Four Saxophones at Epiphany Church – The Zzyzx Quartet

First, it’s pronounced Zeizix.  Second, there is actually a Zzyzx, California.  Who knew?  (You all knew?)

Second, they were terrific, and I have to admit I didn’t know what I was expecting.

There are four saxophones in the quartet – soprano, alto, tenor and baritone.  Their play together was seamless.

They started with a transcribed version of Handel’s “Arrival of the Queen of  Sheba” from the oratorio, “Solomon”.  Now, Handel never heard of saxophones, which weren’t invented for another 150 years, and if he hadn’t, clearly neither Solomon or the Queen of Sheba (she must have had a name, although I don’t think anyone knows what it was – in fact, they don’t even know where Sheba was) had ever heard the sound of a saxophone.  But I can tell you this.  The queen would have been ecstatic to have been welcomed by Zzyzx and four trombones.

Next came Jean-Baptiste Singelee’s Premier Quatuor.  I had never heard of the composer or, obviously, the piece.  It turns out, though, that Singelee was a close friend of inventor Adolphe Sax, and that this was the first quarter ever written for saxophones and for their inventor.  And, if the Queen of Sheba would have been happy, I assume that Adolphe Sax was also happy.  A piece with contrasting movements – elegiac, and then quick.  And interesting historically.  (Sax, by the way, got his patent for the saxophone in the 1840s, and he apparently built a number of saxophones – perhaps as many as seven – at different pitches, so this quartet was possible at this early date.)

Three more pieces – John Mackey’s “Unquiet Spirits” II and III, which Zzyzx commissioned and which, although I can’t say that I particularly liked the piece, did sound like (very) unquiet spirits.  Then Jean Francaix’s “Petit Quartuor”, a brisk, light twentieth century piece which ends with a “serenade comique”.  And finally Marc-Andre Hamelin’s “Etude IV”, which has a history that I didn’t quite follow from the introductory explanation – it was adapted from another composer’s work, where two etudes were combined into one, and then it was transcribed for four saxophones.  This one, by the way, you can listen to on YouTube, played by Zzyzx.

Hope they come back soon.


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