Saxophones B to Z

Take a string quartet: two violins, a viola and a cello.

Imagine it whipping up a challenging entrée of Bach. As side dishes, how about some 1930s-era Glazounov romanticism and a bit of contemporary Canadiana?

A little Zappa for dessert, perhaps.

But first, replace the strings with saxophones.

That’s the menu Whitehorse Concerts has in store for Yukon audiences in early March when the Montreal saxophone quartet Quasar makes its first visit North with a show called From Bach to Zappa. They’ll be playing in Whitehorse on March 2 and in Dawson City on March 3.

Quasar’s artistic director, Marie-Chantal Leclair calls the evening a “discovery program” for people who may not be familiar with this particular brand of music.

“People are not so used to listening to a sax quartet,” Leclair says. “So with this program, you get most facets of the sax ensemble.”

The four members of Quasar are all music graduates from the Université de Montréal who studied under the same teacher.

Since its formation in 1994, the award-winning quartet has introduced some 70 new works by Canadian and other composers to the contemporary music canon.

Two of those pieces, “Levées” by Gilles Tremblay and “Geyser Ghetto” by fellow Montreal composer Michel Frigon, will be on the Yukon bill of fare.

“Sometimes people don’t really realize the richness of Canadian music,” Leclair says. “We hear about Beethoven, or Brahms and we don’t realize that in Canada we have really strong composers.

“So it’s part of our mandate and we’re really happy to do that. For me, it’s vital to promote our culture.”

Leclair acknowledges that new music can be an acquired taste — in fact, a composer friend of hers likens it to blue cheese.

“The first time you eat that, you say, ‘Oh, my god’ and then finally you go on to become a big fan,” she suggests. “Also, with blue cheese, you have Roquefort, you have Gorgonzola. Some are soft, some are really strong and so it’s also a matter of developing the taste.”

Quasar is also noted for its imaginative work with live electronics, as well as improvisation and structured improv, much of it complex and demanding.

“We work very hard to learn new pieces, but also to keep them in shape,” she says. “But it’s the same, I guess, with a Bach string quartet. Those are very challenging pieces as well.”

The dynamics of what is essentially a chamber ensemble are different from those of an orchestra, Leclair points out.

“It’s very collaborative,” she says. “It can’t be otherwise. It’s pretty demanding for a musician. The repertoire is very challenging and so we really need to work together, to be in the same state of mind.”

After nearly two decades of performing together, being what Leclair calls “a family thing” no doubt helps.

In addition to Leclair on soprano sax, the group consists of her brother Mathieu on alto, her husband Jean-Marc Bouchard on baritone and André Leroux on tenor.

Besides the Tremblay and Frigon pieces, From Bach to Zappa includes excerpts from Bach’s The Art of Fugue; Alexandre Glazounov’s Quartet op. 108; Will Gregory’s Hoe Down!; and two works by American rocker Frank Zappa, Zomby Woof and Black Page #1.

Quasar will appear Saturday, March 2 at the Yukon Arts Centre at 8 p.m., with a pre-concert talk from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. It will follow the same format in the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture Ballroom in Dawson City the following evening, beginning at 7 p.m.

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