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Quartet expands on saxophone repertoire

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The saxophone is the stepchild of string quartets.

Not invented until 1846, the instrument lacks the broad history of the piano and violin.

Iridium Quartet seeks to change that lack of repertoire by regularly commissioning new works. The saxophone quartet will perform at the Las Puertas Event Center at Chatter on Sunday, Sept. 9.

Formed in 2010, Iridium is one of a few sax quartets. The group has played at festivals, been invited as artists-in-residence and performed tours throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico and the British Isles.

At Chatter, the musicians will open with “Morse Code Pop” (2015) by University of Texas at Austin composer Rob Smith. The piece features a syncopated theme that mimics the sound of a Morse code signal.

“It kind of resembles Morse code – dots and dashes; it’s kind of a wild good time,” baritone sax player and University of New Mexico professor Eric Lau said.

UNM professor Peter Gilbert’s “Burned Into Orange” was inspired by the colors of the New Mexico landscape.

“It floats along,” Lau said. “The pitches bend around. Sometimes you can’t tell who’s playing.”

Iridium commissioned composer Peter Liewen to write “Skylines” in 2014.

The work is the title track to a CD scheduled for release days before the concert.

“It’s a minimalist piece with an ostinato (repeated phrase) in the lower sax and the melody in the upper sax,” Lau said. “It’s a joyful piece; it’s sort of jazz-influenced in its harmonies.”

The program will close with three movements from “Compass” (2010) by Pulitzer Prize finalist David Rakowski. Each movement represents a compass point.

“It’s a toe-tapper that you can’t figure out where to put your foot down,” Lau said.

Debussy was the first composer to write specifically for the saxophone.

“We’re playing new music, and we’re trying to gain notoriety and get more music for the saxophone written,” Lau said.

And no, the silvery white chemical element iridium plays no role in the creation of a saxophone, he added.

“We were looking for a name and we liked it. It’s shiny and we thought it was cool.”