The saxophone quartet that became known as Saxophilia came into being in August 1996. The impulse to form the quartet came from Colin MacDonald and Julia Nolan. Both wanted to explore quartet repertoire and perform with a group that had some chance of permanence. David Branter and Tony Sheppard rounded out the group. In 2014, Tony was replaced on alto saxophone by Kris Covlin.
From the beginning the quartet explored little-known repertoire. In the summer of 1996 MacDonald and Nolan had chosen a piece, Stub, by the British composer Graham Fitkin for the group’s first program. Attracted by intense and apparently endless melody as well as energetic minimalist rhythms they had not noticed the extreme rhythmic and stamina demands. So, birthed in the crucible of Stub the quartet worked towards its first series of concerts in the fall of 1996.
From then to the present day Saxophilia has followed a rather eclectic path, performing traditional repertoire, as in a 2007 excursion into classic French pieces, lighter music for different concert contexts such as those sponsored by HealthArts, plus the continued involvement in new music including premiering commissioned works.
This recording represents the best of twenty years of devotion to newly-created Canadian works. It was an intensely prepared labour of love for Saxophilia. We think it contains some of the strongest pieces composed for saxophone quartet in the 21st Century, encompassing widely varying approaches to the capabilities of the saxophone quartet. Explore and enjoy!
Peter Hannan has background in traditional orchestral performance (as a French horn player) in early music (as a recorder virtuoso) and new music (in both conventional instrumental/vocal and computer-generated contexts). He has devoted much of his creative career to works for the stage such as his 120 Songs after the Marquis de Sade of 2003
Fast Truck Bop however is written for saxophone quartet in conventional notation unadorned by computer-generated sounds or any other media. It was commissioned in 1998 by the Forty Fingers Saxophone Quartet. The piece’s core genesis was in music Hannan wrote for a 1998 dance project of the Karen Jamieson Dance Company, a series of site-specific performances called The River. For this project Hannan had recorded traffic sounds and translated those for instrumental performance.
Fast Truck Bop demands exceptional rhythmic precision and tone control with many close-spaced canons, mutli-metre and the meditatively effective (but physically hugely demanding) 4th movement.
Derek Charke is a 2012 Juno award-winning composer for his Reel Variations on a Jig. He has a wide-ranging catalogue that defies categorization. As a professional flute player Charke "hears" wind instruments and this is evident in Last Call. Saxophila premiered this work in 2002. Last Call is a richly harmonized episodic piece that demands nuanced responses from performers regarding phrase and balance. The listener will note a progression from relaxed conversation to intense work out as the piece progresses, ending in an unresolved ‘Why?’ at the end.
Dorothy Chang was awarded the inaugural commission from the Women’s Philharmonic Commissioning Project of “Meet the Composer” in 2008 for which she composed Strange Air. Her works have been performed across North America by symphony orchestras and chamber groups.
Obsess was written for the Chicago saxophone Quartet and premiered by them at the World Saxophone Congress in Minneapolis in 2003. Saxophilia performed it in 2004. In its original form Obsess had three movements. Chang requested that Saxophila record only the first two movements. In this form it is a work of significant contrasts of mood from quiet, introverted reflection to brutal interjections sometimes combining these contrasting moods.
John Burke won the Jules Léger Prize for new chamber music in 1995 for his string quartet. He composes frequently for chamber groups.
Saxophilia was delighted to premier Gyaling in 2004. The piece alludes to sounds and practices of ensembles in the Himalayas but has its own interesting rhythmic and textural complexities. Based fundamentally on a D flat major seven structure, Burke weaves many fascinating textures and moods, ending with a depiction of an ensemble of micro-tonal reed instruments approaching the listener. Gyaling is a unique and powerful work.
Colin MacDonald, a founding member of Saxophilia as mentioned above, has composed a number of solo and chamber works for saxophone including the quartet Prana and solo works Thaumaturgy and Flow Like Water. All of these pieces can be heard on the recording Circle of Wind along with the large ensemble piece Prison of Bone. His latest work The Sky is a Clock for 16 saxophones was premiered as an installation on November 24th 2017 as part of Redshift Music’s series Sonologues with the composer having recorded all 16 parts.
MacDonald also plays with and composes for the Cascadia Reed Quintet and his own Pocket Orchestra.
The Triple Saxophone Quartet was written in 2012 for Saxophilia. Usually performed with one live quartet and two pre-recorded groups, it was performed live by three saxophone quartets in February 2017 at a saxophone conference in Edmonton, Alberta. The piece features recurring, overlapping and intertwining rhythms common to MacDonald’s compositions.