Good chamber music is good chamber music, no matter the instrumentation, but there’s something wonderful when it’s not the standard fare. Ensemble Music Society brought in non-standard but truly excellent fare, in a saxophone quartet known as PRISM Quartet at the Indiana Historical Society on Jan. 31.
Musicians Timothy McAllister, Zachary Shemon, Matthew Levy, and Taimur Sullivan (soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone sax respectively) have been playing to together for 33 years, and set the standard for chamber music incredibly high, regardless of instrumentation.
They shared with program on Wednesday of music all written or arranged by composers still among us, beginning with Iranian-American Roshanne Etezady’s Keen, a captivating work beginning with unisons growing in to other intervals, much with a Middle Eastern sounding flare throughout.
Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino mainly writes original compositions, but also creates fantastic arrangements of works by composers of the past, in a collection called "Pagine." Four works from that by Gesualdo, Bach, Gershwin and Scarlatti made the program, and the way PRISM just jumped from musical style to the next was so satisfying, with each movement sounding fresh and new.
Their ensemble playing is like a second language to them, it seems. Next up, Julia Wolfe’s "Cha," written in remembrance of her father, was this samba like expression of pure joy and fun that the group seemed to relish. The first half was rounded out by a contemplative, hopeful work by band member Matthew Levy entitled “Above.”
Another set of arrangements of works from Robert Schumann’s Album for the Young, entitled "Schumann Bouquet "by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer William Bolcom started the second half off, giving us more evidence of this group’s remarkable musical bond. Martin Bresnick’s three movement Every Thing Music Go was written in tribute of his teacher, the late, great Gyorgy Ligeti.
The second movement was particularly interesting to the ears, with Bresnick writing for a different tuning system called “just intonation”, which is very different than what we as Westerners are used to hearing, which is equal temperament.
Michael Daughtery’s “Steamboat” was a total groove worthy piece, and their encore of Kevin Browning’s “Howler Back” was a one minute crazy fun ride on the edge of your seat.
PRISM Quartet is like an all-stars team of saxophonists; they’re all professors with distinguished careers of their own, and when they get together, the results are dramatic.