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8 November 2016

Nexas Quartet: Australian sounds for saxophones (and bicycle bells)

The Nexas Quartet Image: The Nexas Quartet  

The Nexas Saxophone Quartet launches their new CD at the end of this month, with works by Matthew Hindson, Elena Kats-Chernin, Matthew Orlovich, Daniel Rojas and Lachlan Skipworth. Samuel Cottell talked to the Quartet and found out about the music. The CD launch concert, featuring the works discussed in this article, will take place in Sydney on 29 November. This article was originally published in the Fine Music magazine.

Since their inception over twelve years ago, Nexas Quartet (Michael Duke, Andrew Smith, Nathan Henshaw and Jay Byrnes) have premiered countless new Australian works. Their new CD also features an all-Australian program. With music of Elena Kats-Chernin, Matthew Hindson, Matthew Orlovich, Lachlan Skipworth and Daniel Rojas, Current is an eclectic recording showcasing the diverse nature of Australian music - as well as the eclectic and engaging sound of the saxophone quartet.

Nexas first performed Elena Kats-Chernin's From Anna Magdalena's Notebook in Strasbourg at the World Saxophone Congress in 2015. Originally written for string quartet, Kats-Chernin adapted the work for Nexas. 'This offers a fresh take on one of Elena's most popular works and also explores new possibilities of timbre and enhanced dramatic effects', says Andrew Smith. (Nexas has a strong association with Elena Kats-Chernin, with Michael Duke also premiering her saxophone concerto Macquarie's Castle with the Sydney Conservatorium Orchestra last April.).

In 2014, Nexas teamed up with Matthew Hindson to present a ballet version of Romeo and Juliet. Nexas loved the piece so much that they asked Hindson to turn it into a suite. The result Scenes from Romeo and Juliet was premiered earlier this year.

'In this piece, I tried to use some aspects of Elizabethan dance forms mixed in with my more contemporary dance responses. It is still always classical music, however. My hope is that the music sounds very emotive of the drama and action implicit in the story', Hindson says. Scenes from Romeo and Juliet is divided into six movements, each depicting aspects of the characters and the drama of the narrative.

Lachlan Skipworth wrote Dark Nebulae while he was based in Germany, and the work differs somewhat from his typical musical style. 'Dark Nebulae alludes to deep space and dark matter. That's why the sound world for it is based upon multiphonics and these slowly evolving musical lines that emerge from nowhere and from within each other', says Andrew Smith. 'There is this cluster of sound. This is probably the most "out there" piece on the recording', he adds.

Matthew Orlovich's new work Slipstream was also written for Nexas. The three-movement work starts with a fanfare introduction with an up-tempo lively feeling, and the second moment is a 'split personality', with two types of character juxtaposed - a funky character and a straight-faced character, as the composer has written - before the race to the finish line in the third movement.

'The jostling counterpoint and textural ideas in my score are inspired by the art of slipstreaming, or drafting, as it is known in cycling parlance. Between the saxophone quartet world and the world of cycling, there are parallels to be found, not the least of which are the pursuit of precision teamwork and a love for "the thrill of the ride"', says Orlovich. There is also a bicycle bell featured in this work.

Daniel Rojas, known for his energetic and Latin American-influenced music, demonstrates a tender and lyrical side to his compositional style in Little Serenade. He has written of his piece: 'Little Serenade is my homage to our memories of childhood. The contrasting middle movement, "Nostalgia", is a bittersweet tribute to an innocence that dissolved long ago; vague traces of those childhood joys and tears, however, are etched into the delicate fabric of adult life.' For this recording, the slow movement 'Nostalgia' has been arranged and adapted by Jay Byrnes of the Nexas Quartet.

'The translation from strings to saxophone often works quite well, and this piece is quite effective for a saxophone quartet,' says Byrnes. 'The biggest challenge in arranging this was capturing the harmonies and nuances from the eight parts of the string orchestra to only four parts for the quartet.'

The pieces on this album are all substantial works that we feel very passionate about, Byrnes says. 'One of our aims is to bridge the divide between the intensely challenging contemporary works as well as the more accessible, and find a middle ground. So that there's something in there for everyone', adds Andrew Smith.

Further links

Nexas Quartet - homepage (http://nexasquartet.com/)

Nexas Quartet CD launch event in the Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House on 29 November (AMC Calendar)

Samuel Cottell is a pianist, arranger, composer, music journalist and writer.


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