Intellectually, I am sure J. S. Bach did not write for the saxophone (there weren’t too many around in 1741). But thanks to the Kenari Quartet’s scintillating performance Friday at a Baldwin Wallace Bach Festival preview event, I now have my doubts. And I think that he would have if he’d heard their treatment of the Goldberg Variations a la David Maslanka.
Saxophonists Bob Eason, Kyle Baldwin, Corey Dundee and Steven Banks paid tribute to contemporary composer/innovator Maslanka (who died last August) by offering selections (chosen by BW professor Dani Kuntz) to show how work by Bach and Maslanka merged. Moving smoothly from baroque to jazz to contemporary styles, the quartet added well-thought out improvisations in (as the program notes) ways “Bach probably would never [have] imagined.” Swiftly trading solo spots for duets and then moving back into quartet formation, the ensemble allowed each performer a well-deserved spotlight in a joyful exploration of complex responses to Bach.
The program opened with a sprightly arrangement of Bach’s Italian Concerto in F Major, BWV 971 (arranged by Katsuki Tochio) and closed with “The Soul Is Here for its Own Joy” from Songs for the Coming Day (8’) by Maslanka.
While I’m not sure that there’s anything Bach could not have imagined if he’d had an incentive to, the concert was more than a tribute to the past — it was sheer musical delight to hear so many ways a single bass line (and the versatility of the sax) could be celebrated, especially in a piece originally designed for a harpsichord.
The Kenari Quartet will return as part of the Baldwin Wallace Bach Festival on Sat 4/14 @ 3pm. Although live music can’t be beat, if it snows again (gah!) or you just can’t get out, it will be live streamed via the BW Conservatory Bach Festival website. To learn more about this relatively new group, see Kenari Quartet.