Last April 2018 we had an important concert in one of the great halls of Barcelona, L'Auditori, within the Emergents Festival. This is an initiative of the L’Auditori that gathers for a few days in Barcelona the best emerging musicians and groups of the current scene. For us, it was a special opportunity to show one of our strong commitments as a chamber ensemble: the new musical creation.
For this reason, we decided to commission a work to a renowned composer from Spain, José Río-Pareja, musician from Barcelona whose works have been premiered and performed by prestigious ensembles such as the Arditti Quartet, ensemble recherche o the Ensemble Intercontemporain, among many others.
After a few sessions of work with José, the fruit of the whole process was Parhelia, a quartet for soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. You can listen and enjoy the piece in the following video, in the live recording from the World Premiere:
To learn a little more about this extraordinary work and the process of it, we asked some questions to José:
Parhelia (2018) is your first piece for saxophone quartet, but you had previously worked on this instrument in some of your works for ensemble, such as Estrellas variables (2015) and Luminosa azul (2016). What does attract you to write for saxophone? Which are the qualities of the instrument that interest you and that you like to make use of in your works?
The saxophone seems to me a truly formidable instrument, very versatile, and with a huge variety of sound resources. I am especially interested in the very precise control that allows both in the generation of multiphonics and in the production of microtones and different timbral fingerings. In the two works that you comment, as well as in Parhelia, my search focused on different types of multiphonics that stand out for two characteristics in particular: on one hand, those that only have two frequencies, called diphonic, and, on the other hand, those that have a denser spectrum and produce acoustic beatings.
Writing for saxophone quartet entails almost the same challenges as composing for string quartet, in the sense that are four instruments of the same family that, although they comprise different tessituras, have an equivalent sonority.
Yes. As in a string quartet, we could say that the four saxophones form a "meta-instrument" with a very compact and balanced sonority throughout the wide register that add their different tessituras. This characteristic makes it very attractive for a composer to write a piece for any of these two formations.
For those who do not know, a parhelion is an optical phenomenon by which two spots of light are observed on either side of the Sun. Would you define your work as descriptive?
Yes, it describes this optical phenomenon of the halo family caused by the refraction of sunlight when it passes through the ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere. In English they are also known as Sun dogs, and in German they are known as "Die Nebensonnen", precisely the title of the penultimate song of the Winterreise cycle by Franz Schubert. The text of this lied begins by describing exactly this optical phenomenon: "I saw three suns in the sky…". In Parhelia I propose a sound path that metaphorically brings us closer to these Sun dogs: a musical journey from the observation in the distance of the first rays of light to the near vision of the intense radiation.
The culmination of the months of composition and work with Kebyart was the premiere that took place at L'Auditori de Barcelona on April 9th, 2018. How do you remember working with us and that first public audition?
I have a magnificent memory of all this. It was a pleasure to work with you, both for your musical talent and for your approach to Parhelia, always meticulous and accurate before and during rehearsals. Also, finally, for the formidable premiere that you did in L'Auditori.