Since their inception over twelve years ago, Nexas Quartet (Michael Duke, Andrew Smith, Nathan Henshaw and Jay Byrnes) have premiered countless new Australian works and collaborated with the finest musicians here and abroad. The culmination of all of this hard work and dedication is now being presented in their CD Current which is being launched at the Utzon Room at the Sydney Opera House. The CD is made up of all Australian works, including world premieres. Featuring the music of Elena Kats-Chernin, Matthew Hindson, Matthew Orlovich, Lachlan Skipworth and Daniel Rojas, Current is an eclectic recording showcasing the diverse nature of Australian music and the vibrant and engaging sound of the saxophone quartet.
Nexas first performed Elena Kats-Chernin’s From Anna Magdalena’s Notebook in Strasborg at the World Saxophone Congress. While it was originally written for string quartet, Kats-Chernin adapted it for Nexas. “This offers a fresh take on one of Elena’s most popular works and also explores new possibilities of timbre and enhanced dramatic effects,” says Andrew Smith. Nexas have a strong association with Elena Kats-Chernin, with Michael Duke premiering her saxophone concerto Macquarie’s Castle with the Sydney Conservatorium Orchestra earlier this year.
In 2014, Nexas teamed up with internationally renowned composer Matthew Hindson and presented a ballet version of Romeo and Juliet. Nexas loved the piece so much that they asked Hindson to turn it into a suite. The result, Scenes from Romeo and Juliet Suite was premiered earlier this year. “In this piece, I tried to use some aspects of Elizabethan dance forms mixed in with my more contemporary dance responses. It is still always classical music, however. My hope is that the music sounds very emotive of the drama and action implicit in the story,” Hindson says. Scenes from Romeo and Juliet Suite is divided into six movements, each depicting aspects of the characters and the drama of the narrative.
Byrnes, Henshaw and Smith tell me that Lachlan Skipworth wrote Dark Nebulae while he was based in Germany and this is very much removed from his typical musical style. “Dark Nebulae alludes to deep space and dark matter. That’s why the sound world for it is based upon multi phonics and these slowly evolving musical lines that emerge from nowhere and from within each other,” says Smith. “There is this cluster of sound. This is probably the most ‘out there’ piece on the recording”, Smith adds.
Also featured on the recording is Matthew Orlovich’s Slipstream, also written especially for Nexas. Orlovich’s saxophone music is making its mark on the world stage and he has become a prominent voice for contemporary saxophone music. “I’ve written this piece called Slipstream, in three movements, and the first movement is a fanfare introduction and an up-tempo lively feeling. The second movement is a ‘split personality’, with two types of character, which I have juxtaposed. There is a ‘funky’ character and a straight laced character. The third movement is a bit of a race to the finish line,” Orlovich explains.
“The jostling counterpoint and textural ideas in my score are inspired by the art of slipstreaming or drafting, as it is known in cycling parlance. Between the saxophone quartet world and the world of cycling, there are parallels to be found, not the least of which are the pursuit of precision teamwork and a love for “the thrill of the ride”, Orlovich writes about his work.
Daniel Rojas, known for his energetic and Latin American influenced music, demonstrates a tender and lyrical side to his compositional style in Little Serenade. He writes of his piece: “Little Serenade is my homage to our memories of childhood. The contrasting middle movement, Nostalgia, is a bittersweet tribute to an innocence that dissolved long ago; vague traces of those childhood joys and tears, however, are etched into the delicate fabric of adult life.” For this recording, the slow movement, Nostalgia has been arranged and adapted by Jay Byrnes. “The translation from strings to saxophone often works quite well, and this piece is quite effective for a saxophone quartet,” says Byrnes. “The biggest challenge in arranging this is capturing the harmonies and nuances from the eight parts of the string orchestra to only four parts for the quartet.”
“The pieces on this album are all substantial works that we feel very passionate about,” says Byrnes. “One of our aims is to bridge the divide between the intensely challenging contemporary works as well as the more accessible and nd a middle ground. So
that there’s something in there for everyone,” adds Andrew Smith. “There’s a lot that goes into recording new works and putting them in a permanent manner,” he continues. “We’re hoping that this recording cements our reputation as leading saxophone quartet in Australia and the world stage,” he adds further.