Barkada Quartet at Nichols Hall – Hanging With The Guys
The Music Institute of Chicago continues its delivery of top quality musical performances in the heart of its 2012 – 2013 Faculty and Guest Artist Series with a presentation of the The Barkada Quartet, winners of the 2012 Fischoff Chamber Competition.
Founded in 1973 in South Bend, Indiana, Joseph E. Fischoff and a group of ensemble members from the South Bend Chamber Music Society founded a contest to encourage youth to participate in the performance of chamber music, drawing a pool of six groups to the first competition. Now in its 40th year, the Fischoff prize has global cachet, drawing over 125 groups per year from 22 nationalities in wind and string categories. The Indiana originated Barkada Quartet boasts ‘home field advantage’ as they achieved the grand prize and also a gold medal in the senior division wind competition.
The word barkada, from the Tagalog word meaning “group of friends”, appears to be just that. Formed by a group of current and former students of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, the Barkada Quartet insists their musical interests grew out of friendship and not the other way around. Their easy demeanor and relaxed presence on stage belies their expert skill as saxophonists. While performing it’s almost as if the audience is watching a group of men having a chat at the water cooler, if their conversation is conducted in a wonderfully rich (and polyphonic) language that is visceral and provocative. Barkada Quartet consists of Christopher Elchico (soprano sax), Marti Comas (alto sax), Steven Lawhorn (tenor sax), and Justin Polyblank (baritone sax). Performing a program mixed with classic and contemporary repertoire, Barkada quickly illustrated why they were selected for the Fischoff prize.
The most remarkable feature of Barkada Quartet was their versatility. It can often be difficult to adapt classical compositions to suit the tone and timbre of the relatively young saxophone family. Their blend was delicate when needed, sounding at times sweet and clear and at times bold and brash, always in line with the desired mood and performed with exceptional talent. They never sounded out of place from the 18th century Handel arrangement of Arrival of the Queen of Sheba and the famous Italian Concerto BWV 971 by Bach, to the twenty-first century John Leszczynski composition They Might Be Gods. At times Comas’ sweet and breathy tone sounded more like a clarinet than an alto, and Elchico’s soprano would flit in and out of oboe-like colors, but then a great fanfare would ring out and you feel the length and size of the coiled up baritone saxophone as it rattles the pews and has that unmistakable saxophone punch.
While the Bach Italian Concerto was particularly well performed and a personal favorite, perhaps their most impressive performance was Quartets per a saxos, Volum 1 by Spanish saxophonist and composer David Salleras Quintana. The Quartets has a great narrative quality, almost cinematic, and while there is an unmistakably Spanish contemporary aesthetic, there’s also a bit of far east snake charmer sprinkled in. Quintana puts each saxophonist through its paces, exploring its full range as well as pushing its tonal boundaries with polyphony and altissimo runs that were performed with a remarkably high quality. I stepped away enjoying this piece the most for its playful yet reflective balance, it felt much more honest and celebratory of the saxophone as an instrument.
The Barkada Quartet’s greatest asset is their clear sense of friendship and easy rapport with the audience. They casually deliver such a high caliber chamber music that it would be easy to imagine a long and promising career for the group. Currently on their Fischoff-sponsored victory tour around the Midwest and then a 2013 tour in Italy, Barkada is certain to catch people’s ear the world over.