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2017

Amstel Quartet thrills with “Classical Zen”

Saxophone times four

Amstel Quartet thrills with “Classical Zen”

 

Dietrich Buxtehude’s “Te Deum Laudamus” and Thomas Tallis’ Felix Namque reach new sound dimensions that transcend virtuosity - four souls melting into one , diversity becomes unity, unity becomes diversity...Classical Zen was an adventure in sound that took the audience on a long journey. Once back in the Here and Now, one asks oneself where space and time have been in the mean time.

 

 

Reinhard Kalb, Fürther Nachrichten, 13.02.2017

 

Read the full review in german here.

Review of our concert "Classical Zen", Bevern, Germany, January 22nd

Eine Klangreise durch Zeit und Raum. Amstel Quartet begeistert mit musikalischer Perfektion und außergewöhnlichem Programm. Das Amstel Quartet schaffte es mit enormer musikalischer Brillanz, ihre Zuhörer zu fesseln und tatsächlich eine weiten Bogen über fünf Jahrhunderte zu spannen, ohne dass irgendwann der Begriff "Kontrast" eine Rolle spielte. Ein wenig fühlten sich die Hörer an diesem Tag an das Eröffnungskonzert der Elbphilharmonie erinnert, wo ja auch viel Ungewohntes am Ende als vollkommene Einheit empfunden wurde.

A journey through time and space. Amstel Quartet astonishes with musical perfection and an extraordinary program. The quartet manages to mesmerize its audience with sheer musical brillance and builds bridges between five centuries of music history. However, the term "contrast" never came to mind: today's public was somehow reminded of the opening concert of Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie, where the unusual melted into a perfect unity.

Täglicher Anzeiger, Kreis Holzminden, 25.01.17

 

 

 

2016

Die Rheinlandpfalz about our concert in Landau on September 28th

Paul Creston’s Prélude und Rondo wirkten keineswegs antiquiert, so leicht und locker, wie sie das Quartett klingen ließ. Grundlage der entspannt wirkenden, lebhaft und temporeich musizierten Wiedergabe waren die Konzentration und die technische Perfektion der Musiker.

Paul Creston's Prélude and Rondo didn't sound dated at all; the Amstel Quartet made it sound flawless and feather light. At the basis of this seemingly effortless, lively and thriving performance lies the upmost concentation and technical perfection of the musicians.

Die Rheinlandpalz, 30. September 2016

Wagners Ring in 20 Minuten - genial

Münster - Wer den Versuch unternimmt, die Essenz des Wagnerschen Rings in 20 Minuten wiederzugeben, ist entweder total verrückt - oder aber schlichtweg genial.
Münster - if you dare to capture the essence of Wagner's Ring in 20 minutes you are either completely crazy, or just genius.
Stefan Herkenrath, Westfälische Nachrichten, 24. Juli 2016
Read the full review here.

Balm for the soul ... La vie en rose even is a revelation

Dit saxofoonkwartet is balsem voor de ziel

Piafs "La Vie en Rose" is een openbaring. De arrangementen en Elans klassieke voordracht vormen een gelukkig huwelijk.

Zo flauw als die comedy serie 'Allo 'Allo! kon zijn, met zijn melige woordspelingen, zo gracieus is de herkenningstune - mits gespeeld door het Amstel Quartet.

Wie denkt dat het instrument, geassocieerd met die robuuste, ietwat plichtmatige solo's in rocksongs, geen recht kan doen aan een repertoire waarvan elk woordje, elk groot gebaar moet worden verantwoord door la passion, moet maar eens luisteren.

This saxophone quartet is balm for the soul.

Piaf's "La Vie en Rose" is a revelation. The arrangements and Philippe Elan's elegant style form a perfect marriage.

Pablo Cabenda, De Volkskrant, 22 juli 2016

 

Full review in Dutch:

VOLKSKRANT, 22 JULI 2016


Het saxofoonkwartet en de chansonnier klinken als balsem voor de ziel.

Piafs 'La vie en rose' is zelfs een openbaring.


De arrangementen en Elans klassieke voordracht vormen een gelukkig huwelijk.

 

Zo flauw als die comedy serie 'Allo Allo!' kon zijn, met zijn melige woordspelingen, zo gracieus is de herkenningstune – mits gespeeld door het Amstel Quartet.

 

Het Amsterdamse saxofoonkwartet liet een bewerking maken voor vier saxofoons en nam het op in hun project Sax avec Elan!. Een samenwerkingsverband tussen de Franse chansonnier Philippe Elan, al zo'n dertig jaar in Nederland, en het ensemble. Het kwartet, dat geregeld de grenzen verlegd, nam vorig jaar een serie liederen op met Elan.


Wie denkt dat het instrument, geassocieerd met die robuuste, ietwat plichtmatige solo's in rocksongs, geen recht kan doen aan een repertoire waarvan elk woordje, elk groot gebaar moet worden verantwoord door la passion, moet maar eens luisteren.


Niks geen gratuit powerplay in het Amsterdamse Concertgebouw. Elan trippelt bijna gewichtsloos door Charles Trenets Douce France terwijl de blazers hem met ademstootjes in de lucht houden. Even later, in Brels Mathilde, gooit hij de ramen van zijn hart open en zingt vol galmende bravoure dat Mathilde is teruggekomen. Zelfs een fremdkörper als Nick Drakes Way to Blue – Le bleu – krijgt een overtuigende make over, inclusief tristesse.


De arrangementen en Elans klassieke voordracht – vocaal theatraal – vormen een gelukkig huwelijk. Daarbij heeft de zanger ook een indrukwekkend volume tot zijn beschikking. Aan het woeste einde van Amsterdam, waarin hij iets van Brels rigoureuze expressie ontbeert, drukt hij met enthousiaste decibellen het kwartet haast weg.


Maar, en dat was een openbaring, de zwijmeling van Edit Piafs La vie en rose voelt zoeter als je je nestelt in de schoot van blazers in plaats van strijkers. En Ramses Shaffy's Zing, vecht, huil, bid, lach, werk en bewonder gaat van balsem voor de ziel tot hartekreet. Het spectrum van emoties wordt dan zowel door het ensemble als door de zanger met een fijn penseel neergezet. 'Fijnbesnaard' zou je haast zeggen, als het niet zo raar zou klinken in de context van toeteraars. 'Delicatesse' is de term die Elan gebruikt als hij het heeft over zijn grote voorbeeld Charles Aznavour. Het is ook een beetje de delicatesse van Elan.

 

Pablo Cabenda

2015

A real Caribbean feast for the ears!

With Pascal Schumacher's Amstel-Coconut-Blue the foursome stole the hearts of both the Caribbean and non-Caribbean public!

Patricia Bergwijn, Bonaire, Antilliaans Dagblad

De op Caribische muziek geïnspireerde en op Bonaire voor het eerst gespeelde wereldprimeur “Amstel-Coconut-Blue” van het Amstel Quartet werd speciaal gecomponeerd door Pascal Schumacher vanwege het feit dat het kwartet op de eilanden zou spelen. Het was een waar Caribisch feest voor de oren.


Amstel Quartet swingt

Kralendijk – Al spelend komen ze op. De vier die momenteel 's werelds kleurrijkste saxofoonkwartet vormen, ofwel het Amstel Quartet. Het publiek wordt tussen de bedrijven door, zowel voor als na de pauze, tijdens hun eerste optreden op Bonaire afgelopen vrijdagavond getrakteerd op stukken van klassieke componisten als Bach, Brahms en Ravel.

 

De kleurrijkheid komt erg goed tot uitdrukking als het kwartet zich moeiteloos het keurslijf van de tango aanmeet met de 'Tango Suite' van Astor Piazolla of de 'modernere' klanken van het speciaal voor het Amstel Quartet gecomponeerde 'May' van Michael Torke ten gehore brengt. Maar het hek gaat pas echt van de dam bij de wereldprimeur 'Amstel-Coconut-Blue' waarbij de saxofonen in een fantastisch samenspel lachen en huilen, schreeuwen en plagen, kermen en spelen en zuchten en lonken volgens waar Caribisch gebruik. De Luxemburgse Pascal Schumacher componeerde het stuk op verzoek speciaal voor het kwartet en liet zich daarbij inspireren door muziek en componisten als Palm van de Caribische eilanden. Het stuk deed in ieder geval menig Caribisch en niet- Caribisch hart sneller kloppen.

 

De vier – Remco Jak op de sopraan, Olivier Sliepen op de alt, Lars Niederstrasser op de bariton en Bas Apswoude op de tenor – traden voor het eerst op op Bonaire en lieten metten weten graag terug te willen komen. Lars Niederstrasser valt tijdelijk in voor Ties Mellema die even niet met het kwartet kan meespelen in verband met ziekte. Het doet echter niets af aan het repertoire van het kwartet.

 

Vice voorzitter van de Classical Music Board Bonaire (CMBB) Hans Faassen is helemaal tevreden en trots. “Dit kwartet behoort tot de wereldtop. Het is geweldig zo loepzuiver en beheerst als deze mannen spelen. Voor een saxofoon is dat een ware uitdaging. Bonaire mag echt dankbaar en trots zijn dat wij met steun van het Prins Bernhardfonds en in samenwerking met Aruba en Curaçao zulke fantastische muzikanten naar Bonaire kunnen halen. Dat is echt een groot voorrecht.”

De muzikanten zijn vooral gecharmeerd van het ophenhartige publiek en het fiet, zo antwoord Lars Niederstrasser desgevraagd, dat je twee uur voor je optreden nog even kunt gaan snorkelen.

5 out of 5 stars for Sax avec Elan! in Elsevier!

A mosaic of feelings awakens while listening to this CD. That's not only due to Elan's voice, but also to the emotional sound spectrum of the saxophones.

Read the full review here.

 

Sax avec Elan! Album of the Week on SinfiniMusic!

It works miraculously well: the combination of chansonnier Philippe Elan and the Amstel Quartet.The saxophones merge effortlessly into the drama of the chansons.

Read the full feature here!

 

En Route review Sax & Elan

En Route

Over het Amstel Quartet: "Het is al een genot om alléén daarnaar te luisteren."

Review 'Sax Avec Elan' op Musicframes.nl

"Elan sings these songs with such a wonderful charm: an easy evidence why these chansons became classics."

Sax Avec Elan!’ is the name of the new CD by the French singer Philippe Elan, recorded with the Amstel Quartet. From the ’80′s he lives in Amsterdam and since then he recorded ten albums, gave many concerts and made theater tours. Today he’s accompanied by Reyer Zwart who also arranged some pieces on his new CD.

Philippe Elan has that typical French voice with slight throat trill. A warm, mellow tone that fits perfectly with this repertoire. French chanson, supplemented by work of Nick Drake, Piazzolla and two Dutch songs by Ramses Shaffy and Harry Bannink. Plus one instrumental piece by Rein van den Broek; the trumpeter of the legendary Ekseption. Philippe Elan is accompanied by the Amstel Quartet: Remco Jak – soprano sax, Olivier Slept – alto sax, Bass Apswoude – tenor sax and Ties Mellema – baritone. The result is amazing. These four musicians play extremely well. With flawless intonation they create a smooth and consistent accompaniment. The arrangements by Bob Zimmerman, Reyer Zwart en Silvia Maessen, touch the essence of the music. And although they are fairly closely follow the original, here and there there are some colorful chords and rhythms added which gives the music more nuance. The repertoire contrast somewhat stale. For the umpteenth time ‘Non, je ne regrette rien‘, ‘La mer’, ‘Non, je n’ai rien oublié’ or ‘La Vie en Rose’, whether or not compressed into a medley. But Phillippe Elan sings these songs with such a wonderful charm: an easy evidence why these chansons became classics. Particularly attractive is ‘Amsterdam‘ (J. Brel/arr. W. van Klaveren) in which he shows what a fine performer he is: a subtle, subdued start to a swinging end. Sublime!

Mattie Poels

Read the review online

Recensie 'Sax avec Elan' in Trouw

Recensie in Trouw over 'Sax avec Elan'

Vier saxen en een chansonnier
interview | De Frans-Nederlandse zanger Philippe Elan kreeg als kind een hekel aan de saxofoon. Nu wordt hij op de cd 'Sax avec Elan' begeleid door vier saxofoons van het Amstel Quartet.
PETER VAN DER LINT

De al lang in Nederland wonende chansonnier Philippe Elan speelde ooit saxofoon. Toen hij nog in Gascogne in Frankrijk woonde, was hij net als zijn opa Aimé lid van de plaatselijke harmonie. Opa Aimé speelde sopraansaxofoon, kleinkind Philippe de alt. "Ik ontwikkelde daar een hekel aan het instrument", vertelt Elan. "Ik wilde zingen. Toen al. Daarom had ik in eerste instantie nogal wat twijfels toen het idee ontstond om het Franse chanson te combineren met de klank van een saxofoonkwartet. Ik vond de saxofoon nogal ongeschikt om chansons te begeleiden."
En toch is er nu de cd 'Sax avec Elan!', waarop Elan onder andere klassiekers van Charles Trenet, Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel en Charles Aznavour zingt, begeleid door de saxofoons van het Amstel Quartet. Wat deed Elan overstag gaan?

"Het idee ontstond in een café op de Brouwersgracht. Wijlen componist Ton de Kruyf was een fan van mij en op een dag nam hij saxofonist Olivier Sliepen, een Franstalige Luxemburger, mee naar een concert van mij. Die werd eveneens een fan en stelde mij de samenwerking voor. Ik uitte mijn twijfels, maar Olivier bleef aandringen. Er werden wat arrangementen gemaakt om het uit te proberen. Bob Zimmerman maakte een arrangement van 'Avec le temps' van Leo Ferré. Toen ik dat met het Amstel Quartet repeteerde, was ik meteen om. De klank van mijn stem paste bij de kleuren van de saxen. Ik had ook de angst gehad dat ik het hele vrije ritme van zingen - zoals ik dat met Louis van Dijk of Cor Bakker doe - kwijt zou raken met die vier saxofoons. Maar dat was helemaal niet zo. Ik vond het fantastisch."

Provocatie
"En toen werd het pikant, want hoe zouden bijvoorbeeld Charles Aznavour, Barbara en Julien Clerc in zulke arrangementen klinken? Ik kreeg er zin in. Omdat het anders klinkt dan wat je gewend bent, andere invloeden krijgt, word je door die nieuwe klanken gestuurd, uitgedaagd. En een beetje provocatie en avontuur heeft me altijd geboeid. De vele twijfels die ik had, zijn uitgemond in een rijke en verrijkende ervaring."
Philippe Elan: ´De klank van mijn stem past bij de kleuren van de saxen.'

Speelt Elan zelf nog weleens sax? "Ik kan niet meer spelen. Ja, een octaafje eruit persen dat lukt nog wel. Maar de zin is verdwenen, omdat ik er niet zulke goede herinneringen aan heb. Ik wilde zingen, maar werd gedwongen om sax te spelen. Ik hield van popmuziek, van Sheila en Johnny Hallyday, maar moest meedoen aan concoursen voor harmoniekorpsen. Pas in mijn puberteit ontdekte ik het chanson. In Frankrijk heeft het chanson een klassieke status. De teksten ervan worden op universitair niveau bestudeerd.

"Het repertoire voor de cd is langzaam gegroeid. We hebben 'Avec le temps' van Ferré en 'Quand on n'a que l'amour' van Brel uitgeprobeerd tijdens een concertje in Amstelveen. Het publiek daar was verbijsterd. Dat was een geweldige duw voorwaarts. Met Olivier Sliepen ben ik toen gaan nadenken over een programma. Ik stelde dingen voor, hij ook. Van hem kwam het voorstel om 'Stormvloedkering' van Rob Chrispijn en Harry Bannink te doen. Ze lieten me het nummer horen en ik vond het meteen heel interessant. Dit nummer is het verband tussen het Franse chanson en het Nederlandse lied. Een prachtige tekst van Chrispijn en de allerlaatste muziek die Bannink schreef vóór hij stierf. We begonnen met dit project in de lente van 2013 en in oktober van dat jaar overleed mijn moeder. Zo kreeg dit lied over het lot een heel persoonlijke dimensie voor mij.
"De tekst van Chrispijn is heel nuchter en relativerend. Echt Nederlands. Zo'n zinnetje als 'Maar het is goed dat er bij Rotterdam een stormvloedkering is' is ontnuchterend briljant. Dat vind je in Frankrijk niet. De liederen van Ramses Shaffy, waarvan er één op de cd staat, zijn veel lyrischer, veel Franser. Die kun je niet, netzomin als de chansons van Aznavour, Piaf en Trenet, door iemand als Freek de Jonge laten zingen. En dat zeg ik met respect. Het zou te nuchter zijn, te weinig lyrisch."

Honderd jaar Piaf
"De cd is er nu, maar het Amstel Quartet en ik gaan in mei pas concerten geven. Eerst treed ik 51 avonden op met 'Vive la France', een programma waarin zeven decennia aan chansons voorbijtrekken. Daarna, in mei dus, komen de concerten met het Amstel Quartet. Het is in 2015 honderd jaar geleden dat Piaf geboren werd, en daar gaan we nog iets mee doen. We zullen nog extra nummers van haar gaan arrangeren. De arrangementen op deze cd vind ik harmonieus en gedurfd. En het Amstel Quartet stelt zich ten dienste van de zanger, overvleugelt je nooit. Je bent samen op zoek naar kleur en emotie. Die drie warme dagen in juli vorig jaar, toen we de opnamen maakten, daar bewaar ik fantastische herinneringen aan."

Philippe Elan/Amstel Quartet
Sax avec Elan! (Amstel Records)
HHHHH

Recensie Klassiek Zaken 'Sax Avec Elan'

Klassieke zaken – januari 2015


Sax avec Elan!

Philippe Elan & Amstel Quartet

 

Muzikale grenzen lijken niet te bestaan voor het Amstel Quartet. In elk geval weten de vier saxofonisten ze keer op keer te overschrijden, met vaak bijzondere programma’s en cd’s als klinkend eindresultaat. Ook nu is dat weer het geval, want het Amstel Quartet ging een samenwerking aan met de in Amsterdam woonachtige, maar uit Frankrijk afkomstige zanger-saxofonist Philippe Elan. Sax avec Elan! heet de nieuwste cd en het betreft achttien bewerkingen van bekende liederen en chansons van Jacques Brel, Leo Férré, Charles Aznavour en Ramses Shaffy. Alle hits komen voorbij: Ne me quitte pas, Mathilde, Avec le temps en zelfs Zing, vecht, huil, bid, lach, werk en bewonder van Shaffy ontbreekt niet. Dit laatste nummer wordt overigens in het Nederlands met een mooie lichte Franse tongval door Elan gezongen, met een stem vol weemoed en melancholie. Sax avec Elan! is een absolute aanrader, want zo hoorde je deze bekende liederen nog nooit. De stijlvolle arrangementen voor de bezetting van saxofoonkwartet van onder meer Bob Zimmermann en Sylvia Maessen geven de chansons een geheel nieuwe kleur. Het is oude wijn in nieuwe zakken, maar de smaak is er niet minder om.

 

OSWIN SCHNEEWEISZ

Recensie NRC 'Sax avec Elan'

Saxy chansons vol levenslust

Er spreekt veel vóór de combinatie saxofoons met chanson. Je waant je meteen in vaudevillesfeer. Daarbij lijken de saxofoonvirtuozen van het Amstel Quartet (o.a. Ties Mellema) zich in elk idioom thuis te voelen, zeker ook bij het wufte elan van de al decennia in Nederland gevestigde chansonnier Philippe Elan. Die maakte talrijke gevarieerde chanson-cd’s, waarvan de eerste (1990) een Edison won. In een kwart eeuw heeft zijn stem iets aan gruizigheid gewonnen, maar de levenslust is die van het eerste uur. Sax avec Elan! bevat 18 liedjes uit voornamelijk het Franse chansonrepertoire maar (tekenend voor Elans muzikale omnivorisme) zijn ook Drake, Shaffy en Bannink vertegenwoordigd. Sommige bloeien op in saxofoonarrangement, andere minder. Ne me quitte pas wordt er, ofschoon compromisloos gezongen, wat vlezig van. Maar het nostalgisch idioom van Trenet klinkt heerlijk en in Barbara’s Une petite cantate zijn Elan en de saxofoons op hun sterkst: intiem, sfeervol en warm van timbre.

Mischa Spel

Recensie Telegraaf 'Sax avec Elan'

Telegraaf 17 januari, vier sterren voor Sax avec Elan

SUBTIEL EN INGETOGEN
Philippe Elan & Amstel Quartet – Sax avec Elan!
Zijn opa speelde saxofoon, maar Philippe Elan werd zanger. In Nederland. Met zijn nieuwe cd, Sax avec Elan!, die de weerslag is van een succesvol theaterprogramma, is de cirkel rond.
Samen met het uiterst subtiele Amstel Quartet, vier saxofonisten, doet Elan een greep in hetrijke chansonrepertoire. La mer van Charles Trenet, Il est cinq heures van Jacques Dutronc, Mathilde van Jacques Brel, maar ook Zing, vecht van Ramses Shaffy krijgen een verfijnde, ingetogen benadering. Inventieve arrangementen en puike opnametechniek doen de rest.

Bertjan ter Braak
GENRE: CHANSON

2014

Review Gaudeamus concert[s]

. . .hoge pieptonen . . .

review in dutch

 

 

Mit dem Saxophon unterwegs in ungewohnte Klangwelten

Great review of our concert in Herdecke, 19th of January 2014.

by Renate Schmoll / Der Westen.

 

 

2013

Elan & Sax


DE TELEGRAAF woensdag 20 november 2013

Zijn opa speelde saxofoon en daarom was het de bedoeling dat hij er zelf ook mee aan de slag zou gaan. Maar Philippe Elan wilde zingen - en doet dat nog steeds. Maar het leven ontvouwt zich op zijn eigen manier en nu staat hij op de planken met een saxofoonkwartet in Sax met Elan.

En dat kwartet is fantastisch: het Amstel Quartet achter Elan. Sowieso iets om eens naartoe te gaan, want het Franse chanson met saxofoonbegeleiding is niet bepaald voorspelbaar. Op 28 november staan ze in het Betty Asfalt Complex in Amsterdam (reserveren: 020 - 626 46 95). Op 6 februari zijn ze te zien en horen in Theater Heerlen.

Een ander programma waarin elan begeleid wordt door pianist Reyer Zwart, toert ook nog door het land: op 6 december in De Amer in Amen, op 31 januari in het Stadstheater in Zoetermeer, op 7 en 8 februari in het Apollofirst Theater in Amsterdam en op 14 ferbuari in De Boodschap in Rijen.

B.t.B

Concert at Sarnia Concert Association, Canada

Amstel Quartet Review by David Nichols


On his 199th birthday, Adolphe Sax would have been beaming like a glittering saxophone if he could have heard the Canadian premier of the Amstel Quartet. The Belgian instrument maker invented the saxophone in 1846. The instrumental concept was to create an instrument with the volume of a brass instrument and the flexibility of a woodwind instrument. The tone colour of the saxophone can be heard as a blend of the clarinet and French horn. Sax also made improvements to the bass clarinet, invented the ophicleide (a large brass instrument), and did extensive work on refining the valve systems on brass instruments.


At the beginning of the evening, some of our subscribers commented that perhaps the stage crew had forgotten to set up the music stands. During the after-concert reception, the Amstels talked about a previous concert in which one of the players had forgotten to place his music on the stand and was forced to perform (very successfully) from memory. This experience led to the tradition of performing all their concerts from memory.


The program opened with a graceful procession onto the stage while playing “Floating Clouds” by Tan Dun. It was a beautiful transition from the outside world to the concert hall.


Tan Dun was born in Hunan province in China. Despite the constraints of the Cultural Revolution, he eventually was able to leave his job as a rice planter to study at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. In 1986 he moved to New York and was strongly influenced by the music of John Cage, Philip Glass and Steve Reich. His film score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won an Academy Award and a Grammy Award.


The third movement from Symphony No. 3 is one of Brahms’ most famous compositions. It is a musical tapestry of Brahms’ complex relationship with Robert and Clara Schumann. The arrangement by Remco Jak created a beautiful string orchestra texture.


The Nyman String Quartet No. 2 was commissioned for a dance based on the Indian Bharata Natyan tradition. Western classical melodies and harmonies are combined with Indian rhythm patterns. Michael Nyman is one of Britain’s most innovative and celebrated composers.


Guillermo Lago’s, Ciudades, written for the Amstel quartet demonstrated the full orchestral brilliance that can be achieved with this medium. The syncopated rhythms of Addis Ababa were strikingly together.


The second half of the program began with another processional, but this time it started at the back of the theatre. Apswoude’s arrangement of the Chromatic Fantasy created rich pipe organ sonorities and the Amstels perfectly tapered their chord endings evoking luscious cathedral acoustics. The spatial entrance gave the audience an intimate perspective of hearing what the player hears.


Ravel described his Pavane pour une infante defunte as an evocation of a pavane that might have been danced by a little princess long ago at the Spanish court. The pavane was a slow processional dance that was very popular in the courts of Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The original piano version of Ravel’s Pavane was composed in 1899 and dedicated to the Princess Edmond de Polignac (Winnaretta Singer), a French-American musical patron, and the daughter of the nineteenth-century sewing-machine magnate, Isaac Singer. The orchestral arrangement by which it is known today wasn’t premiered for another eleven years.

The Amstels’ teacher at the Amsterdam Conservatory told them that Mozart was the only composer who sounds “bad” on the saxophone and that to make an arrangement of Mozart’s music for their quartet would be futile. It seems as if Mozart always gets criticism! Even Glenn Gould said that Mozart who died at the age of 35 was a composer who “died too late!!” Regardless, the arrangement by Remco Jak was very successful. The Adagio and Fugue was originally written for string orchestra, and the fugue was actually first composed for two pianos. So, it’s a composition that has really made the rounds!


After the final chord of the fugue, the audience seemed lost in the music and the applause for what they presumed would be the final selection of the program began very slowly. Perhaps it was because the ending wasn’t as dramatic as some of the earlier works on the program, or that this is an unusual style for Mozart. It didn’t take long, however, for the applause to strengthen and develop into a well-deserved standing ovation.


“We have an encore,” declared Remco, and what an encore it was! Samuel Barber (1910-1981) was one of the most celebrated 20th century composers. He was only 27 when he wrote the Adagio. “Simplice e bella” was how Toscanini, the flamboyant conductor of the NBC Orchestra described Barber’s music. Adagio for Strings began as one movement of Barber’s String Quartet No. 1 which, at its premier, excited a standing ovation right in the middle of the performance. History repeated itself with the Amstel Quartet’s second ovation of the night.


Marilyn Mason commented in her opening remarks that we were in for a Dutch treat, and we sure weren’t disappointed. The Amstel Quartet is a remarkable blend of immense talent and large-hearted expression.
 

2012

Amstel Tracks NOW! review

 

WRUV Reviews
The sound that they create from four instruments — a soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophone — is far greater than the sum of its parts.
 
Read the full review here:
 
 

recensie: ZWART LICHT.. . Leeroy draait door

ZWART LICHT.. . Leeroy draait door


'Hooptie Music' is een van de uitblinkers op het album vanwege de bijdrage van het Amstel Quartet. De muziek klinkt voller en komt beter uit de verf dan als die bijdragen met de computer waren ingespeeld. Het inschakelen van het Amstel Quartet was een idee van Akwasi.

 

http://www.musicfrom.nl/magazine/recensies/39603/zwart-licht-leeroy-draait-door.html#.T9GtRLCfe18

gecertificeerde zuurstofflessen - certified oxygen cylinders

 

za 05 mei 2012
 
Saxen in een glansrol
Amstel Quartet - Amstel Tracks Now!
 
door Thiemo Wind
 
Wat mooier klinkt dan één saxofoon? Vier saxofoons. Tenminste, als ze zo knap worden bespeeld als door de blazers van het Amstel Quartet.
Deze cd biedt een breed gesorteerde staalkaart van hun kunnen. Het betreft arrangementen – Bach, Sweelinck, Mozart, Brahms, Ravel.
Dat veel noten origineel voor strijkinstrumenten zijn geschreven, is geen bezwaar: de Amstelblazers lijken longen te hebben met de inhoud van gecertificeerde zuurstofflessen.
Luister naar het Adagio voor strijkers van Samuel Barber. Zo rustig en intens hoor je het zelden.
4 sterren

Telegraaf

Alles ist Saxophon

review Amstel Tracks NOW! in Opus Klassiek

lees de volledige recensie op:

http://www.opusklassiek.nl/cd-recensies/cd-aw/amstelquartet01.htm

 

 

"Prachtige instrumenten, schitterend bespeeld en beeldend opgenomen."
 
© Aart van der Wal, maart 2012

review Amstel Tracks NOW! in Mania

LUXEMBURGER WORT - Une mosaïque musicale étincelante

Luxemburger Wort - Une mosaïque musicale étincelante.

about the Amstel Tracks Now! concert @ the Philharmonie, Luxemburg 8-2-2012:

 

“It’s such an undescribable pleasure to listen to these four musicians: an borderless musical horizon and a generous liberty of expression”.

 

“Going from Renaissance to New Music, they create a new world in itself with every musical work. Their interpretations are always passionate and self-renewing”

 

‘In their new program “Amstel Tracks Now!”, the quartet impresses by their transparent and balanced playing, paired with a sheer abundance of musicality”

 

“Unbelievable professional precision go hand in hand with a generous liberty of expression.

The Amstel Quartet creates a perfectly balanced sound stage paired with a undeniably strong consciousness of style”.

 

Hilda van Heel, Luxemburger Wort, 11.02.2012.

Review of “Amstel Tracks Now!”, live at the Philharmonie on 08.02.2012.

 

"Amstel Quartet: The best saxophone quartet in the world." (AVRO Radio)

By Roland Kieft:

http://www.radio1.nl/terugluisteren/uitzending/199284 (Dutch)

"Amstel Quartet: The best saxophone quartet in the world."

"A fantastic saxophone quartet"

"But that a saxophone quartet also can sound like an amazing organ can be heard in a Choral by Bach: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland."

"Some say: 'Is nothing holy to them?', but it is the other way around: Everything is holy to them!"

 

 

2011

Met vier saxen naar Hengelo (O)?

De Twentsche Courant Tubantia, woensdag 6 april 2011-04-06

Met vier saxen naar Hengelo (O)?

Drie keer per jaar doet het Amstel Quartet een tour door Amerika. Maar met het saxofoonkwartet in zijn geboorteplaats spelen, dat is Remco Jak (35) nooit gelukt.
Door Ton Ouwehand

Met één saxofoon vanuit zijn huidige woonplaats Abcoude terug naar Hengelo, dat lukt nog wel eens. Althans, zijn oude muziekvereniging Armonia heeft hem vier jaar geleden uitgenodigd het soloconcert van Max Knigge te komen spelen. En daar heeft Remco Jak toen graag gebruik van gemaakt. Maar met het Amstel Quartet, het saxofoonkwartet dat hij veertien jaar geleden heeft helpen oprichten, een concert geven in zijn geboorteplaats?
Hij wil wel. Aan de andere leden van het kwartet ligt het ook niet. Er is sowieso wel een wens om wat meer concerten in eigen land te spelen en wat minder op tournee in het buitenland te zijn.
Maar een concert in Hengelo, het is er nog steeds niet van gekomen.

Hij is net terug uit Amerika. Met het Amstel Quartet hebben ze daar weer een serie concerten gegeven. “Op kamermuziekgebied is er heel veel te doen in Amerika. Elk dorpje heeft wel een concertserie. En die optredens worden goed bezocht. We hadden nu concerten met gemiddeld zo’n tweehonderdvijftig tot driehonderd toeschouwers. Maar we hebben ook wel gespeeld voor zalen met zo’n twee-, drieduizend man.”
De financiële crisis heeft echter wel toegeslagen in Amerika, heeft hij geconstateerd. Het aantal concerten dat ze jaarlijks in de VS geven, loopt terug. “Ik bracht daar een keer ter sprake dat ze in Europa naar het Amerikaanse model willen: subsidies afschaffen en voor de financiering terugvallen op bedrijfsleven en particulieren. Daar reageerden ze heel verbaasd op. Hoe konden we dat nu doen? Hadden we niet gezien dat het Amerikaanse systeem helemaal niet werkte? In Amerika willen ze juist naar het Europese model.”

Het is niet gemakkelijk om een saxofoonkwartet op de been te houden, zegt Remco Jak. “Het vraagt nogal wat, ook van het thuisfront. We zijn veel op tournee. We hebben geen gebruikelijke werktijden. En we zijn eigen baas. Dat betekent dat we naast repeteren, studeren en spelen ook bezig zijn met arrangeren, administratie, boekingen, produceren van onze cd’s”.

De zesde cd is inmiddels uit. Een bijzondere schijf, genaamd ‘Amstel Raga’. Daarop werkt het kwartet samen met Niti Ranjan Biswas, bespeler van de tabla: India’s populairste percussie-instrument. Een dergelijk samenwerkingsverband is nog niet eerder vertoond in de wereld van de gecomponeerde muziek.
Hoe dat tot stand kwam? Volgens Jak is het een combinatie van een vakantie en De Dogtroep. “Op een vakantie in 1995 in India vond ik een cassettebandje van een klassieke Indiase saxofonist: Kadri Gopalnath. Ik heb er echt naar gezocht, want ik wist niet of het bestond, klassieke Indiase muziek met saxofoon.”
De tablaspeler was als musicus betrokken bij een van de laatste voorstellingen van theatergroep De Dogtroep. De regisseur had het Amstel Quartet ook gevraagd voor dezelfde voorstelling. “We hebben toen niet samengespeeld. Maar op het persoonlijke vlak klikte het enorm.”
Toen besloten was voor dit project om de koppen bij elkaar te steken zijn diverse componisten benaderd om voor het saxofoonkwartet met tablaspeler een compositie te maken: Sylvia Maessen, Martin Fondse, Jorrit Dijkstra, Oene van Geel. Maar het eerste stuk dat speelklaar was, was een arrangement van Remco Jak zelf. “Toen duidelijk was dat we zouden samenwerken, heb ik direct een compositie van Kadri Gopalnath voor deze combinatie bewerkt. Een stuk van dat cassettebandje.”

CD
Amstel Quartet: Amstel Raga is te kooop via de website www.amstelquartet.nl

CD review Amstel Raga (in German) Pizzicato


Pizzicato - 4 / 2011

Sliepen & Co. in India


The Amstel Quartet never repeats itself and now releases yet another exciting CD together with tabla player Niti Ranjan-Biswas. A meeting of two worlds that merge surprisingly well and lead to true sound synergies. In this program - that also consists of solo interludes by Niti Ranjan-Biswas - one never has the impression of artificial conceptualism or sheer superficiality.

It’s definitely a deep quest for a mix of Western and Indian concepts, which results in a CD with inspiring, highly floating music, full of unexpected rhythms and colors.

But also technically the Indian tabla player, and saxophonists Remco Jak, Olivier Sliepen, Bas Apswoude and Ties Mellema are mesmerizing !

Norbert Tischer

CD review Amstel Raga (in German)

CD review Amstel Raga (German) in ENSEMBLE Magazin für Kammermusik [april/may 2011]

http://www.ensemble-magazin.de
 

Ensemble - Magazin für Kammermusik (April / Mai 2011)

The Amstel Quartet’s new CD is definitely the biggest surprise here ! With “Amstel Raga” this dutch saxophone quartet has embraced Indian traditional music. Obviously the sound of a saxophone quartet is always grounded within recent European music history.

A fact that the Amstel Quartet uses to its advantage. But for this production they are joined by tabla player Niti Ranjan-Biswas - creating a sound world that merges European and Indian traditional styles. Some of the works here , like Ian Wilson’s “Heaven Lay Close” , are written by European composers with this project in mind , others are originally from India.

And some of the tracks are solo interludes by Niti Ranjan-Biswas. This recording is an exciting multicultural journey. As the performances of these musicians are top-notch, and succeed in melting both musical languages , this CD is definitely worth listening !

Carsten Dürer

CD review Amstel Raga (Dutch with translation)

CD KLASSIEK
Amstel Quartet en Niti Ranjan Biswas

De knalroze-oranje hoes van Amstel Raga is er eentje in echte Bollywoodstijl:
de vier saxofonisten van het Amstel Quartet zitten om tabla-speler Niti Ranjan Biswas heen, twee wierokende olifanten aan de zijkant,iedereen een gouden aureool omzijn hoofd.

Amstel Quartet bouwde het afgelopen decennium internationaal een naam op als topensemble met een wijde blik. Een muzikale ontmoeting met Biswas een paar jaar geleden vormde de aanleiding voor dit kleurrijke album – met nieuwe composities
voor tabla en saxofoonkwartet, maar ook met tabla-solo’s van Biswas.

Knap hoe het vijftal tweemuzikale werelden weet te versmelten. Maar dat geldt ook voor de componisten: met ’Karmatikka’ schreef Oene van Geel wat mij betreft de hit van deze cd; Amstel Quartet-huiscomponist Ian Wilson maakte weer een juweel; en Martin Fondse schreef een Bollywood-suite waar je blij van wordt.

© Anthony Fiumara

[ Trouw ]

=====================================================================

English translation.

 

The bright orange-pink cover of Amstel Raga is one in true Bollywood style:
the four saxophonists of the Amstel Quartet are sitting around tabla player Niti Ranjan Biswas,two incenses smoking elephants on the side, everyone a golden halo around his head.

In the past decade the Amstel Quartet has built a name as a first class ensemble
with a broad view. A musical encounter with Biswas a few years ago was the reason for this colorful album - with new compositions for saxophone quartet and tabla,
but also with tabla solos by Biswas.

It's clever how the five musicians succeed in merging the two musical worlds. But so are the composers: with 'Karmatikka " Oene van Geel for me wrote the hit of this cd, Amstel Quartet -house composer Ian Wilson again composed a jewel and Martin Fondse wrote a Bollywood suite that makes you happy.

==================================================================

CD review Amstel Raga (Dutch)

 

Muziekwereld nummer 1 – 2011

door rakenDra Smit

 

AMSTEL QUARTET feat. NITI RANJAN BISWAS

Amstel Raga, Amstel Records

AR 008


 

Op dit album speelt het Amstel Quartet met tablavirtuoos Niti Ranjan Biswas een programma met werken speciaal geschreven voor saxofoonkwartet en tabla. Ze vertolken composities van onder andere de Indiase saxofonist Kadri Gopalnath, Oene van Geel en een Bollywood-medley van Martin Fondse.

Dit gezelschap trekt zich niets aan van muzikale grenzen. Elementen uit de jazz, Modern geïmproviseerde muziek, het klassieke impressionisme en de zeer rijke klassieke Indiase traditie gaan hier op een speelse manier hand in hand.

In de Bollywood-medley geeft het gezelschap een nieuwe wending aan de super gelikte sound van Mumbai's filmindustrie. Het Bollywood cliche wordt opgerekt met klezmer-, ragtime en ander fraaie stijlelementen.

Tablaist Niti Ranjan Biswas voert de troepen ritmisch aan waarbij hij af en toe geheel volgens Indiase traditie de Tabla-bol's reciteert. De tabla-opnamen hadden naar mijn smaak in de mix wel wat meer dynamiek mogen behouden. Desalniettemin is deze plaat een zeer interessante luisterervaring!

 

2010

Amstel Peijl Review

 

........ The one disc that I found outstanding in every regard comes from the Amstel Saxophone Quartet. A CD titled “Amstel Peijl” which I fell in love with.

My intuitive notion of a saxophone quartet is that of a rather modern invention, perhaps even a recent fad. The saxophone is a fairly recent instrument of course, but at 160 years it is young only when compared to instruments like the violin or the recorder. And while it is not generally associated with classical music—Berlioz’ efforts notwithstanding—it has been around long enough for Claude Debussy and Vincent d’Indy to write for it. Moreover, the idea of taking four saxophones (usually consisting of BI soprano and tenor saxophones and EI alto and baritone saxophones) for a saxophone quartet, goes back pretty far, too. In French-speaking countries the Belgian invention became a military band staple; elsewhere it was Jazz that adopted and introduced the instrument.

Alexander Glazunov heard the Saxophone Quartet of the French Republican Guards [insert coy French-bashing joke about not winning military battles with saxophones tied around soldiers’ necks here] and composed his op.109 for it. The repertoire hasn’t seen many additions—certainly not of that quality—since, so to this day, that’s what saxophone quartets are busy playing when they are not occupied transcribing the Goldberg Variations. The other piece included on the Amstel Quartet’s CD originally written for saxophone quartet is Philip Glass’ quartet as culled from his concerto for the same setup. Four movements of inspired same-ishness in smoothly-polished perfection—but not as satisfying as the arrangement of Fauré’s Pelléas et M\élisande Suite these four Dutch players commissioned from their pianist-buddy Wijnand van Klaveren, who naturally wrote himself into the piece to great effect.

The title of the disc, “Amstel Peijl” refers to the traditional Dutch water marker that has become an international standard—presumably as a signal that this is where the quartet sees itself at and what they wish to be measured against in the future. If you’re Dutch, I assume with water levels lower is better… and the merits of this stocktaking are such that it will be very difficult for any other group to get below that. It’s a superbly entertaining group and the disc should appeal to any music lover and by no means only those who know that they are interested in the saxophone. . . .

http://www.weta.org/fmblog/?p=2488

Concert Artists Guild Explained: The Art of Becoming Unnecessary - by

Review Amstel Peijl album

PAUL WAGNER reviewed the Amstel Peijl album in the Juli-August issue of Saxophone Journal

 

 

AMSTEL PEIJL
Amstel Quartet
AR006 Amstel Records
www.amstelquartet.nl
http://www.youtube.com/user/amstelquartet

The Amstel Quartet consists of Remco Jak on
soprano; Olivier Sliepen on alto; Bas Apswoude on tenor, and
Ties Mellema on baritone. The Amstel Quartet has been performing
for over ten years. The four saxophonists met while touring with
Dutch National Youth Orchestra and in 1997 they decided to form
a quartet where they could test the boundaries of the conventional
saxophone repertoire of the time.
Their name came from the fact that the Amstel River is the
historical birthplace of the city of Amsterdam and that is an ever
changing waterscape, reflecting the changes in life along its shore.
The Amstel became the obvious name for the quartet although
grounded in the traditions of chamber music it too, was ready to
accommodate the changes that time present s much like the Amstel river.

Thus the Amstel Saxophone began its climb to success.
After a few years their reputation had grown so much that the
name changed to simply to the Amstel Quartet. They have earned
many prizes and awards with the latest coming in the form of the
2006 Concert Artists Guild Management and Audience Awards
at Carnegie Hall in New York city. In 2005 the Quartet won the
International Chamber Music Competition in Illzach. France and
placed second for the Gaudeamus Interpreter's prize. In 2004 they
won the Chamber Music in Yellow Springs Competition in the
United States. That same year brought the quartet the Uitmarkt
Audience Award and the Kersjes van de Groenekan awards in the
Netherlands. The Amstel Quartet has also won the Dutch Almere
Prize for Chamber Music and was a prize winner at the Gustav
Bumcke Competition ensembles in Dortmund, Germany.
Back in 1684 The Dutch began monitoring water levels the Stads
Peijl or Amsterdam Peijl which became the bench mark for water
levels. In the same spirit this CD is tit led Amstel Peijl which has
become the bench mark for the Amstel Quartet. They have selected
three compositions for this standard.
The Opening selection on this CD, Gabriel Fauré Pelléas et
Mélisande Suite, Opus 80, was arranged specifically for them by
Pianist Wijnand van Klaveren for saxophone quartet and piano.
The sound of the quartet is quite excellent and its blending with
the piano is perfect. The quintet lets the music swirl as it lives it's
way to the listener's ears. The first movement creates a wonder-
fully big sound, that at times feels like a full orchestra. These
five artists paint a wonderful aural picture for our ears and our
imagination to thoroughly enjoy. The third movement, Sicilienne,
is absolutely gorgeous. The heartache feel of Le Mort de Mélisande
(the forth movement) is portrayed beautifully. Much applause, with
a standing ovation is deserved by all involved, with an extra round
for the arranger.
The next selection is the Alexander Glazunov Saxophone Quartet,
Opus109. This a great piece of music inspired by Glazunov's hear-
ing the Quatuor de Saxophones de la Garde Républicaine (which
was established 1928). He wrote the piece in 1932 and it is as fresh
today as when he wrote it. On the Glazunov, the Amstel Quartet
has an intuitive sense weaving the melodic lines of the music in
around each other with great energy and ease. The articulations
sound effortless. This is a delightful rendition of a true classic for
the saxophone quartet.
The grand finale for this CD is Saxophone Quartet, 1995, by Phil-
lip Glass. It opens with three saxophones creating an undulating
background for the soprano to bring its theme to the fore. Then we
have a sound texture and a melody ascending through the back-
ground leading us into a more active area. The second movement
opens with somewhat jazz feel with the baritone saxophone setting
the pace while the other saxophones provide rhythmic chord fills.
The third movement begins with a somber feel, and then the alto
saxophone enters with a working melodic line that is picked up by
the group bringing the piece to a concerted finish. The final move-
ment is a real flag waver full of exciting blends of melodies. Simply
put, Saxophone Quartet, 1995, is an excellent performance by an
equally exciting saxophone quartet.
As stated in the CD jacket liner notes, "After many explorations
in the area of modern and most modern music, the Amstel Quartet
now sets its own standard with these three pieces which goes back
to the roots of the saxophone quartet. That is why this album
represents the current state of affairs for the Amstel Quartet. This
is how a saxophone quartet should sound like according to the
members of the Amstel Quartet."
As you listen to this CD you will agree that the Amstel Quartet definitely sets a high benchmark of excellence for saxophone quartet performance.

§
Saxophone Journal (Juli-August 2010)
Paul Wagner

review in FanfareMag

Read the full article here

.. . . . .. . From just looking at it, I wasn’t sure about the commercial viability for the Amstel Quartet’s CD Amstel Peijl either, but after the first few minutes of what would become more than a dozen listens, I knew I loved it.

My intuitive notion of a saxophone quartet is that of a rather modern invention, perhaps even a recent fad. The saxophone is a fairly recent instrument, of course, but at 160 years it is young only when compared to instruments like the violin or the recorder. And while it is not generally associated with classical music—Berlioz’s efforts notwithstanding—it has been around long enough for Claude Debussy and Vincent d’Indy to write for it. Moreover, the idea of gathering four saxophones (usually consisting of B soprano and tenor saxophones and E alto and baritone saxophones) for a quartet goes back pretty far too. In French-speaking countries the Belgian invention became a military band staple; elsewhere it was jazz that adopted and introduced the instrument.

Alexander Glazunov heard the saxophone quartet of the French Republican Guards (insert coy French-bashing joke about not winning military battles with saxophones tied around soldiers’ necks here) and composed his op. 109 for it. The repertoire hasn’t seen many additions—certainly not of that quality—since, so to this day, that’s what saxophone quartets are busy playing when they are not occupied transcribing the Goldberg Variations . The other piece included on the Amstel Quartet’s CD originally written for saxophone quartet is Philip Glass’s quartet as culled from his concerto for the same setup. Four movements of inspired same-ishness in smoothly polished perfection—but not as satisfying as the arrangement of Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande Suite these four Dutch players commissioned from their pianist-buddy Wijnand van Klaveren, who naturally wrote himself into the piece to great effect. The title of the disc, Amstel Peijl, refers to the traditional Dutch water marker that has become an international standard—presumably as a signal that this is where the quartet sees itself and what they wish to be measured against in the future. If you’re Dutch, I assume with water levels lower is better … and the merits of this stocktaking are such that it will be very difficult for any other group to get below that. It’s a superbly entertaining group and the disc should appeal to any music lover and by no means only those who know that they are interested in the saxophone.

Written by Jens F. Laurson


Review Amstel Peijl CD

Read the review here

2009

Paradox Cliché

While I was in the Catskills earlier this year, I had the pleasure of attending a concert given by the Amstel Quartet.

These guys are unique and amazing! Their timing is impeccable. The approximately 1 hour concert consisted of their arrangements of classical music compositions by Bach, Franck, Mozart, Phillip Glass and others.

Their piece by César Franck was so beautiful it moved me to tears.

Post show, they elicited my envious smiles from their quaffing of absinthe. Those suave Europeans. ;)

I highly recommend discovering and exploring the music of the Amstel Quartet.
Posted by WanderingRivertree at 3:35 PM

2008

Party im "Römerbad"

Party im "Römerbad"

Die einstigen Römerbad-Musiktage in Badenweiler haben einen neuen Namen: Römerbad-Musikzeit. Eröffnet wurde das diesjährige Herbstprojekt jetzt mit einem Konzert des Amstel-Saxofonquartetts.

So viel Jugendlichkeit war selten im ehrwürdigen Hotel Römerbad. Am Ende ihres großartigen Konzerts, als die vier jungen Saxofonisten des Amstel-Quartetts einen Arabischen Walzer des Jazzkomponisten Rabih Abou-Khalil zum Schwingen bringen, steht der Abend kurz vor einer Party. Auf dem roten Teppich entfalten die vier Niederländer enorme Energien, die auch von Goldstuck, Silberspiegeln und Kerzenleuchtern nicht gebremst werden können. Ties Mellema macht am Baritonsaxofon den nötigen Dampf, Remco Jak lässt sein Sopransax in orientalischen Linien kreisen: impulsiv, tanzbar, mitreißend. Mit der ersten Zugabe, Samuel Barbers expressives "Adagio for Strings", nimmt das Quartett dann das Tempo heraus, um nochmals seine klangliche Qualität zu zelebrieren.

Mit dem Engagement des in Deutschland wenig bekannten, international erfolgreichen Amstel-Quartetts ist dem künstlerischen Leiter Lászlo Gyimesi ein echter Coup gelungen. Das Herbstfestival, das nun den neuen Namen Römerbad-Musikzeit trägt, zeichnet sich zwar nicht wie unter dem Vorgänger Klaus Lauer durch eine klare Dramaturgie und ambitionierte Uraufführungen aus, aber es verspricht auch nach dem fulminanten Eröffnungskonzert Spannendes. Der Pianist Martin Stadtfeld wird noch gastieren (11. November), aus Ungarn hat sich an zwei Nachmittagen das Budapester Mikrokosmos-Quartett (14./15. November) angekündigt. Nur der Publikumszuspruch könnte noch besser werden. "Jugend", das Abschiedsmotto von Lauers letzten Römerbad Musiktagen im Herbst 2007, könnte auch über dem Konzert des Amsterdamer Ensembles stehen. Die vier sympathischen Musiker sind wach, agil und hinhörend. Aber auch große interpretatorische Reife prägt ihr Spiel. Stets wissen sie, wohin die Reise geht, wo das Tempo forciert oder ein Übergang zurückgenommen werden muss. Sie strukturieren, ohne dabei zu übertreiben. Gleichermaßen klug und sinnlich ist das, streng und frei – ein Ereignis!

Jan Sweelincks Chromatische Fantasie atmet. Olivier Sliepen (Alt) und Bas Apswoude (Tenor) sorgen in den Mittelstimmen für Balance und Melos, Ties Mellema (Bariton) und der überragende, über einen dunkel schimmernden Ton verfügende Remco Jak am Sopransaxofon markieren die Randzonen mit klarer Linie. Alexander Glasunows 1932 geschriebenes Quartett in B-Dur veredelt das 1997 gegründete Ensemble mit melodischer Intensität, um im Finale seine technische Meisterschaft unter Beweis zu stellen. "So softly", ein für das Amstel-Quartet geschriebenes Werk des irischen Komponisten Ian Wilson, erklingt in weichem Legato und blitzblanker Intonation, César Francks Präludium (Bearbeitung: Remco Jak) besticht durch die hohe Klangkultur der Niederländer. Immer wieder verlängern die Musiker durch Zirkularatmung ihre Linien ins Unendliche, was auch Philip Glass’ von kreisenden Bewegungen geprägtes Saxophone Quartet den nötigen Flow gibt.
– Die Römerbad-Musikzeit in Badenweiler dauert noch bis zum 15. November. Tel. 07632/700.
http://www.hotel-roemerbad.de

Autor: Georg Rudiger

This is how a saxophone quartet should sounds like

About the fourth movement of the saxophone quartet by Philip Glass:

In the final movement of this saxophone quartet by Philip Glass the men of the Amstel Quartet show their most clear and shining tone colours.
As one might expect from Glass, repetition is always present.
The musical patterns seem to interchange fluently. Although the rhythm moves in constantly changing meters, there still place for lyricism. That’s why the somewhat limited lengths of these patterns are overpowered by the musical line and offers the strong piece more then just the juxtaposition of some complicated patterns.
Motifs are being passed through, appear in different registers and the rhythmical pulses forcefully push the sturdy blocks of energy continuously towards the end.
THIS IS HOW A SAXOPHONE QUARTET SHOULD SOUND LIKE.

one Brain

Dublin Concert Review
February 9, 2008

Amstel Quartet
Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin
................................................
MICHAEL DUNGAN

Sweelinck (arr. Apswoude) - Chromatic Fantasy
Ian Wilson – Ghosts
Glazunov - Quartet Op 109

The four saxophonists of the 10-year-old Amstel Quartet are cool-looking young fellows, chicly attired in the one-time unthinkable combination of black and chocolate. Just add shades and you've got guys ready to play a club, not an art gallery at midday.
It's remarkable, then, that, despite this look, their sound never once evoked the jazz and soul world’s wit which the saxophone is more customarily identified.
In fact, in the quartet's own arrangement of a chromatic fantasy for organ by their 16th-century Dutch compatriot, Sweelinck, they conjured an early music edge to their sound that invoked the names of defunct instruments such as shawms and sackbuts.
I have heard a great many arrangements for unlikely combinations of well-known music, including both the successful - such as the version for four cellos by Arun Rao of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and unsuccessful, such as the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet’s bland take on one of the Brandenburg Concertos.
Whether good or bad, I'm nearly always conscious that it's an arrangement: how clever it is, how fresh the perspective.
But with the Amstel's Sweelinck I practically forgot. The quartet played upon the kinship through wind of the baroque organ and the saxophone, and the music consequently remained simply music, not an imitation.
Aiding this perception was an illusion, namely that the quartet's exquisitely shaped and utterly unanimous phrasing was somehow co-coordinated by one brain - as it would have been on the organ - rather than negotiated by four.
This impression was also strong in Glazunov's 1932 Saxophone Quartet, especially in the central theme and variations, which feature each of the different instruments in turn.
Glazunov exploited their colours and characters with deep insight. In this quality, he was matched and I think surpassed by Irish composer Ian Wilson in his Ghosts, written in 2006 for the Amstel Quartet who, in a spoken introduction, paid a warm tribute to the Belfast man.
The first of two movements is driven by intense fanfares whose urgency makes them more like alarms.
The slow second movement contains languid echoes of these alarms, out of which grows the nebulous atmosphere in which the eponymous ghosts make their fleeting, chilling (and not "spooky") presence felt, with the eerie voices of multiphonics coming into play.
This is captivating, beautifully crafted music which the Amstel performed around the world prior to giving this, the Irish premiere.

Irish audiences have a second chance to hear it when the Amstel Quartet plays at the Aura Maxima of NUI Galway at 8pm tonight.

2007

CD Feature/ Amstel Quartet: "Amstel Peijl"

CD Feature/ Amstel Quartet: "Amstel Peijl"

Puts things into perspective: A private quest of musical genealogy.
Christopher Nolan’s “Memento” wasn’t only a surprising and suspenseful thriller in the “film noir” tradition, it was also an intruiging investigation into the question of whether there is a future for someone without a past. The same issue, if only in the context of the Saxophone Quartet, lies at the heart of “Amstel Peijl”. While the format has by now firmly established itself in the concert halls of the world with a repertoire that keeps growing continually, its history only really started in the second half of the twentieth century and rather resembles a small slice of Swiss chesse than a sizeable chunk of Gouda. It is therefore up to the Amstel Quartet to demonstrate different developments, uncover lines which have been running in parallel motion and to put things into perspective.

Needless to say this musical genealogy is not only an act of science. For the Amstel Quartet, it is a private quest as well. The formation of the ensemble as such already represented an artistic search for meaning and of finding out where one belongs. When the members of this fourpiece were still going their separate ways, after all, the Saxophone Quartet was still considered rather exotic – at least among the general public. To Remco Jak (Soprano), Olivier Sliepen (Alto), Bas Apswoude (Tenor) and Ties Mellema (Baritone), however, every single sound of music they encountered, was demanding an answer to the question of what it would sound like when performed by the power of their combined instruments, every composition was scrutinised to find out about its potential for a new arrangement. To them, the story of the Saxophone Quartet and of their joint project under the “Amstel” banner is the story of how they were finally able to perform the repertoire they wanted in the lineup they so dearly loved.

On a second level, “Amstel Peijl” is also very much a nationally tinged effort. Its title references the Dutch system of gauging the relation of water and land by placing stone markers at strategic places in town – an essential tool for preventing minor and major catastrophes in a country which just as much lives from the symbiosis it enjoys with this element as from the fears of its devastating impact. And then, of course, it is yet another brick in the wall of a long tradition of Saxophone Quartets. One therefore has to understand the title, which pays no heed to the demands of an increasingly internationalised business, as a clear indication that the ensemble will both stay true to its ideals and to its roots.

In terms of repertoire, “Amstel Peijl” truly lives up to its aims. It features the three compositional forms which have, intermittently and each at its time, been in the limelight of the genre: The early experiment, the transcription and the Saxophone Quartet as a mature type of its own. Alexander Glazunov holds the honour of being the author of what possibly constitutes the first score in this respect. His “Saxophone Quartet” dates back all the way to 1932 and already captures a lot of what makes this instrumental combination such an instantaneously captivating affair: The warm and dense sound, its rhythmic flexibility, a perfect melodic and harmonic clarity despite the strong melting sensation of the individual voices as well as a consoling timbre, which even transcends the more melancholic passages into wonderfully bittersweet joy. With its unusual form, it also highlights the progressive potential of the Quartet in terms of arrangement.

Gabriel Faure’s “Pelleas et Melisande”, meanwhile, fills the gaping gap which preceeds Glazunov’s work. Reworked by Wijnand van Klaveren, who also takes on painistic duties here, it is a piece of romantic inclinations, an undulating ballad in four movements, which doesn’t seem to be able to escape its circling chord schemes, which never really come to a conclusion.

As Paul Janssen points out in his linernotes, there have been plentiful examples of Saxophone Quartets since then, but none has probably been as influential and popular as the one written by Philip Glass. Glass’ Quartet springs from an opening movement which acts as a nucleus, presenting the thematic material, juxtaposing it and testing its compatibility and friction areas. More than in his other works, the rhythmic pulse is topped off with sensous melodies, its complexity replaced with perpetually changing formations within the group taking charge.

With the exception of the second part, which seems to be more of an intellectual intermezzo, the movements are marked by a stunning emotionality, which grabs one immediately and without mercy. Among the recordings of this seminal piece, there is even a rendition performed by the Rascher Saxophone Quartet, which has been released on Glass’ own Orange Mountain Music label. In direct comparison, the version by the Amstel Quartet is softer, more tender and graceful, with especially the quiet third movement shining in a surreal nocturnal light.

“After many explorations in the area of modern and most modern music, the Amstel Quartet now sets its own standard with these three pieces”, Janssen writes and that is no exageration. “Amstel Peijl” manages to perform those all-important splits between a personal expression and a universal statement. And, to put it less academically, it is both a rewarding musical essay with regards to the genre’s history and an album which you can listen to without having to put a dictionary near your comfty chair. Let’s see when Christopher Nolan finally notices these guys when deciding upon his next soundtrack.

By Tobias Fischer

Who needs violins, harpischords, organs, and pianos?

http://rogovoy.com/news1499.html


[MUSIC REVIEW] Amstel Quartet, The Clark

8.8.07
THE CLARK
The Amstel Quartet
August 7, 2007

Remco Jak, soprano saxophone
Olivier Sliepen, alto saxophone
Bas Apswoude, tenor saxophone
Ties Mellema, baritone saxophone


review by SETH ROGOVOY, editor-in-chief and critic-at-large, BERKSHIRE LIVING Magazine

(WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., August 8, 2007) -- Who needs violins, harpischords, organs, and pianos?

For that matter, who needs a symphony orchestra?

For one night at least, that's the sensation a listener took away after being bathed in the vibrant colors and gorgeous textures of the Amsterdam-based Amstel Quartet, in a concert at The Clark.

In an artfully programmed concert that had built-in structure and symmetry among six numbers spanning the early-seventeenth to late-twentieth centuries, the quartet jumped from works by JS Bach to Philip Glass, from the Russian Alexander Glazunov to the Dutch Merlign Twaalfhoven.

The concert began with a twelve-year-old piece by American composer Michael Torke called July, a fitting choice as it emanated from the school of minimalism (and the concert program ended officially with Philip Glass's Concerto for Saxophone Quartet, written the same year) but also incorporated some lovely lyricism.

Jan P. Sweelinck's Chromatic Fantasy was a transcription of the seventeenth century Dutch composer's exercise for harpsichord. As its name implies, it relied on the simple beauty of chromatic scales and interlocking counterpoint, and the quartet was at its best in this sort of playing, where the four parts became greater than their unitary sum.

The second half of the concert opened with Gram of Time, a short piece by contemporary Dutch composer Merlijn Twaalfhoven, which seemed to come from the school of Ligeti in its abstract spontaneity and unscaled music of the spheres. It was a work of incredibly surprise and beauty, with notes and patterns emerging from nowhere and disappearing as quickly. It was as much about sound and resonance as what we normally think of as linear music, in its short run really creating its own sound universe.

The transciption of JS Bach's Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, originally written for organ or piano, was related to the earlier Chromatic Fantasy, and once again made one think why bother with a keyboard when four saxophones can shimmer with such profoundly resonant and spiritual sound, especially these four saxophones played by the young quartet of musicians who are seemingly psychically attached to each other.

The Philip Glass concerto that closed the evening was exciting, but the unlisted encore, Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, was even more brilliant, as it drove home the point that a string quartet has nothing on a saxophone quartet, that the saxophone quartet has an equal or greater variety of tones, that it can shimmer with vibrato, create new colors out of blends, and be so ever more dynamic.

In the end, the Amstel Quartet's concert at The Clark was one of the highlights of the 2007 summer cultural season.

2005

ASQ, the Brand! - 1 Gram of Time - Supersonic Award

The new CD of this quartet is overloaded with gems. Including Luxembourger Olivier Sliepen, it starts like in a birdcage: the flattering quartet of Tristan Keuris (1946 – 1996) introducing the program, and also Luxembourg composer Camille Kerger is part of it with his composition Schneelicht – bebend weiss – a work that uses the lyricism of the saxophone with long, singing lines, as well as staccato possibilities. The work, inspired by a poem by Nico Helminger, is visual with intensifying and decreasing movements of snow and mostly high sounds that evoke empty landscapes, in which the snow plays with the agitated, exaggerated light. Flowing light and ostinato – light movements also form the core element of Merlijn Twaalfhoven’s entertaining composition 1 Gram of Time.

By far more complex, is the procedure of Hugues Dufourt who explores the sound spectrum of the saxophone in a refined game of sound colors. This refined and sacred world is radically disrupted by Iannis Xenakis. It’s an eight-minute scream with shrill, penetrating sounds that frighten ear and soul. After so much hopelessness we enter the wonderfully sensitive moods of Dutch composer Marijn Simons. The work inspired by Miro’s painting of the same title first confronts us with the mellow background of the painting before transforming the gentle rhythms of its figures, whose movements are tamed by a caring sun, into sound. ...

Franco Donatoni’ s piece Rasch, dedicated to the Rascher Quartet, represents the breathless rush of our time and seems to literally fall into water, washed away by Ian Wilson’s Atlantica. Here the gram of time forms part of the infinity of oceans and lost times that Wilson imagines as endless and magnificent.

Those contrasts, those wonderful transitions, are the main characteristics of this CD and prove the knowledge of repertoire and intelligent sensibility of how the four musicians of the Amstel Quartet selected the programme of this CD.

After the previous CDs that left us with the greatest enthusiasm, the Amstel Quartet presents its masterpiece with this recording. Totally detached from the score, deeply feeling the music itself, the four musicians present a program here that’s of a quality, both in terms of compositions and interpretation, beyond discussion. This is the case in a dark Xenakis composition, as well as in the trembling opus of Camille Kerger: the four saxophonists amaze with sheer endless technical abilities, a grandiose musical imagination and a performance that’s always highly expressive. What ABQ is in the world of strings, Amstel Quartet could become in the world of the saxophone.

When the Star Reaches Out for You - Baltica - Supersonic Award

This CD confronts its audience with difficult music. Difficult to play, difficult to listen to. Concerning the interpretation, the four musicians of the Amstel Quartet (including Luxembourger Olivier Sliepen) totally master this aspect of difficulty. Concerning the listener, one has to clarify his spirit, leave normality behind and be prepared for unusual encounters, for sounds that seem to reflect the breath of life itself. It’s the sheer beauty of the material that one has to admire first, before gradually exploring the unknown, and dare to be confronted by an emotional state of mind out of the usual. Whatever, once launched onto this path, you want to know all about it – you break with the force of gravity that attaches you to your chair and through greyish clouds you arrive, seduced, Far Away, Till Midnight in a cloud of cosmic crystals, then you continue your journey through vaskian nebulae: and there, behind the curtain, the start gives you a hand, blue and transparent. Finally you’re dreaming, inside a world of angels, where amazement is renewing itself continuously. The most difficult is the return to earth. There are no drugs involved here. But it is definitely a trip. High floating music!

Incredibly beautifully played Prélude, Fugue et Variation

In April the Amstel Quartet won the second prize at the Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition. Amstel Tracks is the second CD of this ensemble, and the first release of their new label Amstel Records. Recently the Amstel Quartet released a recording with works by Baltic composers, but on Amstel Tracks they chose for less obvious works.

This diverse CD contains works of Beethoven, Franck, Nyman and Pärt, of Marijn Simons and Rabih Abou-Khalil. I was especially surprised by the incredibly beautifully played Prélude, Fugue et Variation of César Franck: originally for organ, but in this version it seems intended for saxophone quartet.

Saxophone quartets are usually classified as either a classical- or more jazz-oriented ensemble. One style always seems to rule out others: when they are good classical players, they can’t play jazz. And vice versa. But the Amstel Quartet has got the groove!

2004

Recommended Recordings - Straight Lines - Amstel Quartet

Not too long ago, who would have ever expected the saxophone quartet to become such a vital medium of musical expression for players, as well as composers. It seems that there is a new saxophone quartet being formed every day, and new saxophone quartet music is being created equally fast. This is an amazing rate of growth and interest. These are exciting times for the saxophone quartet medium whose players have a spirit of American pioneers of days gone by, as they push the boundaries farther and farther away.

The Amstel Quartet is typical of this pioneering spirit. After touring with the Dutch National Youth Orchestra in 1997 four saxophonists decided to form a quartet named after the river Amstel in Amsterdam. Their unique sound and thirst for new literature has made them a leader in this genre. They won the Hemke Prize for Chamber Music and were a prize winner at the Gustav Bumcke Competition for saxophone ensembles in Dortmund, Germany. They have performed in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Vredenburg in Utrecht, the Sogakudo Hall in Tokyo, the Stadtkirche in Darmstadt, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Czech Republic.

This saxophone quartet distinguishes itself by playing a rather wide variety of repertoire. Suffice it to say, many composers have written for the Amstel Quartet, including master composers as György Ligeti and Arvo Pärt. The Amstel Quartet is also known for its co-productions with artists from different disciplines including mime, modern dance, and film. Their members consists of four excellent saxophonists; Remco Jak, soprano and tenor saxophones; Naomi Sato, alto and soprano saxophones; Bas Apswoude, tenor and alto saxophones and Ties Mellema, baritone saxophone. All of them have studied with the well-known teacher and saxophonist Arno Bornkamp. They have a beautiful group timbre and a clarity of sound that is laudable, including an acute sense of ensemble. This quartet is a superb addition to the world of saxophone ensembles.

The last work in their performance is The Straight Line, by Joep Franssens, which also serves as the source of the title of this CD. It is a moving and fascinating piece with an active background part and melodies that immediately attract your attention with stark simplicity and natural beauty.

This composer has created a pleasurable direction for saxophone quartet literature. The scoring is big and it is difficult to remember that there are only four players. The opener is So Softly, by Ian Wilson. This piece opens mysteriously setting up a haunting line. Immediately the Quartet's beautiful sound is heard while the melody goes to an octave unison that is flawless and accompanied by musical fluttering with the remaining two saxophones. Simply stated, this composition is beautiful writing for the saxophone quartet. The next selection is Syrinx/Soyons plus vite, by Daan Manneke. This too tells its own story, opening and closing with the soprano solo, but is interrupted by the quartet. Alaric I or II is next and was composed by Gavin Bryars. This begins with some extremely consonant use of multiphonics. This control this quartet exhibits is of the first order. It is a dramatic sound incorporated into a film score.

The second to last selection is Lamentatio, by Erkki-Sven Tüür. This is again a superb addition to the quartet repertoire. Lush scoring and heart tugging melodic lines all make for a more than enjoyable listening experience. The Amstel Quartet gets a big round of applause here for a CD that should be listened to many times to appreciate the music and their performance. Everything about this CD is superb.

In Total Admiration of the Amstel Quartet - Amstel Tracks - Excellentia Award

Sunday evening, 4th of July 2004. I’ve been listening to seven CD recordings today and have reviewed them. Some were all right, but there was nothing that struck my ear.
This should be the last CD on my list for tonight. I put it in my CD player with some expectations, as Luxembourg saxophonist Olivier Sliepen, who I highly appreciate, forms part of this quartet which recently won a chamber music competition in the United States. And then the unexpected happens: the eighth CD on that day had it all! It really impressed me and surprised me with such a generous musicality, that it was worth the Excellentia Award to me. It contains a great program, outstanding arrangements all written by the members themselves and that are not only adjusted to the saxophone, but also respect the original score. It contains music with bursting musicality played by a quartet that really makes chamber music and manages to acquire an ensemble sound that’s perfectly homogenous and balanced. How the sounds of the four saxophones are harmoniously unified as one, while leaving every instrument its individual voice, is absolutely fabulous!

The four musicians always serve the music itself with the purest respect: they don’t use it as a way of self-reflection, but as a medium of expression. Therefore, they reach the deepest and most sensitive emotions and a soulful fulfilment of outer form, like in Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, which really gets under your skin.

A new world of sound colours and effects is reached in the works of Philip Glass and Michael Nyman, that never gives us an impression of forced research, but rather of an endless musicality, a sense of sound and instrumental mastery that’s developed on such a high level that one can only speak about this quartet with the highest admiration.

Also their recordings of Bach, Beethoven and Franck confirm their impeccable ensemble playing and their feeling of total commitment to the music.

Phrasing, cantability, wonderful mellow attacks and transitions, as well as dynamic layers, tell us that these are highly talented musicians that share an unusual joy of the spiritualised, deeply beautiful sound, as well as a sheer endless musical imagination.

Amstel’s sensitive dynamic control and energetic sense of ensemb

When one thinks of Yellow Springs, one thinks diversity. The 2004 Chamber Music Competition held May 2nd proved to live up to this village’s image.

This year CMYS also added an international element: one of the two finalists was the Amstel (river, beer…? yes) Quartet from Amsterdam. There are, however no strings attached to this group - the ensemble (formed in 1997) is made up entirely of saxophones. The other young, talented award-winning ensemble was the Calder Quartet from Los Angeles - a traditional fiddle variety (formed in 1998). The horns won the coin toss and stepped up to the near capacity crowd first.

This traditional saxophone ensemble (consisting of soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones) shocked and awed the audience with a wide spectrum of sounds through a brave and adventurous program. Their performance commenced with a conventional saxophone quartet sound as realised by Frenchman Jean Rivier (1896 - 1987). His Grave et Presto (1938) drew mellow sonorities from their reeds followed by jazzy pickup rhythms and lightening-fast well-coordinated septuplet passagework. This opener immediately demonstrated Amstel’s sensitive dynamic control and energetic sense of ensemble.

The works to follow would educate the audience into this instrumentation’s true capacity. Compatriot Dutch composer Peter van Onna (b. 1966) challenged the ensemble with unconventional performance techniques in The Gravity of D (1991). Based around a recurring central ‘D’ pitch, the piece explores the sonic possibilities of these instruments through a variety of performance instructions: slap tongue, slap key, rhythmic blowing and hissing, growling, un-even vibrato, humming, staccato, trilling, asymmetric meter, and a final Rhapsody in Blue-style long glissando seamlessly stretched across all four instruments (that alone would be worth the price of admission). Sonic effects ranged from eerie wind and train sounds to warbling spacey homophony.

What occurred next was truly impressive: the foursome dispensed with their music stands, stood in a semi-circle and proceeded to sway and strut to the music from memory (and I thought memory performance practice was solely bestowed on post-Liszt generation pianists)! Modern American composer Michael Torke (b. 1960) provided the saxophone quartet repertoire with an aural depiction of its title, July (1995). Although influenced by minimalist styles, this composer gleans more atmosphere out of his score through utilising a variety of interesting arpeggiated harmonies. Amstel's handling of oscillating rapid sixteenth-note passages transcended them into an audible sensation of a light summer breeze.

As if to show what just transpired was not challenging enough, the Dutch ensemble proceeded to go completely avante guarde with their performance of Greek mathematician, architect, composer Iannis Xenakis' (1922- 2001) XAS (1987). This extremely challenging work attempts to send its listeners on a roundtrip from order to chaos and back. Chaos was indeed achieved through ear-shattering screeches, bi-directional forced air, fog-horn effects and the sonic cacophony found on busy Parisian streets. While this work may not have served as a guaranteed crowd pleaser (a mild din of disdain was audible during intermission), their final selection had a better chance. Samuel Barber's (1910 - 1981) famous Adagio for Strings (1936), proved to be aural therapy for the senses. This arrangement performed by the ensemble (again from memory) displayed their ability to blend perfect homophonic textures with soaring melodies...

The Calder Quartet batted last exhibiting a more traditional repertoire with confidence and extreme technical proficiency. They came out swinging hard with the Béla Bartòk (1881 - 1945) String Quartet No. 4 (1928). All recent graduates from USC, they displayed maturity far beyond their age. Right from the opening allegro, the group exuded youthful energy, tight ensemble and impeccable intonation. The Prestissimo, con sordino second movement demonstrated marvelous sonic blend through sul tasto (over the fingerboard) and glassy sul ponticello (near the bridge) bowing effects creating at times a distant beehive-like imagery.

Cincinnati native cellist Eric Byers may well be part Hungarian. His handling of the solos in the Non troppo lento (slow) third movement showed an insightful command of the parlando rubato (Slavic speech-like style). Bartòk's night music compositional technique also shined through beautifully here simulating sounds of nature within its delicate texture.

The Bartòk pizz (vertical snapping of the string) was just one of a variety of strumming tonal techniques demonstrated in the Allegretto pizzacato fourth movement. Depending on how close to the fingerboard or bridge they plucked, a warmer or brighter sound was created (even simulating a ukulele ensemble at one point). The final movement, Allegro molto, was appropriately gruff and jaunty. Permeated with Hungarian folk tunes, asymmetrical accents, col legno bowing (percussively tapping the wood of the bow on the strings) and driving rhythm, this young ensemble adeptly brought the competition into extra innings.

Ludwig van Beethoven's (1770 - 1827) String Quartet Opus 59, No. 3 (1806) is a standard “qualifier” in the string quartet repertoire and the Calder ensemble handled it with style and grace. Passionate dynamic contrasts in the opening and third movement were sandwiched with a hypnotic elegy-like slow movement. The true “tester” arrived with the fugal final movement, Allegro molto. They took this Italian tempo indication quite seriously bringing it home at a very fast clip. Articulation and clarity were not sacrificed however - each fugue entrance raced by cleanly, voiced to perfection.

So, how is a jury to rank two fine ensembles of such differing nature - strings vs. quasi brass (apples vs. oranges)? Ensemble, musicianship and interpretation are equalising underlying factors, of course, but there are physical limitations to what each instrument can do. How is this competition truly going to support up-and-coming young ensembles of a diverse nature if they lump them all together in one category (simply assigning a tag of First and Second)? Other national chamber music competitions (The Carmel and Coleman, both of which I am a prize recipient) assign specific names to prizes in order to take into consideration the nature of instrumentation (strings vs. mixed ensemble). If this were the case here, both groups, deservingly so, would go away feeling like winners with a designated prize (regardless of insignificant differing monetary awards).

Interest in this competition is clearly growing: these two ensembles were drawn from a pool of approximately 36 applications. Clearly the level is up, and the dividing lines of excellence will draw thinner.

Mostly due to repertoire selection (well-played, lesser known works tend to yield greater rewards in competition), the Amstel Quartet walked away with first place this time. Clearly both groups were “winners” and should be proud of their accomplishments. You can “read all about it” on their web sites: www.amstelquartet.nl and www.calderquartet.com!