent on the tonal needs of a composer’s work.  I absolutely do believe that the saxophone is a developing instrument.  I love the Adolphe Sax instruments.  They play wonderfully and it’s a good mini window into that particular era.  I can’t really imagine playing a lot of the repertoire that I have to perform on say, Andreas’s wonderful Adolphe Sax baritone.  I’m more than willing to acknowledge that there are positive instrumental developments that have happened over the lifespan of the saxophone. Yet there are developments about which I have big doubts.  There are developments that have maybe placed a bit too much emphasis on making something easier rather than better.  There’s an Austrian philosopher who talks about the difficulties of advancements in one direction, while causing regressions in another.  I fear that a number of these “developments”, especially many things that are happening nowadays, have actually taken away from many of the wonderful qualities that I think the saxophone has and needs. People are certainly free to disagree with that assessment, and that’s fine.  I spend a good deal of time playing and testing modern instruments. I live, play and teach in the modern world, and I need to know about these things.  I find there is something that is tonally missing from many modern horns, and I say that with all due respect to the great work that a lot of instrument makers are achieving.  However, for my own preferences and needs I’ve just not found anything that equals what I am playing right now.   

 

WZ:  What is it? Is it the sound more than anything?  

 

KDC:  The sound obviously plays an important role.

 

AVZ:  Feel. Also.

 

KDC:  Feel is a good one.  Quite frankly playing a modern, low A baritone for me is just cumbersome and noisy. There are so many added keys and so much added metal.  I’m convinced that the elongation of the tube to include a low A does funny things acoustically to the bore, which makes many things more difficult than they are on the instrument that I play.  What I love about the Buescher Big-B that I use is that it melds “modern” key work with more traditional and flexible tonal properties.  That flexibility is crucial for the type of work that I do.  

 

AVZ: An interesting development has also been a change in mouthpiece volume regarding the truncated volume of the saxophone. If you look at the theoretical “point zero” of the combination of the saxophone’s conicities, the truncated volume is found between this point zero and the opening of the neck. The volume of this theoretical cone should be corresponding to the mouthpiece chamber. This is very much in balance with these instruments, hence the large chamber.  I like that balance and how it feels.  

 

CR:  One more thing to mention is that there are that many symphony orchestras in Germany in which we fortunately have the honor and pleasure to play very often as extra musicians.  It is always helpful to take a step back and not only exchange opinions with saxophone players, but also to have other musicians listen to what one is doing.   I guess it’s no coincidence that lots of orchestras tell us that they have trouble finding saxophone players who fit well into the symphony orchestra.  Over the last decade we have developed relationships with orchestras that we are happy to work with, and they also express that they are very happy that they have us.  One example is in Donuaeschingen, where the Tage für neue Musiktakes place.  It is there that the newest works for symphony orchestra are premiered, and nine years out of ten there is saxophone involved. Fortunately, we are called to play there, so it’s obvious that even with the most modern works they like to work with us.  They probably don’t even know what kind of instruments we use.  But they like the flexibility and the sound. Clearly this doesn’t stand in the way.     

 

WZ:  I appreciate you talking about this.  The jazz world seems to have a healthy attitude about set-ups. They choose instruments (modern or vintage) that best suit their individual tastes, and no one really cares one way or the other.  I like that approach and take the same with my own students. A few years ago, when I interviewed Sonny Rollins, he laughed at the idea that some classical players scoff at playing modern music on vintage instruments.  It just didn’t make sense to him. He also pointed out his affinity for Buescher saxophones. In fact, he played one for a time early in his career. When I asked him just what it was that he liked he said, “I find the Buescher amenable to the development of a personal sound.” A great attitude by a great artist!

 

KDC:  An example of a saxophone studio with a wide variety of instruments, different backgrounds, different mouthpieces; with people playing Buescher instruments with open-chamber mouthpieces at a very high level of competency, to people playing Buffet instruments with Vandoren mouthpieces at a very high level of competency, is Andreas’ studio at the Fontys Conservatory in Tilburg.  It’s a true melting pot of ideas.  You have people in quartets playing different instruments and figuring out ways to make it work in a very musically satisfying way. In my opinion it’s tragic that there are not more programs and studios that operate in this manner.  When I was studying at Florida State there were many students playing different makes of instruments.  I never knew Patrick Meighan to be unwelcoming to a different way of performing provided it was of a high musical quality.  If I had a wish, then I’d love to see more studios take a healthier and more open attitude to a variety of different musical opinions and approaches.  I think that ideological purity in that respect has done the saxophone absolutely no favors.    

 

AVZ:  In regard to this purity: One can learn something, analyzing it to the bone, and become very good at that one, particular thing. It’s going to be ever so more enlightening if you look at the same thing from a different perspective in order to understand how it works.  This makes you a much more intelligent person, also emotionally.  From that openness one can benefit much without losing any sense of purity.  I really think we can relax a bit when it comes to that.  One does not negate the other.  You can have a very open mind and still be very comfortable in a way that you’ve found for yourself.  You can express your own voice, because that’s what it’s about.  That’s what it was about for Adolphe Sax, and that is what it’s about for young people striving to be good saxophone players: Finding your own voice.  

 

WZ:  Aside from chamber recitals, quartet concertos, concerts with choir, what are some of your other musical endeavors, as a group or individually? And are there any new paths for the RSQ?

 

CR:  I think something that will develop more is attaching certain dramatic aspects and maybe also some dance to the works that already exist.  Or even creating new works which include different forms of expressive art.  Lera Auerbach’s “72 Angels”, will soon have a counter piece which will ultimately be entitled “Goitia” for string quartet and choir. The result will be a big composition combining both works:  the “72 Angels and Demons”.  Individually, aside from performing in symphony orchestras, I have a duo with my colleague Juris Teichmanis, who is a fantastic cellist.  We just had our first piece written for us by Tobias PM Schneid, “Pas de deux”, which is a very beautiful piece.

 

AVZ:  That is a great piece; a real addition to the repertoire!  Two years ago, we also did a cooperation with trumpet player Markus Stockhausen. Obviously, he grew up with his father’s (Karl-Heinz Stockhausen) music as well as other great composers surrounding him.  He is also a very accomplished improviser. We did a project where we worked with him on his so-called “Intuitive Music”.  That was a very interesting experience for us, which will allow us to find new depths in the contemporary music that we play. Also, like Ken mentioned I am professor of classical saxophone at the Fontys Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Tilburg.  I also enjoy playing recitals with pianist Martien Maas. In these programs I present historic instruments from my collection, ranging from Adolphe Sax and Sax Jr, to the great instruments from the 1920s and beyond.  I also make a point of playing new works for tenor saxophone and piano because I feel that particular field in the repertoire could also use a little bit of a boost.

 

KDC: One thing that has been very exciting for me personally has been working with two German jazz artists, Steffen Schorn and Roger Hanschel.  Last year we made a recording with them which should be released soon.  We’re very fortunate because both Roger and Steffen are rather accomplished composers. We’re still maintaining our roles as “classical” musicians although there are certainly influences from that particular genre of music that find their way into this combination.  This sextetthat we’ve formed is a tremendously exciting mix!   Andreas is playing tenor, sometimes Bass or C-melody.  Steffen is playing tenor, sub contra Tubax, and Baritone.  Roger plays alto, sopranino, and F-mezzo.  And Elliot’s doing crazy things with his soprano double tonguing.  It’s a very modern project, and I’m curious to see, hear and experience the directions that we’ll eventually take this combination when we begin to explore compositional voices apart from the amazing music that Steffen and Roger have written.  I’ve been in touch with quite a few contemporary composers who are VERY excited to work with this combination and the challenges that it presents.  Also, this is a fairly unique experiment.  I know that there are other groups that invite prominent jazz artists to perform with them, however from my perspective this is quite a bit different from those endeavors.  Obviously, Steffen and Roger, who are world class improvisers, display those talents.  However, it’s absolutely not an open jam session.  What we do within this combination is compositionally very structured. Roger and Steffen also happen to share our love for vintage instruments and the tonal flexibilities that they offer. It’s been both personally fulfilling as well as hugely enlightening to make music with them.  

 

WZ:So much to look forward to…It sounds like the RSQ isn’t slowing down at all, even after fifty years! 

 

CR:  Not at all.

 

ER:  It’s a lot of pressure.  I mean we don’t want it to slow down on our clock.  

 

WZ:  If you could choose one or two favorites from each decade what pieces come to mind?

 

CR:  From the seventies I think the “Rondo” by Zdenek Lukas would be my favorite.  Then in the eighties it’s tough because there are so many fantastic works and I still think that that’s probably the most phenomenal phase of the quartet.  But very personally, I always loved the Tristan Keuris.  That really kept me alive even in the biggest times of doubting myself; wondering if I should stick to my plans and dreams.  The Keuris was a very inspiring piece for me.  From the nineties, I think Gubaidulina’s “In Erwartung” needs to be mentioned as well as Anders Nilsson’s “Concerto Grosso”.  From the 2000s it’s Brett Dean’s “Water Music”.  I think he’s a phenomenal composer and what a very fine work he’s written for us! There are many pieces after 2010 that have been written, but right now the “72 Angels” for mixed choir and saxophone quartet by Lera Auerbach is a real masterwork and is following us around Europe, and hopefully soon the entire world.  It’s a very important piece. It’s especially great to work with Lera because she’s such a phenomenal artist. It’s a 90 minute, full evening’s worth of music.  Really fantastic!  

 

ER:  I start with the 1960s, even though the RSQ was founded right at the end of that decade.  At the beginning they took the ”Gleanings from Six Centuries” collection, and used that as kind of a musical backbone to develop a sound that would be attractive to composers.  There are two pieces from “Gleanings” that for me are very special.  One, arranged by Kenneth Deans, who was a good friend of my father’s, is the “Morning Prayer” from Tchaikovsky.  Another is the “Hebrew Tunes” that Bruce arranged.  They’re wonderful gems; small portals into the past. For the seventies I would also name the Lukas and Erland von Koch.  For the eighties I would say Tristan Keuris and also Miklos Maros’ saxophone quartet. Miklós has written many works for the saxophone.  He’s been a fantastic friend to our instrument and has employed such a limitless vision of what the saxophone can do.  For the nineties I love Charles Wuorinen’s Quartet, and also Jouni Kaipainen’s milestone concerto.  I think both of these take one on an incredible journey.  For the early 2000s I would also say Brett Dean’s “Water Music” with orchestra.  In 2008 Kalevi Aho composed “The Bells” and that’s a piece that speaks very strongly to me. I’ll include two things from the current decade.  One has been mentioned; the “72 Angels”.  There’s just nothing like it.  And, we have so much to thank Bruce for because the entire project was his brainchild. Bringing this piece to the earth with Lera has been a wonderful experience!  And now, just as I went back into the past before the quartet was founded, I’m going into future and will place my bets on a piece that’s being written right now by a friend of ours, Bernhard Gander, who writes incredible “classical” music.  He’s also a metal guy.  He’s bringing, in a certain way, Heavy Metal in the form of a lot of drive and passionate writing to the RSQ, and I know in my heart that he will write a beautiful piece for us. 

 

AVZ:  Interestingly enough the pieces that my colleagues name are also the pieces that I have on my own list: seventies, Zdenek Lukas, “Rondo”, which is incidentally one of the first pieces that I ever played with the quartet.  From the eighties, absolutely Tristan Keuris, which I don’t know if I’ve mentioned, but he’s actually Dutch.  

 

WZ:  No, I had no idea...  (Laughs)

 

AVZ:  That’s just such a great piece.  From the nineties, there is a piece by Pehr Henrik Nordgren, “Concerto” for saxophone quartet, strings and gong, which back then made a huge impression on me.  From the 2000s, absolutely Brett Dean’s “Water Music”, which was one of the first pieces that I performed with the quartet and orchestra, and which kept me pretty busy.  And from this decade, the “72 Angels”.  A very special work!

 

KDC:  My piece from the seventies is the von Koch “Miniatyrer”.  During my studies I thought that I knew how it should sound.  The first time I heard the RSQ performing it was like going to school. It was a wakeup call for me as to how ignorant I was, and I knew then that there was another standard out there that needed to be achieved.  The eighties were an amazing time for the RSQ!  So much of the great repertoire which is still in our active, working repertoire, as well as the repertoire of other ensembles, comes from directly from that period.   Keuris, Xenakis, Maros, Lefanu…it’s an awesomely rich period from the RSQ’s history. However the piece that really sticks out from that period for me, and a work that continually educates me musically, culturally and philosophically is Luciano Berio’s  Canticum novissimi testamenti, written for the London Voices and the RSQ.  Not taking anything away from the wonderful composers who wrote for the RSQ in the eighties, for it’s certainly an All-Star group, but Berio was definitely something special, and that the RSQ played a very significant role in introducing Berio’s music to the saxophone world is a hugely important milestone in the history of our instrument.  That was also a project that at the time when they were putting it together, really involved a Dream-Team of musicians.  Pierre Boulez conducted the premiere with the RSQ and the London Voices who are an amazing vocal ensemble!  I had the honor of recording it with Semyon Bychkov.  Also, it opened the doors to many wonderful composers who wrote for the RSQ and voices in subsequent years.  In the nineties the first composer that I got to visit and play for after moving to Germany was Sofia Gubaidulina.  We were on tour in North Germany and she invited us into her home outside of Hamburg.  I remember getting to sit at the piano that Rostropovich had gifted to her.  We spent several hours playing for her and trying out different tonal ideas. The result of that meeting was “In Erwartung” which she composed for the RSQ and the Kroumata Percussion Ensemble.  Working with Sofia and those amazing percussionists was a special time for me, Carina, Bruce and Harry.  She was at all the rehearsals and many of the early performances.  A very gentle yet intense woman!  I’m absolutely convinced that she’s hearing and experiencing sounds and music in a way that most of us simply are not.  And I can’t leave that decade without mentioning Jouni Kaipainen’s “Vernal Concerto”.  In my own estimation his immense composition may stand above the entire catalogue of works written for the saxophone and orchestra; solo or quartet.  It’s the closest thing we have to compare with a work like Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”.  I hope that Jouni will eventually be recognized as the isignificant musical voice of the late 20th, early 21st Century that I believe him to be. In the first decade of the 2000s I have two works that are particularly special for me.  One is Mathew Rosenblum’s “Möbius Loop” which is a tremendous work for the RSQ’s repertoire.  Also, my personal friendship and admiration for Mathew resulted in a Double Concertothat he composed for me the wonderful percussionist Lisa Peger.  Mathew composes with an ultra-modern musical voice, yet it’s very accessible.  He composes earworms, both melodically, harmonically and rhythmically.  My personal favorite from the RSQ’s repertoire is Mauricio Kagel’s “Les Inventions d' Adolphe Sax” for saxophone quartet and mixed choir. It’s another one of those works that teaches me something new every time I revisit it.  It’s also wickedly funny!  Achieving humor and irony in a work of music is no easy task.  It requires real genius, and Kagel most certainly was such a composer.  From the last decade, my colleagues have already spoken at length about Lera Auerbach’s “72 Angels” which has definitely raised the bar for compositions in the saxophone world.  I also must mention Fazil Say’s “Preludes” for saxophone quartet and orchestra.  I love the association that this work has with many great literary gems.  It’s very modern, yet very catchy in its musical impact.   

 

WZ: There’s a performance on Youtube, right?

 

KDC:  Yes, with the Hessische Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester.  It’s a rather different compositional style than Kaipainen, which is like a jet-engine coming at you.  Fazil’s music is modern and at the same time very catchy.  Especially from a rhythmical aspect.  When I play it, I almost want to dance to it.    

 

WZ:  Reflecting on your predecessors, how have the various personalities in the group influenced the sound, style and success of the

RSQ?

 

AVZ:  In the RSQ, there is always room for everyone’s musical thoughts on many levels, which is something to treasure. In that respect, everyone’s contributions will shape the sound and future of the group.  Immense gratitude, respect and inspiration is what I feel when I think about my predecessors.

 

CR: Since the beginning of the RSQ’s time, Carina Raschèr has captivated ears with a beautifully floating, velvety soprano saxophone sound, and her alto saxophone playing has always possessed its own unique voice in and of itself.  I had saxophone lessons with her since I played my very first tones, and her influence is obvious.  I always strive to sound like her. 

I would also like to especially mention my dear colleague, Bruce Weinberger.  I was able to profit immensely from his mammoth musicality and experience through the twelve years that I got to play at his side in the RSQ.  I am reminded constantly of how he would sing the one or other passage, or of his demonstrations of an absolute feeling for pacing and transitions.  For me, these qualities form a bridge to all other constellations of the RSQ up through 2014.

The RSQ has Bruce to thank for so many of its successes; his untiring and imaginative vision remains to this day beyond all comparison.

 

KDC: The first thing I want to say is that with the utmost respect for any of my university mentors as well as for my current RSQ mentors, if I have any musical abilities or value at all today, then it is because of the 10,000 hours that I spent together with Carina, Harry and Bruce.  No ten college degrees can ever equal what I learned from those three and the effect that they had on my own musical, cultural and personal awareness and development.  However, the three people that I would like to focus on are Linda, John and Bruce. My perspective comes not only from being a member of this ensemble but also from being a fan of the RSQ and of the tradition Mr. Rascher established and developed.   Prior to my own membership in the RSQ, my discovery of this ensemble was musically and life altering.  One reason is Linda Bangs and her artistry.  Linda has a sheer, resonant presence in her sound that is amazingly captivating.  As a student I was mostly into jazz music and I religiously followed jazz greats like Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, and Nick Brignola.  But there was one big difference between studying those artists and studying Linda.  While I was definitely interested in WHAT they were all playing, when it came to Linda I was simply fascinated by HOW she was playing.  Linda has an enviable rhythmic and melodic flare, brilliant virtuosity and a sound that is totally bewitching.  I don’t think that any quartet ever had that type of foundation on that voice before Linda came along.  As to John and Bruce, I truly believe that the RSQ has had the incredible fortune to have three very unique and special personalities and artists as its members: SMR, John Edward Kelly and Bruce Weinberger. These are three men of incredible will, tireless dedication to music and the saxophone and amazingly deep musical minds and souls.  All three took their awesome talents, creative fantasies and budding careers into their own hands and in the spirit of true visionary entrepreneurship did incredible things and made lasting contributions for our instrument and for music.  I personally believe that the RSQ and the medium of the saxophone quartet in general has John and Bruce to thank for it becoming a highly respected institution in the concertizing world, and every saxophonist should say a daily “Thank You” to those two for making our musical lives so much richer.   

RSQ Reunion