Saxophone quartet honored with award from Downbeat Magazine

Fanny Lau

Last week, the Lawrence University Saxophone Quartet was nationally recognized in Downbeat Magazine‘s 34th Annual Student Music Awards. The students earned the honor of undergraduate college winner in the classical group category for a live recording of their performance Fall Term.

As one of the most respected jazz publications in the country, Downbeat Magazine received 964 ensemble and individual entries for the competition this year. The quartet’s submission contained a variety of works, from “Just a Minute, Chopin” by Adam Silverman to “Quatuor pour Saxophones” by Jun Nagao.

The group, comprised of senior David Davis, senior Sumner Truax, junior Will Obst and sophomore Phillip Dobernig, was also the winner of the 2010-11 Lawrence Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition. Recently, the quartet won the 2011 Neale-Silva Young Artists’ Competition, which recognizes “young Wisconsin performers of classical music who demonstrate an exceptionally high level of artistry.”

Soprano saxophonist Davis, alto saxophonist Truax, tenor saxophonist Dobernig and baritone saxophonist Obst are all a part of the Conservatory of Music’s saxophone studio.

The four musicians, who put together their ensemble Spring Term 2010, have performed a full recital together each term.

Professor of Music and Teacher of Saxophone Steven Jordheim, who coaches the quartet, commented, “Part of the reason for the quartet’s success was their quick development of ensemble performance skills. This enabled them to be remarkably productive in the amount of music they play and the level at which they play it.”

The group’s camaraderie has allowed them to rehearse effectively and support each other in rehearsals and performances. Each of the members found themselves comfortable with criticizing each other, and, according to Truax, because they “all have the same teachers, [they] also jump to the same solution to solve a problem.”

The members of the quartet cited serious commitment as vital to the group’s success, as each must rehearse both individually and together for many hours a week.

“We are all very committed to striving for excellence,” asserted Dobernig, “because we never want to do something halfway.”

When asked why they selected the specific genre of works to perform in their submission, Truax answered, “Not only is the quartet a classical ensemble, but we just find so many interesting pieces that are not influenced by jazz.”

Jordheim noted that “their very definite opinions on the kind of music they wanted to play differentiate them from other saxophone ensembles in the past.” Receiving coaching only once a week, the ensemble has become “quite independent in their learning.”

In terms of future plans, Obst said, “We definitely plan to enter more competitions and we are going to be working on Philip Glass’ ‘Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra’ soon.”

Although Davis and Truax are both seniors, the quartet shall continue performing with the same four members next year. Davis plans to stay in the area, while Truax will complete one more year at the conservatory.

The award for the saxophone quartet was not Lawrence’s only accomplishment in the magazine. Downbeat Magazine also honored alum Garth Neustadter ’10 in the undergraduate college jazz arrangement category for his original arrangement of “Tenderly” by Walter Gross.

Neustadter arranged the composition during his senior year at Lawrence. He is currently a first-year graduate student at Yale University studying music composition.