Amherst Saxophone Quartet at 20: a local treasure still going strong

Works reviewed: 
Lament on the Death of Music, Leila Lustig
Romeo and Juliet Suite 2, Sergei Prokofiev
All Right Blues (1996), Russ Carere
Sounds of Africa (Charleston Rag), Eubie Blake
Buffalo News, The
Buffalo, NY
Mar 11 1998
Jim Santella

Zen masters see the world in a grain of sand. The Amherst Saxophone Quartet creates a universe of music with the intersection of soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones.

Members of the Amherst Saxophone Quartet are soprano Salvatore Andolina, alto Russell Carere, tenor Stephen Rosenthal, and baritone Herry Fackelman.

Sunday afternoon in UB's Slee Hall, the quartet threw a 20th-birthday bash, and everyone showed up, from friends and relatives to music lovers, composers, musicians and fans to support their longevity and wondrous achievement.

A snippet of melody on soprano during Philip Glass Facade reminded me of The Impossible Dream from Man of LaMancha. It put the formidable success of the quartet in perspective. That song, subtitled The Quest, could stand for the quartet's mission statement.

Although saxophones are traditionally associated with jazz and pop, the quartet plays both traditional and contemporary chamber music, along with blues and jazz.

The quartet has recorded six albums for MCA Records, Musical Heritage Society and Mark records. These include two recordings of American music, an all-Bach album, an all-Eubie Blake disc, a collaboration with Lukas Foss and a recent jazz recording. Why is the Amherst Saxophone Quartet so successful? The members have a strong sense of humor to go along with an exacting technique and dedication to excellence.

They are a local treasure that often gets ignored when gold medals and Super Bowl talk is bandied about. They are musically of Olympian caliber.

Tenor saxophonist Rosenthal's glib commentary and lighthearted humor make the music accessible to almost anyone regardless of their musical background.

Composer Perry Goldstein was in the audience to hear the quartet's performance of his Blow! -- a rawboned tour de force that gave each player a chance to shine both in ensemble and solo sections.

The liquid sound, intonation and dynamic expressiveness inherent in the quartets mastery of chamber music were very mush in evidence in Sergei Prokofiev's sweetly appealing Romeo and Juliet Suite 2, transcribed by Fackelman.

A wry and ironic Lament on the Death of Music, written by Leila Lustig and composed for the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, featured lyric-coloratura soprano Teresa Williams.

Lustig's witty text, a veritable musical whodunit, pointed the finger at every great composer from Mozart to Chopin, to Wagner and Stravinsky.

She finally concluded that the reports of the demise of classical music were greatly exaggerated.

Fun-filled encores of Carere's All Right Blues, complete with choreography, and a jaunty version of Eubie Blake's Charleston Rag sent everyone heading for the exit with a smile on their face and a light step.

Amherst Saxophone Quartet at 20: a local treasure still going strong