Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1363, (5 - 11 October 2017)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1363, (5 - 11 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Re-experiencing saxophone

Reham El-Adawi attended the Korean quartet S With Saxophone Opera House performance

Re-experiencing saxophone
Re-experiencing saxophone

To mark Korean National Day on 3 October, Korean Cultural Centre Director Park Jae Yang and the Charge d’Affaires Byung-Kwan Kim brought over the S (Start) With Saxophone Quartet, who gave a thrilling concert at the Cairo Opera’s Open-Air Theatre on 30 September. 

At the start of the concert, the all-male quartet – Yo-han Yeo (quartet leader and soprano sax), Soo Ryong Kim (alto sax), Young-hun Choi (tenor sax) and Won-jin Jang (baritone sax and commentator) – expressed their admiration for the Cairo Opera House and their happiness to be performing to an Egyptian audience for the first time. Won-Jin Jang, full of erudition and humour, provided an extra layer of enjoyment. He promised they would play all types of music from classical to tango on saxophone and demonstrated the range of each saxophone. “The soprano sax,” he declared, making the audience laugh, “is the highest sound and is very appealing to girls. If you want a girl to fall in love with you play for her a piece of music on the soprano sax; it is irresistible.” He added that the alto is softer and the tenor tougher than the soprano sax, while the baritone forms harmonic melodies that mesmerise and enthral.

The S With Saxophone Quartet is an exceptional formation on Korea’s contemporary music scene; they truly know how to communicate with the audience wherever they are. The programme began with Mozart’s Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, moving onto Lalo Schifrin’s Mission Impossible, Alan Menken’s A Whole New World, a song from Disney’s Aladdin and the soundtrack of Thomas Newman’s Scent of a Woman. They accepted questions from the audience, pointing out that it took them 15 years to master the instrument and that they meet two or three times a week for three hours to rehearse. To tremendous applause, Soo Ryong Kim gave a solo recital before, gathered once again on stage, the quartet surprised the audience with Dalida’s timeless hits Salma Ya Salama and Kelma Hilwa, two songs most Egyptians know by heart. Even more remarkable however was their performance of Mohamed Mounir’s hit Younis.

Released on 26 January 2015, the quartet’s first mini album S.With-U featured instrumental work they had been performing together for a year.  Its quality was astounding, and it captured the magic that always comes through in their performances: the range and power of what four saxophones can do. The Gershwin number Oh Lady Be Good, best known in Ella Fitzgerald’s vocal version, is reproduced in their the distinctive, cheerful and precise style. Other tracks on the album sum up the history of Western music, from Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba and Bach’s Air (on the G string) to 20th-century compositions. Thus, in the last year in their 20s, four graduates of the School of Music at Seoul National University had taken a unique and meaningful step on the path to popularise the saxophone.

Through their studies they had wondered how to make classical music more accessible and listener friendly, breaking stereotypes of stilted and boring sounds. “Music,” Won-jin Jang says, “is our tool to communicate with people and the world. We mainly aim to be a saxophone performing group using classical music as our background.” But they also perform New Age, jazz, pop and original sound track music, and they achieve the same magic with the same four instruments. And they have only just embarked on their journey… The concert ended with Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars, expressing their intention to come back to Egypt as soon as possible.

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