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Interview originally published in Saxophone Journal (July/August 1999)
Left to Right: Harry White, Carina Raschèr, Kenneth Coon, & Bruce Weinberger

Raschèr Saxophone Quartet

(Bruce Weinberger was unavailable for this multi-person interview.)


January 14, 1998

Hotel Wellington, New York City


James Noyes, interviewer


The year 1999 marks the thirtieth anniversary of one of the world’s leading classical chamber ensembles, the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet.  A longtime dream of renowned saxophonist Sigurd Raschèr, the quartet was formed in 1969, at which point Raschèr’s solo career had already spanned four decades.  Evidence of Raschèr’s interest in chamber music can be seen very early on.  According to the “Preface to Ernst Lothar von Knorr: Sonata for Saxophone and Piano,” Raschèr states:


For a young musician with unusual dreams and plans, Berlin in the early ‘thirties was a real Mecca.  Here was one of the finest orchestras, here were active many great composers, and here you could hear every famous musician.  Here was the Musicians Guild with a music school, open to everybody.  Its leading personalities were Knorr, Jöde and Hindemith.  It was necessary to create works not only for everyday musik making, but also for various festivities.  Just remember Plöner Musiktag and Wir bauen eine Stadt.  Chambermusic was our preference.  But since a saxophone never was called for, neither I nor my students at the music school had a chance to participate.  So, I asked my friends to do something about that.  Thus, Knorr’s Trio for Winds and Hindemith’s Konzertstück came about.  We played the trio on June 7, 1932 in a chambermusic concert at the music school.  On the following day music critic W. of Der Abend wrote:  “Die Bläsermusik was greatly enjoyed by the audience and had to be repeated.  Raschèr, Dargel and Schütz gave an excellent rendition.”  But I could not perform Hindemith’s Konzertstück für zwei Altsaxophone in Berlin, because I had no competent partner.


Raschèr’s primary efforts for the earlier part of his career, however, went toward cultivating solo works.  His interest in chamber music reemerged in the late 1950’s when he and daughter Carina began performing as a duo.  Works written for this father/daughter team include Concerto Piccolo by Erland von Koch, Jephtha by Carl Anton Wirth, Barcarole by Wolfgang Jacobi, Three Flourishes by John David Lamb, and Hymn and Fuguing by Henry Cowell.  During the early ‘60’s, Raschèr became director of the yearly summer “Saxophone Institute” held at the Eastman School of Music.  As part of the institute curriculum, all students participated in saxophone ensembles directed by Raschèr, including saxophone quartets as well as a large ensemble of eleven pieces.  A program from July 10, 1964 indicates a healthy allowance of chamber music, including Jephtha, for soprano saxophone, alto saxophone and piano performed by Carina and Sigurd Raschèr, Hindemith’s Trio for Viola, Tenor Saxophone and Piano, Opus 47, as well as two quartet arrangements and five large ensemble arrangements of the music of Handel, Husa, McDowell, and Mendelssohn, where Carina played sopranino/soprano and Mr. Raschèr played contrabass!  By 1969, Raschèr’s teaching influence had made an impact on dozens of saxophonists, of which three of his most highly skilled students were selected to create the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet: Carina Raschèr, soprano/alto saxophone; Sigurd Raschèr, alto saxophone; Bruce Weinberger, tenor saxophone; and Linda Bangs, baritone saxophone. 

It is well known that during his career as a concert soloist, Sigurd Raschèr inspired many of this century’s leading composers to write music especially for him, including Glazunov, Hindemith, Milhaud, Ibert, and Cowell.  Dedicated to further strengthening this tradition, the Raschèr Quartet has cultivated a repertoire of nearly 250 works written especially for them by such composers as Berio, Bergman, Bialas, Denhoff, Donatoni, Firsowa, Glass, Gubaidulina, Halffter, Haubenstock-Ramati, Kaipainan, Keuris, de Leeuw, Lukas, Maros, Raxach, Sandström, von Schweinitz, Stucky, Terzakis, Urbanner, Wuorinen, Xenakis and Zechlin.  The combination of the Raschèr Quartet with orchestra, an exciting and fascinating synthesis, has resulted in more than twenty works which have featured the Raschèr Quartet with the world’s leading orchestras, including Gewandhaus Leipzig, BBC Symphony London, Dresdner Staatskapelle, Bavarian Radio Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic, Swedish Radio Orchestra, Bergen Philharmonic, American Composers Orchestra, Residentie Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Philharmonique de Strassbourg, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and I Fiamminghi.  The Raschèr Quartet has attracted much attention from composers due to their ability to create a wide array of tonal possibilities.  According to them, this remarkable flexibility is facilitated by their use of older saxophones which have the physical dimensions intended by the instrument’s inventor, Adolphe Sax.  The German musicologist Ulrich Dibelius was so impressed with the “Adolphe Sax tone” that he wrote:  “When the Raschèr Quartet plays Bach, the music takes on a seraphic Aura, as if the organ and the string quartet had come together.”


In January of 1998, I had the pleasure of hearing the Raschèr Quartet with the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall and again, two days later in a chamber music concert at Merkin Concert Hall.  I was truly inspired by their performances!  As I am actively involved in a research project tracing the history of the classical saxophone quartet, I was naturally quite interested to hear first-hand about the evolution of the Raschèr Quartet.  I feel most fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet the members of the quartet and to have had such a thoughtful and meaningful discussion regarding their thirty-year history, their philosophies, and their continuous dedication to their art.  I would like to personally thank Carina, Harry and Ken for taking time out of their busy schedules to speak with me.


JN:      What motivated Sigurd Raschèr to form the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet in 1969?

CR:     My father heard the Mule Quartet at the premier of the Glazunov [Quatour pour quatre saxophones, Op. 109] in Paris on December 14, 1933.  This must have been the first time he really heard a quartet and was very impressed not only with the quartet, but also with Glazunov who he went to visit the next day.  That’s how [the Concerto for Alto Saxophone by Glazunov] came about!  So he heard the premier of that quartet and, of course, knew of the possibilities all those years.  It was one of his dreams to have a quartet; he just didn’t have enough good students to start one until 1969.  So, it was an idea that had been with him for many, many years.  It was nothing new, and long before 1933, historically, there had been quartets.  It’s the most wonderful form of chamber music for my feeling; the interaction of four people is, I find, the most exciting form of music.  I could have had a solo career, but I’m sure glad I chose the quartet.

HW:    We are, too!

JN:      Was Sigurd Raschèr involved with saxophone quartets before this time?

CR:     Not professionally.  Only with his teaching and coaching of students.

JN:      Was the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet an extension of the father/daughter duo formed some years earlier?

CR:     It depends on how you look at it.  I never made the connection in my head to tell you the truth.  I had played with my father for many years and after the formation of the quartet, I continued to perform duo concerts with him for a couple of years.

JN:      What were the circumstances surrounding the quartet’s first performance?

CR:     The first tour was in Europe, not in the United States.  It was a three week tour, and we played over thirty concerts, one a day and sometimes two.  There were no major concerts, but we were just beginning and were trying out our repertoire, which consisted mainly of transcriptions.  We did have the Jacobi [Niederdeutscher Tanz].  We did a lot of AATB, simply because there wasn’t a lot around for SATB yet.  We were searching for our dynamic within the group.  You must remember that we had three youngsters and a professional.  I was the oldest, and then came Linda Bangs and Bruce [Weinberger].  He was still in high school! 

HW:    He would have been nineteen.

CR:     Yes!  So, here we were three youngsters like I said.  However, my father never treated us like that and I think that’s amazing.  Yes, he was fatherly, but he didn’t say, “Now that was wrong, do this!  Do that!”  He respected the way we did our things and we talked about it.  We simply learned from listening.  Of course, I had been playing duos with him since I was seven years old.  So we were already a team in that sense.

JN:      What was the response to this first tour?  How was it received?

CR:     Very well.  We got wonderful reviews.  It was just fun.  We did smaller concerts.  There were no major concerts, but I think that is the way to start. 

HW:    You also played some concerts in Switzerland.

CR:     Yes.

HW:    At the time, Switzerland was so conservative, that it was unheard of to have a saxophone quartet with two women and two men.

CR:     Oh, yes!  I had forgotten all about that in the meantime.

HW:    I mean in 1969, that situation was really something.  Women in Switzerland, some of them, couldn’t vote until five years ago!  I remember your father telling me that people would say to him, “What?  You have a quartet with two women?”

CR:     “What are they doing here?” [laughs]

HW:    But they changed their minds when they heard the group.

CR:     And, Linda on the big instrument!  Oh!  Of course, we enjoyed that.  But, I do remember that on the second tour of Europe, we played the Tonhalle in Zürich in the small recital hall, and that was an enormous success.

JN:      That was in 1970?

CR:     Yes, and on our old Coronet records, the picture on the front is from the Tonhalle.  So, that was a major concert on our second tour.  Then I came to the United States and we had tours here, but the majority of concerts were in Europe.  They were in blocks.  They weren’t spread over the whole year--three weeks here, four weeks there.  It was not like it is now, where we’re continuously on the road year ‘round.

JN:      So, now it’s a full-time endeavor?

HW:    Yes; now it’s our job.  I can add one thing.  Your father told me several years ago, when he was talking about the quartet, that with hindsight he looked upon those first ten years as more of a training time for the quartet.  Of course you played concerts, but no one lived from it, and everyone had other activities outside of it.  He said that it was a very important phase in the quartet’s life.  He was able to impart all of his vast knowledge about music and music making.

CR:     Exactly.  He knew that we should start small.  However, one concert I remember very well was in Prague at the Smetena House.  It was an enormous success!  And that is when we met Emil Hlobil and Ivan Patachich.  [Quartetto per Saxofoni, Op. 73 by Hlobil and Quartettino per Saxofoni by Patachich] are two pieces that come from this time—very nice pieces.  Although Patachich is Hungarian, he was there to visit and heard us, and wrote this lovely piece.  I do hope young players are playing these pieces.  They are absolutely worth while. 

JN:      What were the short-term and long-term expectations for the group at this time?

HW:    At the time, I think everyone just wanted to play some concerts together, but later when [Sigurd Raschèr] saw how successful the quartet had become full-time, I think he saw [the first ten years] as a very important training time. 

CR:     I was living in Europe and the others were here, but we were an established quartet.  Absolutely.  We were not a throw-together group.  We never had any changes until ‘80.  ‘69 to ‘80.  That’s a long time!

JN:      The Raschèr Saxophone Quartet is comprised of American performers, yet the group is based in Germany.  How did this curious situation come about?

CR:     There’s a good reason for that.  If you do as much new music as we do, which is practically exclusively, you cannot exist in the United States.  There are not enough possibilities here for concerts.  And then we would have to start making compromises, and I’m not up for making all sorts of compromises.  I don’t want to do that.  I’m afraid I’ve seen it with other quartets.  First of all, be true to yourself and be true to your instrument.  That’s my philosophy.

HW:    It’s just not as rewarding if you have to play ragtime music.  I love Joplin, I really do, but I don’t necessarily need to play it on the same program with Charles Wuorinen and Xenakis.

CR:     Now, I hope this is not taken as if we have our noses up.  That’s not it at all.  I have great respect for what other quartets do and their struggle.  But I wasn’t willing to make the compromise, besides the fact that I was personally involved in Europe.  I was married.  I have a son.  My colleagues joined me in Tübingen.

HW:    The way that it happened was Sigurd Raschèr retired [in 1980] and for the moment there was no more Raschèr Quartet.  Then Bruce and Linda coincidentally went to Germany for very different reasons.  They were both involved in Waldorf education and were over there doing different things. Soon after, Carina, Bruce and Linda decided to do some playing again.  Then it was just a matter of getting John to come over to join them in Tübingen.  Now, we are based in the town of Lörrach.  The people there have been very, very supportive of us.  They commissioned Steven Stucky to write a piece for us, a very beautiful saxophone quartet with strings.  They’re very proud to have the Raschèr Quartet in town.

CR:     It’s a nice feeling. 

JN:      Is there a unifying philosophy behind the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet?

HW:    Let’s all say what our unifying philosophies are.  You’ll probably hear three different unifying philosophies!

KC:     Obviously, one of the main ones is to cultivate a good repertoire for the saxophone quartet.  Cultivate and play it as well as possible.  Also, another goal that we have is to inspire and educate enough players to eventually play this repertoire.  Every now and then in Europe you’ll see a few quartets who will take a stab at trying to play some of the harder pieces that we play, but far too few.  Far too few.  And, we do have very, very strong educational goals as well.  We don’t want to keep all of these pieces a secret, where only we play them.  All four of us would love one day to see quartets playing Xenakis   [XA   ] and Wuorinen [Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra] and Keuris [Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra] and all these other pieces.

JN:      When I heard you yesterday, I couldn’t imagine there being many, if any other groups that could have performed that entire program [Xenakis, XA  , Denhoff, pnoxoud (trio version), Wuorinen Concerto (quartet version), and Glass Concerto (quartet version)].

All:      There will be!

JN:      Sigurd Raschèr was performing solo pieces before anyone else could even attempt them, and now...

HW:    Exactly.

CR:     That’s the run of history.  That’s the way it is.

JN:      So perhaps in another ten, fifteen years, there will be other groups like you say.

KC:     I think so.  Since we do a lot of educational work, we encounter a lot of talented players.  It’s amazing.  We did a workshop a couple of years ago, and Harry and Bruce both said that they had never heard such a concentration of good players.  The players are out there.  “The seeds have been sown,” as Mr. Raschèr would say, and I think now it’s just a question of people actually having the drive to go out and try to do it.

CR:     But the opportunities for playing here in America are becoming so poor.  It really is like a blanket over all of your efforts.  It has nothing to do with the talent or the good will of the players.  It’s just that the situation here is simply appalling!  It’s really sad.

KC:     Carina said that she wasn’t willing to make any compromises.  Not only is she not willing to, but you can’t.  You can’t go and play a dance job three nights a week, really do that work well, and still play this repertoire.  We are a full-time group out of necessity.  There’s no way you could be a throw-together group and play this.

HW:    You can’t do this stuff part-time.

CR:     No, no.

KC:     It’s impossible.  I doubt it would be possible for anyone.

HW:    The unifying philosophy...

CR:     For me the Raschèr Quartet is important, yes, but we are not number one, we are number two.  The first is the composer.  In other words, we are vehicles for the interpretation.  We work with the composer before he or she writes the piece, during, and after.  I feel that in the last hundred years there has been a long development that the performer has become more important than the composer.  You go to a concert to hear so-and-so, not to hear Bach and Beethoven, and it’s not right!  We are the interpreters, not the makers of this wonderful music, and so many of us forget that.  Without the composer what would we do?  Sing a ditty or what?  That is my philosophy behind it.  Put yourself into the position, okay.  I’m going to really try and interpret.  This is something that we do together and that’s one of the wonderful things about being in a quartet.  We fight about it.  We talk about it.  We try this out, then try that.  We have a philosophy that if one person in the quartet makes a suggestion, even if you think, “Boy, is this crazy?”  No!  You try it.  And then we discuss it and if you don’t like it, okay.  We’ll even try a new idea in a concert and see how it works.  So that’s a part of our philosophy, this working together, trying to do the best for the composer.

HW:    I think there is one other unifying philosophy and that is the tone quality.  I think that we all strive to have the most beautiful, flexible sounds that we can achieve.  The flexibility is so important because obviously you need a very different tone quality for Xenakis than you do for the Denhoff Trio.  These are two different worlds of sound.  That’s very important for us.  When we hear young, talented players that’s one thing that’s usually lacking; the tone quality doesn’t vary.  There’s not any flexibility

JN:      It is well known that the group favors the use of older instruments.  Is this a big part of your tonal concept?

HW:    It helps.  That’s for sure.  But, the most important thing is what you hear.  Those instruments work with us, help us to get what we want.

CR:     We use them as tools, yes.

JN:      Do you feel that modern instruments have the flexibility that you’re looking for?

KC:     To be quite honest, no.  And, it’s not just a case of saxophone.  We were talking with a conductor a couple of years ago about this topic, and he was talking not only about saxophones, but other wind and stringed instruments.  Usually, modern instruments do not have the flexibility.  When you make an advancement in one direction, you usually sacrifice in another direction. That is unfortunately the case with a lot of wind instruments that are made today, where some improvements are made, some advancements are made.

CR:     Technically.

KC:     Yes, technically, but tonally you make some sacrifices.  Personally, what I like about the instruments that we play is the flexibility that we have.  The tonal flexibility, which is very, very crucial to us because of the repertoire we play today.  What we have to play today and what composers ask of us, demands a much wider tonal spectrum than what the quartet had to play even twenty years ago.

CR:     Absolutely!

KC:     And, I couldn’t do that with a modern instrument.

CR:     I couldn’t imagine playing at four times fortissimo—fortississississimo—on a high [fourth octave] B-flat the way I do, on a modern saxophone.  It would crack.  It wouldn’t take it. 

HW:    They don’t have the resistance.

CR:     They don’t have enough resistance.

KC:     This isn’t a problem that’s unique to saxophone.  I’ve talked with trumpet players, flute players, string players.  They often complain that modern instruments are wanting in tonal richness and flexibility.

HW:    Fortunately, some of these old companies made saxophones, which have decent intonation.  Of course, it’s hard to find those instruments, but they do exist.  As long as the scale is even, then you’re ready to go with the old instrument.

CR:     It takes more effort.  It’s much easier to play a modern instrument.  I’ve noticed that often again if I have a student who has started on a modern instrument, but he’s very interested in getting this, I don’t know what you want to call it, “old-fashioned tone,” it’s a problem.  He’s complaining,  “Oh, gosh this is hard; you have to blow so hard.”  For me, it’s worth the effort.

JN:      Sigurd Raschèr was also a pioneer of the altissimo register.  Has this influenced those writing for the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet?

CR:     Absolutely.  Composers always ask for it because they know we can do it.  It’s not like we say, “Look, we’ve got something special here.”  Most of them know it already in advance.  But that’s not a new thing anymore.  Everyone is playing altissimo (if you want to call it that) high register these days. 

JN:      In terms of the repertoire, what are your uppermost limits for each of the instruments?

HW:    Well, acoustically on a soprano after a [fourth octave] D or E-flat it just doesn’t work.  Then, for the E-flat instruments, we both have pieces that go up to four full octaves.  The Halffter Concerto goes up to a [fifth octave] high B-flat [for the alto].

KC:     I had to play a [fifth octave] C-sharp once.

HW:    Which piece was that?

KC:     Atli Sveinsson [Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Small Orchestra].

CR:     You’re kidding!

HW:    Oh, I forgot about that!

KC:     And it was a solo, too.  I remember that!  [laughs]

HW:    Bruce has close to four octaves.  I think he goes up to a [fourth octave] G or A.

CR:     The composers have helped us develop this.  When we first got the Maros [Quartet for Saxophones], we nearly fell off our chairs.  “Oh, my God!  How do we play this?”  You know the opening baritone solo.  My goodness!  But you know, they’ve helped us.  We’ve helped them, yes, but they’ve helped us, too.  Absolutely.  Each one asked for a little more and you sat down and you did it, and you were a better player for it.  So, we’re thankful for them, not just for pieces but also for developing our range; our range of octaves and our range of musical possibilities.  It’s an interplay.

JN:      The Denhoff Trio features quartertones as one musical possibility.  How do you go about practicing that technique?

HW:    I practice singing a normal half step.  Then I sing quartertone intervals.  It’s very, very difficult, but absolutely necessary because if you can’t hear it, you can’t play it.  That’s the hardest thing to do, to really practice singing chromatic quartertones.  There are all kinds of funny exercises.  I play an F major scale with everything up a quartertone, so that the quartertones are in tune with themselves.

CR:     Try it!

HW:    For most of the quartertones you can find a very reliable fingering.  I may have to make a small adjustment in the amount of jaw pressure, but if you hear what you’re aiming for, it will come.  I don’t make drastic embouchure adjustments for any of them.

JN:      How have works come to be written for the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet?  Friendships?  Commissions?

CR:     The word “commissioning,” how do you define it?

JN:      Paying somebody to write a piece.

CR:     We’ve never paid a composer personally in that sense.

HW:    There was always a mutual desire for us to have a piece from the composer, and the composer would want to write something for us.  But of course, certain composers received commissions either from a festival or...

CR:     Radio stations.

HW:    National Endowment for the Arts.  Something like that.  But not until all five parties, the four members of the quartet and the composer, wanted a new piece.  That was always the voraussetzung, the condition.

CR:     But, I must say that in the early ‘80s we went looking for good composers.  Among them were Xenakis and Berio.  At our own cost we traveled to Paris, and knocked on Xenakis’s door.  He lived up six flights—I’ll never forget it!  Under Momatre in Paris, he had a studio.  There was so much paper and so much stuff lying around; he had to clear off a space where we could play first.  It’s like it was yesterday.  Denisov was there at the same time.  We played for him.  Or, we went to London to play for Berio at our own expense and played in the apartment of Placido Domingo.  He wasn’t there but Berio was using his apartment.  These are things I remember.

HW:    I wasn’t there at the time, but I know from Bruce that neither Berio nor Xenakis once mentioned money.  It was never discussed, yet I’m sure they were paid by somebody to write those pieces.

CR:     Could be, but we had nothing to do with it.  They were so interested.  The fantastic thing is that we had played what we thought were our most modern pieces for Xenakis.  Then he wanted to hear Bach.  We played nearly every Bach we had in our package, in our music bag.  Later he wanted cassettes of that.  Two years later the piece was finished.  Two years!  So he did a lot of thinking about this piece.

JN:      Why do you think it was the Bach that he wanted to hear?

CR:     I don’t know, he just liked the sound.  I don’t know if you realized it, but as soon as the faster part of the piece begins, it’s a canon.

HW:    Actually, it was a five-year waiting period.  You met him in ‘82 and then he wrote it in ‘87, five years later.

CR:     You’re right.  Five years.  Oh!

HW:    He loved the sound of Bach with saxophones.

CR:     You have no idea how many saxophone players had bombarded Xenakis before that—from all sides.

JN:      But, he heard your group, and...

CR:     I guess it must have been something that interested him.  Some possibility.  Then, he asked us to play completely differently than he had heard.  No vibrato and this kind of thing which was absolutely new for us.  Flying fast passages in the high register.  Wow!  Like I say, they [composers] made us work!  It’s been a mutual relationship with composers and I hope it continues that way. 

JN:      Which piece took you the longest to get together do you suppose?

CR:     Two.  One was the Keuris, to really get it together, to have it mature, to where I thought, “Okay, now we’re getting to where it’s supposed to be.”

HW:    Wuorinen.

CR:     Wuorinen, yes, but I also remember practicing the Halffter [conierto a cuatro] for a very long time.  There are passages there...The slash at the beginning means, “as fast as possible” and there’s no way you can read that; you have to play it by heart.  So practice slowly, get it in your head and then the notes are just a little reminder of what is coming up.  That’s all, no more.  Which pieces are for you, the hardest?

KC:     They’re all difficult in certain ways.  The Xenakis is probably one of the hardest.

CR:     These two fellows didn’t play Sandström [Moments musicaux pour quatre saxophones], but believe me that was a piece that we rehearsed for countless hours.  It’s tough!

KC:     Actually, my part in the Halffter is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever seen.

CR:     Yeah, I bet.

HW:    I find that with the entire repertoire, the technical problems are low on the scale.

JN:      The least of your problems.

HW:    Even something with all the pyrotechnics like Halffter or Xenakis, you can, with enough practice and enough patience, get all the notes.  What’s hard is to make music.

CR:     Yes!  You can’t be so involved technically that you don’t see the forest for a lot of trees.

HW:    Exactly.  For example, with a piece like the Wuorinen, the musical side isn’t obvious when you first start studying it.  Of course, it’s very hard; the soprano part especially is just a beast!  But, the hardest part is to make music out of these contemporary pieces.  Another thing which saxophonists learn is that we don’t have the traditions that other ensembles have and so, in some ways, you need a lot more fantasy and imagination.

CR:     Innovation.  Absolutely, yes.

HW:    From the interpretive side, there is much less of a tradition for playing music by Wuorinen or Xenakis, than there is for playing a Beethoven String Quartet.

CR:     That’s why I’m so grateful, also, for the background that I’ve had.  It all adds up.

KC:     That’s what’s special about this group.  We get a piece from a composer and I don’t think it would be too much to say that we do somewhat play an instrumental role in developing that piece.  I’ll never forget what Jouni Kaipainen said to us.  He said that he heard what he wrote down in his concerto, but he was thankful for the interpretation that we gave to it.  We don’t knock on the composer’s door every five minutes.  Of course, we work closely with the composer, but we’re not slaves to him, saying, “How should we phrase this?  How should we do that?”  We struggle with it ourselves.  The finished product has our input in it.

CR:     Oh, yes!

KC:     Of course, it’s still Wuorinen.  Of course, it’s Kaipainen and everything, but we struggle and work really, really hard with the score to help to develop the piece because, until we play it or until somebody else plays it, it’s just notes on paper.

HW:    I regard that as one of the best concertos for quartet and orchestra, the Kaipainen.

KC:     Exactly.

CR:     It’s brand new.  [September 1996, was the premier performance].

HW:    It’s a wonderful, wonderful piece.

JN:      Discuss the evolution of the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet with orchestra, citing specific works of importance.  As you mentioned earlier.

HW:    The first piece in the repertoire of the Raschèr Quartet with ensemble was the von Koch, I believe.  That was the first concerto with a large ensemble.

CR:     Die Saxophonia.

HW:    Composed in the mid-’70s for saxophone quartet and wind ensemble, it’s a good piece.

CR:     It’s a sweet piece.

JN:      With wind ensemble?

CR:     And orchestra!  He wrote both versions.

HW:    He wrote a version with orchestra?  I didn’t know that!

CR:     Oh, yes!

HW:    Well, we’ve played it with orchestra, but it was just the winds on stage.

CR:     I know, we’ve never done the string version.

HW:    I didn’t know there was a string version!

CR:     It’s much nicer!

HW:    Saxophonia with strings?

CR:     Yes!  [laughs]

KC:     The things you learn!

CR:     There are two versions of the Latham Concerto.

HW:    Yes, I knew that.

CR:     I remember doing the string one at the radio station in Holland.  Much nicer.  Anyway, continue.

JN:      So, the von Koch Concerto was the first one.

HW:    Did Adler come next?  Adler you premiered in Osnabrück, right?

CR:     I think so.  You’re asking questions...Man, I don’t remember—it’s too much!

HW:    I know you premiered the Adler [Concerto] in Osnabrück.

CR:     There was another number by Kox [Concerto] we did in Israel.

HW:    That was in ‘89.  That was the last year John Kelly played in the quartet.

KC:     The real watershed work probably, though, was the Keuris.

HW:    That was the first great concerto.

CR:     Absolutely.  We said we knew it—it was this feeling, wow, we’ve got something good here!

JN:      And when was this?

KC:     [It was performed in] ‘87 in Concertgebouw.

CR:     With the Holland Festival.  It was the gala, opening concert of the Holland Festival. 

HW:    The orchestra was called the Residentie Orchestra, but it was played in the Concertgebouw.

KC:     Hans Vonk [conducted].

JN:      How did the contact with Keuris come about?

CR:     I think we’d heard some music of his, and John [Kelly] contacted him.  Then, he came to a concert in northern Germany.  I remember it was in a little castle.  He got so excited when we visited him that he jumped up and down and ran around the piano.  I’ll never forget it—with his red hair, this crazy redhead.  Tristan was a great guy.

KC:     Keuris was an amazing musician.

HW:    You know he passed away.  He passed away December, ‘96.

JN:      Since this particular work was so successful, have you pursued the concept of saxophone quartet and orchestra more than in the past?

CR:     We saw it simply as another possibility.

JN:      Do you seek out this particular ensemble setting more than the chamber setting?

HW:    With regards to premiers, I would say 50/50 and with regards to performances, I would say half-and-half as well. 

JN:      So until ‘87 it was primarily just the quartet?

HW:    Recitals, yes.

JN:      How has the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet been able to maintain continuity during the past thirty years?  Also, how many changes in personnel have there been since 1969?

HW:    Only three changes. 

CR:     From my father to John Kelly in 1980.

HW:    There was a little downtime between your father’s retirement and the start-up again.

CR:     Exactly.  That was the first change.  The second change was from John Kelly to Harry White [1990].  And the third change was from Linda Bangs to Ken Coon [1992].  So, only three in thirty years.  I don’t think there are other quartets that can brag about that.  But you see, when you’re in here and you realize how few opportunities other saxophone players have and when you are in the Raschèr Quartet and you have this great opportunity, and it really is.  I’m thankful and I thank the stars that it has been that way.  You know, if you have this opportunity—what other saxophone player does?—you’re not about to leave the quartet.  Of course there are human difficulties that we need to work on.  We do work on them.  It’s a marriage of four people.  You’re in close quarters and we rehearse four and five hours a day.  But, we set a time and you’re there on time and it’s part of being professionals.  You do your job and you’ve practiced your own part as much as you can and try to be prepared.  It’s also what you expect of the other person that always lifts the level a little higher.  Of course, these things need to be talked about and like I said if something is suggested, we try it.  We’re open enough to tell each other, “Listen, that tone was a little out of tune,” or, “Rhythmically, you weren’t there together.”  So we help each other.  We all have different strengths and if you put these four strengths together to help each other, well then, the results aren’t bad. 

HW:    We rehearse a minimum of twelve hours a week.  Twelve up to sixteen. 

CR:     We used to rehearse even more.

HW:    It’s not necessary at the moment.

CR:     What’s not necessary?

HW:    That we rehearse twenty hours a week.

CR:     No, if you concentrate, you can do it.

HW:    We’re “played in” so-to-speak.  (Laughs)

KC:     When I first joined the quartet, we had to rehearse an awful lot.

CR:     Oh, God, did we have rehearsals!  Yes.

JN:      Now, in the early 1980s you mentioned you were looking for good composers...

CR:     Yes, we had a certain method of doing it.  We would contact the music information center of different countries, ask for tapes of certain composers; we’d pass around the tapes.  Everyone heard them.  “How do you like this guy?  How’s this?  How’s that?  Nah, this one’s not so...I’m not convinced about this one.  Oh, this one’s great, let’s do it.  So we contacted the composer.  We did lots in the early ‘80s.

JN:      Was there ever a time, perhaps a lack of musical activity, that caused you believe that the Raschèr Quartet might not continue?

CR:     No.  On the contrary.  There have been times where I’ve thought, “Oh, God, we’re doing fifteen—we’re doing twenty premiers a year.  Help!” 

HW:    How many concerts do we have in February?

CR:     Thirteen.

HW:    Thirteen performances in February and at least twelve different pieces to play.

CR:     In four countries.  Next week we’re in Luxembourg and then we’re off to Denmark, then we’re in Germany, then we’re in Finland.

JN:      How much time off a year?

CR:     I presume collectively it’s about six weeks.  But that’s putting everything together. 

HW:    Usually three or four in the summer and two in the winter.  In February we’re playing three different concertos and at least ten recital pieces.    

CR:     And a premier.  There’s another premier there, the Hampton.

HW:    Well, that’s not a premier.

CR:     But for us it is.

HW:    For us it’s a first.  So we have a lot of repertoire to keep polished.

JN:      What is the relationship between each performer and Sigurd Raschèr?  Has each studied with him personally? 

CR:     You don’t have to ask me that! 

KC:     I guess I would be the one who studied with him the least in the group.  Of course, I went to many, many workshops and had a few individual lessons with him.  It depends on how you say studied.  Of course, I didn’t study with Mr. Raschèr to the same extent that Harry, Bruce, or Carina did.  I mean, Harry was up there for a summer and went to more workshops than I did, and Bruce as well.  On the other hand I studied with a student of his, Patrick Meighan, very intensely, went to several workshops, had a lot of contact with him as well.  I think I could say that I’m a student of his.

JN:      Would it work to have somebody in the group who hadn’t studied with Sigurd Raschèr?

HW:    Well, if the Raschèr Quartet goes on for another twenty years, it’ll become a necessity!  [laughs]  That’s not a precondition for being a member of the Raschèr Quartet.

KC:     One of the wonderful legacies that Mr. Raschèr left us is a lot of fine teachers out there.  Like I said before, we hear more good players now when we go do these workshops than ever before.  So there’s some fine teaching going on out there. 

HW:    I went to the first workshop of Sigurd Raschèr in 1982, and then almost every summer until I moved to Germany in 1990.  I spent one summer up there [Shushan, NY].  That was one of the nicest times of my life.  That would have been in 1988.  I spent three months up there and had two lessons a week and each lesson was three hours long.

CR:     [Laughs] You got your fill!

HW:    Talk about instruction!  So, I learned a lot in that time.

CR:     You did your homework when you went to a lesson, right?

HW:    Well, of course I was prepared.

JN:      What are some of the significant milestones in the group’s history?

CR:     The premier of the Keuris in 1987.  You see, first of all it was the gala concert.  They took all of the seats out of the place and there were 6000 people standing in the Concertgebouw.  It was televised nationwide.

JN:      I’d call that a landmark event!

HW:    Another very significant performance was the Keuris Concerto at Royal Festival Hall in London with the BBC Symphony in 1994 with Andrew Davies conducting.

CR:     It’s hard to pick out one.  There are several. 

HW:    I think the Berio performance in Paris was unforgettable.

CR:     That is true.  That was.

HW:    That was a wonderful concert.  They featured Berio at the Opera Bastille.  Linda still played in the quartet then, so that would have been ‘92.  There were two long Berio pieces on the program: one piece with children’s choir and then this piece with eight singers, four saxophones, and four clarinets [Canticum Novissimi Testamenti].  That’s recorded on Philips, the Berio.  It was a great success.  The Opera Bastille—it looks like 4000 people fit in there.  It’s huge.  That was a nice concert. 

CR:     We’ve played in all the major capitals in Europe, so I don’t know if you can pick out one as being a high point.

HW:    What is interesting, and I know Carina and Ken would agree, is that sometimes some of the nicest concerts are little concerts in the countryside.

CR:     They can be so heartwarming somehow.  I don’t measure success in numbers in the audience or a great review, it’s a certain atmosphere and a thankful audience who really appreciates what you are doing. 

HW:    If you make some music.

JN:      What is the future of the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet?  Are you working with composers at present?

CR:     Certainly.  We’re always working.  There’s never a point in which we are not working with some composer.

JN:      Who are some that you are working with at this point?

HW:    Scott Lindroth.  Scott McAlistair.  And there are a few, which we can’t say yet because we’re just not sure.

CR:     There are always projects in the making.

HW:    Next year the quartet will be thirty.

JN:      Are there any special plans for your 30th anniversary?

CR:     There are plans.  When we were twenty there was also a TV program and there may be one coming up for our thirtieth—a whole hour.

HW:    In Germany. 

JN:      Are there any good anecdotes you might like to share?

HW:    There is a funny anecdote I can tell you.  A friend of mine works in city planning for the city of Lörrach and we were playing a benefit concert there one night.  The mayor, who is a very nice lady, was having a meeting with the city council and all the city planners.  In the protocol at the beginning she said, “Oh, and by the way, the Raschèr Quartet is playing a concert tonight.  You might not understand all of the music they play, but we’re very proud to have them here in Lörrach!”

KC:     Every time we’ve played in Lörrach, and we’ve played there several times actually since moving to the city, the halls have been full.

HW:    Packed.  The music critic in Lörrach always refers to us as “our quartet.”  Four Americans living there and they refer to it as “our quartet!”

CR:     I’m really touched; we all are.


Raschèr Saxophone Quartet - Selected Works List

Samuel Adler                        Line Drawings (1978)

Erik Bergman                       etwas rascher (1985)

                                                Music for Saxophone Quartet and Percussion (1993)

Luciano Berio                       Canticum Novissimi Testamenti (1990) with 8 singers and 4 clarinets

Günter Bialas                        Six Bagatelles (1986)

                                                Art of the Canon (1991)

Michael Denhoff                   Gegen-Sätze (1984) 

                                                Svolgimenti (1986)  

                                                pnoxoud (1989/90)

                                                remarks and reviews for quartet and orchestra (1993)

Violetta Dinescu                    Miniaturen (1982)

                                                Nakris (1984)

Franco Donatoni                   Rasch (1990)

Hugues Dufourt                    Saxophone Quartet (1993)

Jelena Firsova                       Far Away (1991)

Philip Glass                           Concerto for Saxophone Quartet (1995)

                                                Concerto Grosso with orchestra (1995)

Sofia Gubaidulina                In Erwartung (1993) with percussion

Cristobal Halffter                 Concerto (1990)

                                                Fractal (1992)

Jouni Kaipainen                   Vernal Concerto (1996)

Tristan Keuris                       Music for Saxophones (1986)

                                                Concerto (1986)

Erland von Koch                  Miniatures (1970)

                                                Saxophonia (1976)

Zdenek Lukas                       Rondo (1970)

Otmar Macha                        Quartet (1990)

Miklos Maros                        Quartet (1984)

                                                Concerto (1988)

Anders Nilsson                      Music for saxophone quartet and percussion (1993)

                                                Concerto Grosso (1995)

Wayne Peterson                    And the Winds Shall Blow (1994) with wind orchestra

                                                Windup (1996)

Enrique Raxach                    Antivisperas (1986)

Sven David Sandström         Moments musicaux (1985)

Robert Starer                        Light and Shadow (1978)

                                                Quartet for Saxophones (1984)

Steven Stucky                        Concerto (1995)

Augusta R. Thomas              Concerto (1997)

Charles Wuorinen                Concerto (1992)

                                                Saxophone Quartet (1992)

Iannis Xenakis                      XAS (1987)



Raschèr Saxophone Quartet - Selected Discography


Nonesuch 79496-2

Philip Glass - Concerto Grosso

Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra

Dennis Russell Davies, Conductor


Philips 446 094-2

Luciano Berio

London Sinfonietta Voices

Orchestre de Paris

Semyon Bychkov, Conductor


BIS CD-710

Sofia Gubaidulina

Kroumata Percussion Ensemble


Cala CACD 77003

Bach, Glazounov, Reich, Grainger, von Koch, Starer


Caprice 21435

Xenakis, Bergman, Denhoff, Dünser, Bialas, Terzakis


Caprice 21441

Kroumata Percussion Ensemble

Gubaidulina, Nilsson, Maros, Kox


BIS CD-953

Wuorinen, Peterson, Starer, Adler, Corbett, Florio





Cristobal Halffter - concierto a cuatro

Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Stuttgart

Cristobal Halffter, Conductor

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