Ever heard a saxophone quartet play? We didn’t think so. That’s because the assembly of all four saxophone pitches – baritone, tenor, alto and soprano – as an entire group is really rather rare. So rare, in fact, that the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet claim to be the first pro sax-only ensemble in existence. The group was formed in America in 1969 by German saxophonist Sigurd Raschèr, then considered the greatest player of his era, who also recruited his daughter Carina and promising 18-year-old American player Bruce Weinberger – Bruce is now the group’s only founding member still playing today.
At the time it was rather novel to have four saxophones playing together, meaning there wasn’t much music available. So the group’s repertoire was built up with pieces written especially for them by contemporary composers – among them Luciano Berio, Philip Glass and Iannis Xenakis. Most startlingly, the quartet claim to have never paid for any of the 350 commissions they’ve been offered, instead doing them for love alone. Now based in Switzerland, the group arrive in Dubai on Tuesday January 15 – we heard more from Weinberger, now aged 62.
What were you hoping to achieve when the group was founded?
Sigurd Raschèr wanted to make a saxophone quartet that no one had to make excuses for – a saxophone quartet with the quality of a string quartet. When the Raschèr Quartet started there were other quartets around, but they were all part-time, we wanted to develop a full-time professional quartet. For ten years we rehearsed four days a week without payment to develop that sound. We still rehearse three days a week today.
How did you get Philip Glass to compose for you?
I heard he was in Germany for the premiere of one of his works, and I was invited by a mutual friend. He introduced us and my friend said (his words not mine): ‘This is a member of the greatest saxophone quartet that ever existed – write them a very good piece.’ Phil ended up writing four pieces for us: two concertos with an orchestra and two for the quartet. For his 65th birthday he invited us to play with him – I’d say we’re good friends.
What kind of programme will you bring to Dubai?
We’ll play a programme that we hope will have a very broad appeal, not a programme that’s so modern in nature you have to be an expert. It should appeal to a normal public who don’t necessarily listen to classical music every day. [The UAE] is a country of great history and tradition, but not of classical music. So we’re in a situation where we’re trying to introduce something to many people for the first time.
What do you think needs to be done to make classical music more relevant to young people?
I don’t think it is getting less relevant – I think politicians decide that culture is less important than football, or make financial decisions. Over the years I’ve played lots of concerts in all the most famous concert halls in the world. But I’ve also played in lots of schools and I can tell you one thing: little kids like to sing. If you don’t give them the opportunity to do it, it’s easy to say they don’t want it. I’ve taught in inner-city schools in Detroit and I gave a kid from the ghetto a viola and his first lesson. He came from a family of 12 kids and he’d seen his father shot at breakfast – and he became a professional.
The Raschèr Saxophone Quartet play at The First Group Theatre, Souk Madinat Jumeirah, at 7.45pm on Tuesday January 15. www.timeouttickets.com
What’s The Score?
The Score is a new series of monthly classical concerts organised by The Fridge, featuring major international ensembles performing at the First Group Theatre, as well as hosting workshops for local musicians. Here are the other acts confirmed.
Saturday February 16
The Swingle Singers
An acclaimed eight-piece a capella vocal group, formed in Paris in the ’60s and now based in London.
Monday March 25
A Welsh-born harpist with a lengthy discography, best known for being the former official harpist to the British Prince of Wales.
Sunday April 28-Monday 29
This British pianist is renowned as one of Europe’s finest players, with a special talent for Schubert.
Tuesday May 28-Wednesday 29
Amjad Ali Khan
An Indian classical musician famed for his virtuosity on the sarod, a stringed instrument.