Saxophone Quartet Premieres UC Davis Faculty and Student Compositions in Concerts

The Mana Quartet, a saxophone ensemble, will perform several new UC Davis works in two concerts Nov. 10 and 11. 

The Nov. 11 concert will include the premiere of “Seagram Murals” by Mika Pelo, associate professor in the Department of Music. This and other works being performed are part of the “Sight and Sound” project through which the Mana Quartet and Chamber Music America commissioned music inspired by visual art works. The concert is at 7 p.m. in the Ann E. Pitzer Center Recital Hall on the UC Davis campus.

The idea for “Seagram Murals” came to Pelo while he was in the Mark Rothko gallery — a room he’d visited many times — at the Tate Modern in London.

“Having sat there for quite some time, reaching some sort of a blissful meditative state, I suddenly realized that I had the paintings for my quartet right before me,” he said. “The presence of the genius of Rothko is extremely strong, and every time I am in there it is a spiritual, almost religious experience.” 

Rothko was commissioned in 1958 to create paintings for the Four Seasons restaurant in the new Seagram Building in New York City.  Although he painted nearly 30 pieces, Rothko withdrew from the project. The Tate has nine of the paintings. 

“There is no direct, literal translation between Rothko’s paintings and my quartet,” Pelo said. “I have attempted to filter my own strong and visceral impression of the works through me and tried to express them in my music. The correlation between the quartet and Rothko’s art exists, then, mostly on a more elusive and abstract level. The form of the piece — 25 minutes long and without breaks — is similar to the murals in that my piece is also in sections, and the sections themselves have a lot of similarities between them.”

Other works will include the premiere of “I Want to Unfold” by Jay Derderian, “Vide Supra” by A.J. Stillabower, “Constructions for Julie Mehretu” by Everette Minchew and “Untitled” by David Sanford. 

Sanford, whose music has been performed by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Detroit Symphony Orchestra, will give a presentation at UC Davis Nov. 10 at 4 p.m. in Music Building Room 203.

Tickets for the Nov. 11 concert are $20, $18 for UC Davis faculty and staff, and $10 for students and children.

The Nov. 10 concert is free and also takes place at noon in the Pitzer Center Recital Hall. It will include first performances of works by doctoral composition students.

Founded in 2007, Mana has premiered dozens of works and widely performed underrepresented masterpieces of the last century. The saxophone ensemble is made up of Michael Hernandez, soprano; Michael Mortarotti, alto; Diane Hunger, tenor; and Thomas Giles, baritone, performing on vintage instruments based on specifications from Adolphe Sax, who invented the instrument in 1840.

— Jeffrey Day, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science