Alliage Quintett Wows with Classical Saxophone Concert
Enlarge image The Alliage Quintett following their Washington, DC premier at the United Church. (© Germany.info) Invented by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax in 1846, the saxophone is most often thought of as the bold solo instrument of American jazz.
Germany’s Alliage Quintett shows that it can also be the voice for completely different and wide-ranging forms of classical music.
On Thursday evening, February 23, the German Embassy invited the greater Washington, DC community to experience the surprising range of the classical saxophone quintet on a musical journey that included selections from Vivaldi's Four Seasons and J.S. Bach's French Suite, the romanticism of Felix Mendelssohn-Barthlody's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the folklore-inspired Scherazade by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
These renowned compositions were given new interpretations and new life by the arrangements of the Alliage Quintett, whose name means "alloy" in French. Invigorated by these novel takes on classical works, the more than 100 audience members enthusiastically applauded the musicians. The concert, at the historic United Church in Foggy Bottom, was Alliage’s first in Washington, DC.
Enlarge image Soprano saxophonist Daniel Gauthier, founder of Alliage, has been professor of classical saxophone at Cologne's college of music since 2003. (© Germany.info) Alliage Quintett founder Daniel Gauthier, a French Canadian by background and holder of Germany’s sole professorship for classical saxophone in Cologne, says the ensemble is unique in the musical world: “The saxophone quartet has been known as an instrumentation for some time. But a quintet where four saxophonists are complemented by a pianist is, in fact, new. And often the audience doesn’t really know what to expect.”
“Alliage” is a fitting name for the group, not only due to the blend of copper and zinc of which the saxophone is made. It also stands for the diverse backgrounds of the quintet’s musicians—from Canada, South Korea, France, Armenia and Germany—and the way their perfectly balanced playing melds diverse influences into a single, mellifluous sound.
That sound, and the impeccable musicianship behind it, has won the ensemble exuberant acclaim from a wide range of media in Germany and beyond. The Norddeutsche Rundschau, for example, had this to say in April 2011:
Enlarge image The Alliage Quintett was enthusiastically applauded at DC's United Church. (© Germany.info) “There is a mix of narrative and style, melody and rhythm, popular and chamber music—yet the whole thing is not mishmash but rather an instrumental masquerade, a sonorous blend of hues, beyond what listeners are accustomed to. The ensemble plays with gripping gusto and explosive energy.”
In reinterpreting classical music with the saxophone, Alliage is contributing to a revival of the instrument’s use in the Romantic era, before it became known as a signature instrument of jazz. As baritone saxophonist Sebastian Pottmeier pointed out, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy wrote the music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream the same year the saxophone was introduced. Rimsky-Korsakov, however, was not a fan of the sax.
Though the Alliage Quintett is still comparatively little known in the United States, their encore performance at the concert included a welcome nod to the local audience: Leonard Bernstein’s America from West Side Story. Judging from the applause, the Alliage Quintett is welcome to return for another concert in the near future.