It was a concert with a difference at the latest Classics at the Castle on Sunday afternoon, March 31, when Quatuor Avena performed to a full house in the little Richmond House Museum and Music Room.
The young group of saxophone players formed their quartet in 2016, after meeting while studying together at the Haute Ecole de Arts du Rhin in Strasbourg under the tutelage of renowned saxophonist and composer Philippe Geiss.
They are an international ensemble, with South African Adam Campbell on baritone sax joining forces with Nicolas Allard from France on soprano sax, Sumika Tsujimoto from Japan on tenor sax, and Fabio Cesare from Italy on alto sax.
Each are accomplished musicians in their own right, and together they have worked on a richly varied repertoire from around the globe, from Baroque to contemporary music.
Their concert at Richmond House was called Ripples from Debussy, with the programme centred around the French composer’s The Little Suite, written in 1889.
Claude Debussy was considered a hugely influential composer, inspiring others who came after him.
Campbell explained that Debussy was the leader of the Impressionist movement in music, though he would not have claimed that title.
“He didn’t have much respect for Wagner. He said of Wagner’s music, ‘he’s like a beautiful sunset mistaken for the dawn’, inferring that Wagner was more of the old, rather than the new,” Campbell said.
In contrast, Debussy was the start of something new.
The Little Suite itself is calming, beautiful music, and wonderfully translated by the four part harmony of the sax quartet.
Transitioning from the 19th to 20th centuries, they also played music by Maurice Ravel, most famously known for his composition Bolero, and Gabriel Pierne, a contemporary of Debussy who composed music especially for saxophone.
The Ravel piece was written in 1918, the year Debussy died, and was among the music he dedicated to friends and brothers who died in World War 1.
As the quartet paused while Tsujimoto changed the reed on her instrument, Campbell explained that the little piece of wood was what made the saxophone a woodwind instrument rather than brass.
He also credited Allard with the arrangements of all the Debussy pieces they had played, earning him additional applause.
After a sit-down typically classical performance for most of the show, the quartet stood up and surprised and delighted the already appreciative audience with more contemporary fare. They first played a piece called Patchwork by their teacher Geiss, and then ended with a rousing foot-stomper in which Campbell’s baritone sax served as the rhythm-keeping bass while the other instruments soared over it with the melody, including a duel between the soprano and alto saxes.
It was a fun, energetic end to a superb concert.