The sounds of the saxophone quartet managed to capture the stateliness of Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Concerto for Strings, Opus 1 No. 2” from the opening bars of its allegro molto .
The rendition of a classical piece on a saxophone is an unusual one, as the instrument is identified more with jazz. Nonetheless, the players managed to capture the composition’s combination of structure and wit, vibrancy, as well as warmth in following movements like the minuet, adagio and presto.
While the saxophonists rounded out the notes of the concerto instead of going into the flourishes and intricacies of the original music, they still managed to capture the spirit behind the piece.
The four are none other than the Syrene Saxofoon Kwartet, an all-women saxophone group from the Netherlands which features Femke Ijlstra on soprano saxophone, Lotte Pen on alto saxophone, Annelies Vrieswijk on tenor saxophone and Aukelien Kleinpenning on baritone saxophone.
The quartet of alumni from the Amsterdam and Utrecht conservatories, who were in Indonesia to play a week-long round of shows at venues like Taman Ismail Marzuki in Jakarta and the campus of the Bandung Institute of Technology, delighted music lovers at the Erasmus Huis Dutch cultural center in the capital last Tuesday.
Named after the Sirens in Homer’s “Odyssey,” their virtuosity, stage presence and sass did for the saxophone what acts like Bond and Vanessa Mae did for the violin.
Part of their appeal came from their interaction with the audience, which included tidbits like their breathing techniques to compositions’ back stories.
Aside from Haydn, Syrene’s take on classical music also included the first and fourth movements of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “String Quartet No. 19, KV 465,” which is also known as the “Dissonant Quartet.”
“[The ‘Dissonant Quartet’] is complicated to play, because the original composition was made for violins instead of the saxophone, which is a modern instrument. But we chose to play it because not only is it a sophisticated composition, it also encompasses a wide range of Mozart’s mood and character” said Kleinpenning.
The piece started off with Vrieswijk’s moody and contemplative opening notes, before picking up the rest of the way and capping off with a rousing finale.
“We adapted the string quartet as a genre for the saxophone because it’s a time-tested medium to play with four people, not just reconciling two different instruments,” Kleinpenning said.
“As Syrene is also a quartet, the genre is a good way to sharpen our chemistry and medley of sounds.”
But Syrene’s adaptability also extends to pieces like Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini,” which was made for piano and a symphony orchestra.
The larger scale of the composition allowed the group to experiment with more a versatile, flexible interaction and captured the whole range of sounds. The interplay between the differing scales of the saxophone and the sounds between them also managed to capture the variations in the original.
Syrene then capped off the show with more familiar territory for a saxophone: Michael Nyman’s “Songs For Tony” and George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
The group caught the former’s mood of yearning longing and loneliness with Pen’s solo, while the supporting instruments played an intricate medley to push the composition forward. On the other hand, Syrene’s take on “Rhapsody in Blue” captured the jauntiness of the Jazz Age as well as the big band and solo piano that the original was made for.
“‘Rhapsody in Blue’ reflects the saxophone’s flexibility. The various scales are well adapted to replace the role of the strings, woodwinds and percussion sections of the bands,” Kleinpenning said.
Syrene aims to expand its repertoire beyond quartets and sharpen its skills. What new forms of music these four young women will make for the saxophone remains to be heard. But what’s certain is that it will be worth waiting for.
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on January 13, 2014