| 03.20.2018

Creating Calefax

Pioneers of the Calefax Reed Quintet display their talents


Five Dutch musicians demonstrated their hard work, experience, talent and dedication during a performance that showcased an uncommon genre of music Tuesday in the University of Idaho Administration Building Auditorium.

The concert, featuring the Calefax Reed Quintet of the Netherlands, was the fourth in the 2017-18 UI Auditorium Chamber Music Series (ACMS), which focuses on bringing international groups to campus.

The performance included a mix of slow- and fast-paced tunes from multiple Calefax albums.

The Calefax Reed Quintet, different from the typical woodwind quintet, is composed of a bassoon, saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet and oboe. This combination of instruments was brand new when the quintet pioneered a new genre of music in 1985.

Bassoonist Alban Wesly said they didn’t necessarily plan to create a new genre of music, but he was in high school when an Amsterdam composer wrote their first tune for them, deciding to add a clarinet to the mix of four instruments they had proposed. Wesly said only by playing the piece did they realize how good the quintet would sound.

“Like many good things in life, it was just happening,” Wesly said. “It wasn’t a decision. It’s just something that happened by incident.”

Leonard Garrison, director of the ACMS, said the mix of instruments produces a “very rich sound.” Garrison said the quintet is interesting because the saxophone is not usually paired with other orchestral instruments, and the group must have had to learn how to incorporate the saxophone and let it blend with the others. Wesly introduced many of the tunes that the quintet performed, prefacing a number of them with the idea that the saxophone would “sing” the music.

Because the quintet pioneered a new type of ensemble, a new medium, they also had to create new compositions and arrangements to fit their quintet.

“If the medium doesn’t exist, then you have to create the repertoire,” Garrison said.

Wesly said the creation of new repertoire forced the quintet into “an intense way of music making.” He said it began as a disadvantage, not having the ability to look through a library of music and play anything they wanted, but ultimately it became an advantage for the quintet.

“We really had to dive in and arrange pieces to make them suitable for us,” Wesly said. “It was very rewarding.”

The quintet now sells their sheet music and encourages others who are following their path, playing in woodwind quintets. He said Calefax has a “real following” now, something they couldn’t imagine until five or ten years ago.

Wesly said although some view their selling of sheet music as a way to add to their own competition, Calefax wants the genre to survive them. There is such an abundance of string quartets, there should be room for other woodwind quintets, he said.

The quintet is currently on their 12th or 13th tour in the U.S., Wesly said, and they have been to 32 countries total over the last 30 years.

Calefax regularly attends U.S. universities and gives workshops in addition to their concerts.

“It’s always nice to combine some teaching and masterclasses with giving a performance,” Wesley said.

Garrison said it’s important for students to meet musicians from different countries who can bring an international perspective as well as expertise in how to make chamber music, how to rehearse together effectively and how to blend.

Wesly said one of the main things Calefax works on with students is teaching them how to connect with each other and communicate through clear movements, forming trust — something that the quintet has worked on for years.

The best thing about being in the Calefax Reed Quintet, Wesly said, is being their own bosses. He referred to the group as five equal bosses.

“It’s good to be so involved in all the layers of decision making and music making,” Wesly said. “It’s very challenging but also rewarding.”

Calefax Reed Quintet has a new album coming out soon that they previewed Monday on Northwest Public Radio.

The fifth and final 2017-2018 ACMS performance will be 7:30 Tuesday, April 24 in the Administration Building Auditorium, featuring the Horszowski Trio, a combination of violin, cello and piano.

Jordan Willson can be reached at arg-arts@uidaho.edu

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