Sunday, Jun 24, 2018
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Sax 4th Avenue shares stage with symphony


Stanley George performs on his soprano sax with the local quartet Sax 4th Avenue. The group performs this weekend in the Peristyle.


Go to a Toledo Symphony concert and you don't expect to hear the distinctive reedy wail of a saxophone.

Popular as the instrument in all its sizes has become since Adolphe Sax introduced it in the mid-19th century, few classical composers have warmed enough to its sound and color to cast it in their compositions.

This crossover creation - a brass instrument played with a reed and equipped with keys similar to a clarinet - the saxophone is ubiquitous in nearly every musical genre but classical.

Maybe that's why musical innovator Phillip Glass chose it for an early work in his by-now signature minimalist style.

And not just one sax would do.

Glass, one of the most important American musical figures spanning two centuries, wrote for a foursome - a saxophone quartet. His Concerto for Saxophone Quartet was first performed in 1995 in Stockholm.

Tomorrow and Saturday nights, Toledoans will get to hear it, live, for the first time.

Sax 4th Avenue, a local saxophone quartet nearly 20 years old, will perform it during the Toledo Symphony Classics VI concerts at 8 p.m. both nights in the Peristyle.

Members of the quartet will play on the typical sax "family."

Stanley George covers the top line with his soprano sax. (Think of Kenny G. without the schmaltz.) Shannon Ford performs on the alto version with its signature J-bend. Kevin Heidbreder covers the tenor line with his instrument, which looks like an alto's bigger brother. And Jason Yost plays a baritone sax, the tenor sax on steroids.

Saxophone quartets are not rare in the world of music

"There is a plethora of music for saxophone quartet," notes Ford, who also plays clarinet with this symphony and others in the region, teaches at Adrian College and Oakland University, and has recently recorded with the Toledo Clarinets and the Scott Gwinnell Jazz Orchestra.

Glass wrote his concerto on commission from the internationally renowned, Vienna-based Rascher Quartet.

Sax 4th Avenue was formed in the academic studio of John Sampen, distinguished professor of music at Bowling Green State University, where all the members studied.

"Three of us were students at the time, each in different stages of our degrees, and one was a graduate but living and working in the area," recalls Ford. Their first public appearance was at the Apple Butter Festival in Grand Rapids.

"Once formed, we developed a certain chemistry and have worked very hard to keep this group together despite our geographic challenges," she continues. "We are a rarity in that we are the same personnel in all this time, since 1991."

George teaches music in Perrysburg schools; he performs with the U.S. Air Force Ohio Air National Guard Band of the Great Lakes, and tours internationally. Yost lives in Bluffton and performs with classical and jazz groups in the Midwest, while attending Winebrenner Seminary in Findlay. Heidbreder directs bands in Defiance, leads the Maumee Civic Band, and tours with various groups.

Also on the Classics VI program will be Symphony No. 1 in D Major "Classical" by Serge Prokofiev, and Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov's exotic "Scheherazade."

Conducting the entire program will be Canadian conductor Alain Trudel, making his Toledo debut.

Tickets for the Classics VI performances are $20-$50 at 419-246-8000 or

Contact Sally Vallongo at

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