A must-reed

Netherlands’ Amstel Sax Quartet closes CMYS season

By Joyell Nevins

Photo: Amstel Sax Quartet will perform on March 22 at the First Presbyterian Church in Yellow Springs; photo: Marco Borggreve

Kenny G, step aside. The Amstel Sax Quartet is in the house and ready to bring the full energy of the saxophone to Yellow Springs in the final regular performance of the Chamber Music Yellow Springs (CMYS) season at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 22.

“They’re very animated and have a great sense of humor,” CMYS president Jane Watts says. “They are very personable and very entertaining.”

Watts’ first experience with the quartet came when Amstel won the 2004 CMYS Competition. Chamber music simply refers to any music that is performed in a small space, typically 3-7 players and without an orchestra.

The annual competition is open to emerging professional ensembles, average age 30 years or younger, and offers a $3,000-4,000 cash prize. According to the organization’s mission statement, a goal of the CMYS annual competition is to recognize and reward ensembles that have the potential to remain together and develop professional careers.

As of 2013, almost 60 percent of the 56 finalists from previous competitions were still performing.

“Ensembles often benefit by hearing the appraisal of the judges, and hone their performances after the experience in Yellow Springs,” Bruce Bradtmiller, former CMYS president, competition chair and judge explains. “And, of course, they love our appreciative and enthusiastic audience.”

This year, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the competition, each of the season’s performances is given by former first-place winners who have gone on to successful careers. The previous shows this year have included The Shanghai String Quartet (winners in 1987) and Jasper String Quartet (2008).

Amstel Sax Quartet originally formed in 1997 after a tour with the National Youth Orchestra in the Netherlands, where the ensemble is based. The group consists of Remco Jak on soprano saxophone, Olivier Sliepen on alto saxophone, Bas Apswoude on tenor saxophone and Ties Mellema on baritone saxophone. The ensemble has been called “the most colorful quartet in the world” and has won numerous prizes, including the Concert Artists Guild Management Award, The Kersjes Prize, the Gaudeamus Interpreters Concours and of course, the CMYS Emerging Ensemble prize. They have performed in the Amsterdam Felix Meritis series, the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, the Philharmonie in Luxemburg, Carnegie Hall in New York and made extensive tours through Europe, Russia, the Middle East, China, Japan and the United States.

In Yellow Springs, Amstel Quartet will open with a selection from Henry Purcell’s Fantasias, followed by Anton Webern’s “Langsamer Satz,” Terry Riley’s “Good Medicine” and Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres,” all of which have been arranged by Apswoude or Mellema. After intermission, the concert will continue with Sander Germanus’s 2013 piece “Moonwalk,” a selection from Brahms’s Symphony No. 3 in F, (arranged by Remco Jak), and the Glazunov Saxophone Quartet in B flat. The concert concludes with Glass’s “Mishima” from 1985, arranged by the Amstel Quartet. One of the unique aspects of the Amstel Sax Quartet is that many of these selections were composed before the saxophone was even invented.

Charles Larkowski, Wright State University professor emeritus, will give a lecture before the show at 6:45 p.m. Larkowski taught music history and music theory at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. He received his Bachelor’s of Music in vocal performance and a Master’s and Ph.D. in musicology from Michigan State University. An organist, Larkowski also performs on recorder, krummhorn, harpsichord and viola de gamba, as well as voice in various early music ensembles. At the pre-show lecture, he will illuminate the selections to be performed that evening and comment on the transpositions (arranging the music for a different instrument than it was originally written for.)

Dine with Amstel

Want to meet the quartet themselves? Every CMYS concert includes dinner in the home of a local host with the featured ensemble. Tables are set up throughout the home, and the groups spread out to sit with different guests. The meals are open to everyone, although it’s noted they tend to go late.

“The wine flows, and the musicians can be really fun to talk with,” says CMYS Publicity Chair Angela Brintlinger. “The groups appreciate the opportunity to speak with music lovers. The last one I went to, I was sitting next to the cellist who had loved Russian literature and even been a Russian minor where she attended conservatory. Since I’m a Russian professor, she had as many questions to ask me as I had for her about the music.”

The only requirement is a reservation at least four days in advance. The dinner will be prepared by Chef Chris Spohn, who can also make vegetarian options.

Kids get a special treat as well. The Amstel Sax Quartet will perform an outreach concert at Mills Lawn Elementary on Monday, March 23. Mills Lawn students will be joined by Antioch School children. Members will demonstrate the instruments and play a show just for the kids.

“Being able to schedule an outreach concert is an important part of our mission,” Watts says. “We love bringing our musicians to younger audiences, and the Amstel were a big hit when they played for the schools last time they were in town.”

CMYS is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization sponsored by private donors and an Ohio Arts Council Sustainability Grant. This year’s emerging ensembles competition will be at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 26. Finalists are the East End Quartet from the Eastman School of Music and the North Coast Winds from the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Amstel Sax Quartet will perform at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 22 at the First Presbyterian Church, 314 Xenia Ave. in Yellow Springs. Tickets are $20 for adults and $7 for students. Dinner is $20 and includes wine and dessert. For tickets, to volunteer or to reserve a dinner spot, please call 937.374.8800 or visit cyms.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Joyell Nevins at JoyellNevins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at swbgblog.wordpress.com or reach her at joyellnevins@daytoncitypaper.com

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