When the UCLA Saxophone Quartet is not off winning the gold medal at the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, the world’s largest chamber music contest, the members like to spend a lot of free time together shopping for groceries, having dinners together and bickering like a family. In addition to their talent, the musicians’ close relationship has become a strong contributor to their astounding success.
Composed of Ryan Weston, Chris Elchico, Umut Dursun and Andrew Barnhart, the quartet (also known as the Angeles Quartet) traveled to Notre Dame in Indiana toward the beginning of May to compete against some of the nation’s most talented musicians in this year’s Fischoff Competition.
The competition is a three-day affair that requires a lot of patience on the part of the quartet, who would play early in the day and wait for the results hours later that night.
“It was a lot of sitting and waiting and anticipating and going over things in your head and trying not to think about what you cannot control,” said Dursun, a music performance graduate student and the quartet’s tenor sax player.
Although they were unable to make the finals when they competed last year, they came out triumphant this year after hours upon hours of practice.
“After doing the competition the first year, we knew what to expect and we knew what we had to do to do really well,” said Chris Elchico, a third-year music performance student and soprano sax player for the quartet.
Formed in the fall of 2008, the quartet’s original members include Weston, Elchico and Barnhart. Dursun joined at the beginning of this fall to replace a graduated member.
“There’s only four of us, and it’s such an intimate ensemble that communication is really important, so we have to communicate really well so that we can communicate musically also,” said Barnhart, a third-year music performance student and the group’s baritone sax player.
Professor Doug Masek, a saxophone teacher for the last 30 years, 10 of which have been at UCLA, teaches the members individually and tries to schedule time with the quartet to help them in any way that he can.
“It’s so difficult for us to hear what it actually sounds like to an audience, so (Masek) is kind of our own little audience and tells us what works and what is effective and what is not,” Elchico said.
Although Masek was not in Indiana at the competition with the quartet, he said he is supportive of its endeavors and considers its win to be quite monumental.
“The thing that makes it even bigger is that the program that we have here for saxophone is probably one of the smallest programs that is represented at any competition,” Masek said.
With only eight saxophone players in the program at any given time, UCLA’s saxophone program is difficult to get into. Only one or two spots may open up each year regardless of the number of applicants. The result is a pool of extremely skilled musicians from which the Angeles Quartet emerged.
With all four members continuing their studies at UCLA, the Angeles Quartet will remain intact and ready to play more performances on campus and in the community next year. They will also have a fully paid concert tour through the Midwest because they won the competition, according to Dursun.
“I just want them to enjoy music. Even if they do not continue on with music, at least they know what it takes to get to that level. No matter what they are going to do, they will realize the discipline that it takes to succeed,” Masek said.