New Century Saxophone Quartet

"I knew from the first few notes that this horn was for me. I need a horn with a full bodied sound, but that can play sweet and light as a flute. The Big Bell curved soprano did that for me." ~ Michael Stephenson

"Up until Cannonball I wouldn't even consider playing a horn that was made after the 60's." ~ Christopher Hemingway

"I was looking to see what was out there in the saxophone world. I tried everything on the market, new and old. I came across a Cannonball. I have to say, I never thought I would find a better horn for what I do that what I already had. I was wrong. This horn plays like it's alive!! Bravo Cannonball, after 20 years New Century has found a home." ~ Stephen Pollock

One of the hottest saxophone ensembles in the market today.

About the Ensemble

The only ensemble of its kind to ever win First Prize of the Concert Artists Guild Competition, the New Century Saxophone Quartet is a pioneering and versatile group. Winning new-found enthusiasm for the saxophone quartet and its diverse repertory, the ensemble's program ranges from the Baroque to innovative contemporary works to imaginative transcriptions. The recipient of grants from the National Endowment of the Arts, The Aaron Copland Recording Fund, Chamber Music America and the North Carolina Arts Council, New Century has been heard in major concert venues in Los Angeles, New York and Amsterdam; on radio and television in the United States, Europe and Central America, including its own radio series in North Carolina; in recordings for the Channel Classics label; and in unusual concert settings, ranging from two command performances for President Clinton in the White House to a concerto performance with the United States Navy Band. New Century premiered "New Century Suite," a concerto for saxophone quartet and orchestra by Peter Schickele with the North Carolina Symphony in September 2000. A November, 2000 performance of the concerto with the Canton (OH) Symphony was featured twice on National Public radio's "Performance Today."

New Century's 1993 New York debut at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall earned the group praise for their "virtuosic display of dexterity and keen ensemble work," in which the "players handled all the music with panache (New York Post)". Upon becoming the first saxophone quartet presented at the Ambassador Auditorium in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times heralded the Quartet's West Coast debut: "Tackling brave new territory in the conservative-leaning realm of classical music takes a unique blend of conviction, refined talent and a bit of damn-the-torpedoes ambition. Those qualities are amply in evidence with the New Century Saxophone Quartet, not to mention a finely-honed musicality deserving wider acceptance."

Other engagements include Chicago's Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Atlanta's Spivey Concert Hall, Boston's Symphony Hall and Gardner Museum, New York's Merkin Concert Hall and the Kosciuszko Foundation Townhouse, Washington, D.C's Strathmore Hall, the Juneau Jazz and Classics Festival in Alaska, the Villla Schonberg in Zurich Switzerland, the Conservatoire de Musique in Esch Luxembourg, the Macau International Music Festival and the Academy for the Performing Arts in Hong Kong China. New Century also was the first saxophone quartet to be presented at La Huaca del Complejo Atlapa in Panama City Central America.

The New Century Saxophone Quartet has appeared on television and radio across the United States in features on National Public Radio's Performance Today, the Voice of America and North Carolina Public TV. New Century has been the resident ensemble of two radio stations in North Carolina, WUNC in Chapel Hill (1995) and WHQR in Wilmington (1996). Outside of the United States, Panamanian TV aired a documentary and live performance, and in the Netherlands, Dutch radio presented a live broadcast from the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. In January 1998 the ensemble participated in a special performance for the Chinese New Year that was broadcast live to over 100 million people on television throughout the world.

Recording exclusively for the Channel Classics label, the quartet's 2000 release and 4th recording was "A New Century Christmas," featuring unusual arrangements by a wide range of American composers. The recording won enormous critical acclaim ("the aural equivalent of spiked eggnog," according to the Chicago Tribune) and was featured on NPR's "Weekend Edition." Early in 2002 the quartet released its 5th disc, "Standards," a recording of major works in the saxophone quartet repertoire, and in 2003 the quartet recorded all of Johann Sebastian Bach's "The Art of Fugue" which was released in early 2004. This disc is the quartet's first recording in full "Super Audio" (multi channel recording). Due to the technology advancements at Channel Records, you can play this disc on any cd player. The "Bach Project" is actually in two parts. The second part is an animation project with Misha Films. The quartet and Misha Films, a leading design and animation house, are partnering in the production and presentation of a series of live concerts of Bach's final unfinished work. The animations by Misha Films will be based on their original designs as well as interpretations of creations of other artists in various media. The premiere performances of the first set of animations took place in January and March 2004, at Purdue University (Purdue Convocations), the University of Missouri-St. Louis (Premiere Performances), and North Carolina State University (NCSU Center Stage, in cooperation with the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild).

Their third recording, "Home Grown" (1999), features all new music commissioned by the group, including works by Lenny Pickett, David Ott, Sherwood Shaffer, Benjamin Boone and Thomas Massella. New Century's second recording, "Main Street USA," including NCSQ's arrangements of music by Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, and Morton Gould, was released in 1996. New Century's first recording, "Drastic Measures," released in 1994 by Channel Classics, won critical acclaim from Fanfare Magazine: "They combine great technique and elegant musicianship with a wonderful sense of chamber music. They have put together a CD with the same logic and thoughtfulness usually reserved for a concert or recital, always conscious of how each piece works within the context of the whole."

Moving beyond the traditional repertory for four saxophones, New Century performs works covering composers from Jan P. Sweelinck (1562-1621), Bach, Mozart to Carol Florio, a turn-of-the-century American composer who was one of the first composers for saxophone quartet, and genres from Classical works to contemporary works with funk and jazz influences. For more than a fifteen years New Century has been responsible for a significant broadening of the repertoire for saxophone quartet through its commissioning projects, premiering new works by Peter Schickele, Sherwood Shaffer, Arthur Frackenpohl, David Ott, Ben Johnston, Benjamin Boone, Ken Valitsky, Thomas Massella, tenor saxophonist and Saturday Night Live Band leader Lenny Pickett, and well-known composer and jazz saxophonist Bob Mintzer. Most recently the quartet along with Lew Tabackin commissioned a new work by Toshiko Akiyoshi entitled "Interaction" for Jazz Trio and Sax Quartet. The work had it's premier in July 2003 at the World Saxophone Congress in Minneapolis Minnesota where NCSQ was joined by the Lew Tabackin International Jazz Trio.

Bios

Michael Stephenson- Soprano Sax

Michael Stephenson has been in New Century Saxophone Quartet for over 20 years. He received his Bachelor of Music degree from the North Carolina School of the Arts where he was a student of James Houlik. He received his Master of Music degree from Ithaca College where he was a student of Steven Mauk. From 1988-92, Michael was a Visiting Artist at Randolph and Pitt Community Colleges. As a Visiting Artist, Michael performed over 400 concerts across North Carolina, as well as at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. As an orchestral saxophonist he has appeared with the North Carolina, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and Western Piedmont Symphonies.

Michael and his wife Cheryl founded the Music Academy of Eastern Carolina (MAEC) in 1997 in their hometown of Greenville, North Carolina. MAEC is a nonprofit community music school offering music instruction on band and orchestral instruments including piano, voice, and guitar. Michael has been the Instructor of Music at Vance-Granville Community College since 2008. As part of his duties he directs the Vance-Granville Community Band, performs solo concerts in the region, teaches music classes, and is responsible for most musical activities on campus. Michael was awarded the Excellence in Leadership Faculty Member of the Year in 2009, and was one of the top nine Community College Instructors in the State of North Carolina for the same year. In addition to his duties at Vance-Granville, Michael is also the Saxophone Professor at NC A&T University.

When he is not performing or teaching, Michael can be seen watching his kids (Milena and Natasha) grow up, playing tennis on several recreational teams, singing in his church choir, walking his dog, and just loving life with his beautiful wife, Cheryl.

 

Chris Hemingway - Alto Sax

Born in Florence, SC, Chris grew up listening to the sounds of gospel, soul r&b, and blues, though he and his friends weren't quite accepting of this "old people's" music while growing up. However, as a product of his own environment, Chris eventually came full circle and would later pull from these early listening experiences to develop his overall approach to music.

Chris' natural fluency in both classical and jazz styles separates him from most chamber musicians. Now in his ninth season with the New Century Saxophone Quartet, his performing career is complemented equally with an active freelance jazz career in NYC. Chris has performed and recorded with Azucar Pittsburgh's premier salsa band, the Roger Humphries Big Band, Dwayne Dolphin, Poogie Bell, Tony Depaolis and with New York City jazz trumpeter Sean Jones, who has just recently released his sixth solo recording. Chris won an Emmy Award in 2007 as performer of WQED's (PBS affiliate station) "Live FromStudio A". As a sophomore at Duquesne University, Chris won the School of Music's prestigious concerto competition. At the young age of 21, he was also a featured soloist with the Pittsburgh Symphony. Chris has studied with James Houlik at the North Carolina School of the Arts and at Duquesne University.

Before Chris fell in love with music, his passion was for basketball and bicycles. Today he manages to fit in all three passions. So when he is not practicing, performing, building or riding a mountain bike, he's probably on a blacktop shooting hoops somewhere in NYC, a city that's known for its pickup basketball games.

 

Stephen Pollock- Tenor Sax

Stephen Pollock is a founding member of the New Century Saxophone Quartet. He was born in Wurtzburg, Germany and grew up in various cities in the United States and abroad. The son of an Army Chaplin with a wonderful singing voice, and a mother who was a professional artist, he grew up in a very creative and positive environment where he was always encouraged to follow his heart and chase his dreams.

Even as a child, Stephen always had varied interests. He received his Eagle Scout award when he and his family lived in Alaska, and a few years later became a 3rd Degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. He still builds WWII 1/32 scale model airplanes today.

He received his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees in Performance from the North Carolina School of the Arts, where he studied with world-renowned concert saxophonist, James Houlik. He has appeared as a solo recitalist throughout the U.S, as well as principal saxophonist in countless orchestras. He has also appeared with entertainers such as Steve Allen, Helen Reddy, Marvin Hamlisch, Boots Randolph, Natalie Cole and Branford Marsalis.

After the release of his first solo recording "So Near, So Far" produced by Branford Marsalis in 2005, he immediately went to work on his second CD: "Songs of the Heart." It, like his first, is a recording of love songs for tenor saxophone, piano and strings and was released on Valentine's Day, 2007.

Stephen is the adjunct professor of saxophone and chamber music coach at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He has also served on the faculties of Davidson College, the Community Music School of the North Carolina School of the Arts, Catawba College, Salem College, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Wake Forest University. In the summers, he can be found in Little Switzerland, NC, where he is the coordinator for the James Houlik Saxophone Retreat at Wildacres. He lives in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife Kim and their two dachshunds, Franko and Suzie. is a founding member of the New Century Saxophone Quartet. He was born in Wurtzburg, Germany and grew up in various cities in the United States and abroad. The son of an Army Chaplin with a wonderful singing voice, and a mother who was a professional artist, he grew up in a very creative and positive environment where he was always encouraged to follow his heart and chase his dreams.

 

Drew Hays- Baritone Sax

Drew serves as an Assistant Professor of Music at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, where he teaches saxophone and jazz studies. He has performed with many groups throughout North Carolina and Virginia including the Winston-Salem Symphony, the Charlotte Symphony, the Roanoke Symphony, the Eastern Music Festival Orchestra, the North Carolina Saxophone Ensemble, and the Red Clay Saxophone Quartet. Drew also performs with his own jazz small groups throughout the Greensboro and Winston-Salem area.

Drew recently released his first studio album, a joint recording project with tenor saxophonist James Houlik. Saxophone Premiere: the Saxophone Music of Sherwood Shaffer features six of the Winston-Salem, NC composer’s works for the alto and tenor saxophone, two of which were commissioned by Drew for this project.

Drew grew up in a musical family in rural, southern Ohio where he studied saxophone and oboe and played guitar and bass in local rock bands. He completed a DMA in saxophone at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA.

Drew lives in Winston-Salem, NC, with his wife, Angie, and their three cats, Zoey, Isabella, and Lexi. When not performing and teaching, he is an avid cyclist, runner, and appreciates a good cup of coffee.


Visit the New Century Saxophone Quartet's official Website.



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