Sax appeal

Project Fusion Saxophone Quartet interpret chamber music and more

Photo: Project Fusion (l-r) Matt Evans, Matthew Amedio, Michael Sawzin, Dannel Espinoza,

By Tim Smith 

 Music groups often have humble beginnings, from a bunch of guys jamming in a garage, to more formal settings. The Project Fusion saxophone quartet was formed when all four members were students at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York in 2010, and they’ve been together ever since. They’ll be bringing their brand of chamber music to Yellow Springs on Oct. 29.Project Fusion consists of Dannel Espinoza on soprano saxophone, Matthew Amedio on alto saxophone, Michael Sawzin on tenor saxophone, and Matt Evans on baritone saxophone. They are known for their diverse programming that includes new music, standard repertoire for the saxophone quartet, as well as arrangements and transcriptions. Their philosophy is that music is an infinite, ongoing project guided by a sense of adventure and creativity, and that the fusion of ideas results in meaningful and enjoyable artistic creations.

The Dayton City Paper recently spoke with group members Matthew Amedio, Matt Evans, and Michael Sawzin. They revealed that the ensemble originally came together by a happy coincidence.

“We were all students at the Eastman School of Music, and were all individually asked to play for a concert series called theRESTisnoise,” says Amedio. “We were all playing different saxophone voices in this ad-hoc quartet, but we really enjoyed working with each other. After the concert, we decided we wanted to keep playing together, and Project Fusion was born.” I’m assuming the concert series title is stylized as one word like that?

“Dannel Espinoza and I had known of each other for several years, because we were also in two other saxophone quartets,” Evans says. “When I arrived at Eastman and he and I became better friends, we began tossing around the idea of forming another quartet together.”

“For our first concert,” Sawzin adds, “our ensemble was arranged with Matt Amedio on soprano saxophone, I was on alto saxophone, Matt Evans was on tenor saxophone, and Dannel played baritone saxophone. We switched into the instrumentation we have now after that first performance and it stuck.”

Audience reception to their rather unique ensemble has been generally positive.

“We often receive the comment, I never knew the saxophone could sound like that or do that!” says Amedio. “As saxophonists, we take pride in the ability to shift our timbre to mimic other instruments—our wind ensemble director at Eastman often referred to the saxophone as the chameleon of the wind ensemble.”

“I think first-time listeners are surprised by how musical the saxophone quartet is,” Evans says. “Most people expect saxophones to sound constantly loud and abrasive, but because we are all from the same instrument family we are capable of blending and phrasing very cohesively. Some audience members have said they are surprised how much we sound like a string quartet, or an organ.”

“A comment we often hear is that we were not what the audience was expecting,” adds Sawzin. “We program a variety of styles of music that we enjoy that highlight sound, melody, and virtuosity. Many works for saxophone quartet that we consider to be standards are still very new for many of our listeners.”

Musical compositions written for a saxophone quartet are relatively rare, so the group has to borrow from other sources.

“Since our instrument is still very young in the grand scheme of the musical world, we don’t have the breadth of repertoire that most instruments do,” says Amedio. “As such, we always love borrowing other repertoire. We have performed an arrangement of Gershwin’s Three Preludes, which is a staple in piano literature, and on our upcoming performance at Yellow Springs, we’ll be performing an arrangement of Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances, another transcription originally written for violin.”

Project Fusion has earned awards and honors in the world’s most prestigious chamber music competitions, including the gold medal at the 40th Fischoff Chamber Music Competition and grand prize at the Plowman Chamber Music Competition.

“For me, our Fischoff gold medal was particularly special since it was the competition’s 40th anniversary,” Amedio says. “Being able to be a part of such a prestigious competition was a huge honor, and an experience that I soon won’t forget.”

“While Fischoff is an older competition, and famously bestows gold medals upon the winners, I look back most fondly on our performances at the sixth Plowman Chamber Music Competition in 2013,” says Evans.

“I agree with both Matts here,” Sawzin adds. “The Fischoff and Plowman awards were our two best. I remember when I was in high school, I didn’t know much about chamber music, but I did know that the top chamber groups attended the Fischoff competition and the best won a prize.”

The quartet tours extensively throughout the year, and hopes that their upcoming Yellow Springs performance will not only introduce more listeners to saxophone chamber music, but to the bonds such music inspires.

“I’d like our audience to see our passion for chamber music,” Amedio says. “Audiences often say that they can feel the joy that we have for music making, and for me that is an incredibly important part of the experience.”

“The saxophone isn’t for everyone, but in today’s modern, technologically driven world, we could all stand to gain something by forming stronger personal bonds within our own communities,” Evans adds. “That is what chamber music has always been about: friends, sharing music in intimate environments.”

Project Fusion will appear at the First Presbyterian Church, 314 Xenia Ave. in Yellow Springs on Oct. 29 at 7:30 p.m. The program is sponsored by Chamber Music Yellow Springs. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $7 for students. There will be a pre-concert lecture at 6:45 p.m. to discuss the music being presented. For more information or tickets, please visit CMYS.org or call 937.374.8800. 

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Tim Smith
Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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