Continuum Sax: something of a personal history

At the start of 2011, Jarrod announced to us that he was stepping down from Continuum Sax. This was something of a sad moment for me in particular as I’d been performing with Jarrod since I met him in 1989 and I’ve got to say that it feels kind of strange to be continuing the musical journey without him. What began as a bit of fun on band tour became the Senarius saxophone quartet, and, after being finalists in a big television competition in 1995 (ABC Television’s Quest 95) we toured to the UK to perform at the British Saxophone Congress and then did some concerts in Holland with the one and only Niels Bijl and his group, Helikon Saxophon Kwaartet (saxophonists will know Niels as alto saxophonist of the Aurelia Saxophone Quartet). While Senarius SQ didn’t last the distance, it was great to reacquaint myself with Jarrod in Continuum Sax, which I joined in around about 1999 or 2000. I’m a bit vague on the year, though I do remember the first concert I did with them was a Sunday Live performance for ABC Classic FM at Newcastle Conservatorium of Music. We played the Dubois Quartet, Russell Peck’s Drastic Measures and Thierry Escaich’s Tango Virtuoso. None of which we ever played again.

Throughout the next ten years the projects in which Continuum Sax were involved gradually became more elaborate and definitely more challenging artistically. Where repertoire like Drastic Measures posed some technical challenges, we all found that we enjoyed much more working on pieces like the Henri Pousseur Vue sur la jardin interdits and gave Australian premieres of pieces like Donatoni’s Rasch, Dmitri Smirnov’s Fantasia and Elena Firsova’s Far Away. Something about Far Away resonates so strongly with us as Australian musicians. We are, geographically, at a great distance from the centres of the saxophone world and the space that the textures of Firsova’s work evokes is so similar to the sense of landscape that all Australians seem to hold in their hearts. Alongside Margery Smith’s composition Tundra, Far Away became something of a touchstone for what we were all on about.

Alongside exploring challenging international repertoire, the relationships we had with Australia’s composition community has led to so many great pieces being written for us. I hope that Jarrod treasures as much as I do the time we all spent working with composers, particularly when the process led to the creation of works that we were really proud to play, such as Stuart Greenbaum’s Five of One, Half a Dozen of the Other, and Paul Stanhope’s Ockham’s Razor.

In an interesting quirk of history, Jarrod’s time with Continuum Sax ended with the recording sessions for Matthew Hindson’s Videogame Dreaming. This work is based on Matthew’s Five Movements for saxophone quartet that he wrote in 1996 for the Senarius saxophone quartet. When Matthew wrote this piece for Senarius SQ he was well known as an up and coming composer and working with him then it was no wonder that he’s done so well for himself since. When Matthew came back to the saxophone quartet he took the best three movements and revised them to become Videogame Dreaming. The new version was premiered by the SCM saxophone quartet in Shanghai in 2010 and later that year Matthew asked Continuum to perform it for some Musica Viva Australian Music Days events. Then an opportunity to record the work came up at the end of 2010 with Matthew as producer we jumped at the chance. I’ll write a longer performance analysis of the work when the recording is released later this year.

While Jarrod can never be replaced in any ensemble, Nicholas Russoniello has joined us for this year (and hopefully beyond) and we’ve been having a great time working with him over the last couple of months.

Anyway to sign off for this entry, I’d like to again acknowledge that working with Jarrod has always been a pleasure and that I wish him all the very best success for the future. Knowing Jarrod, I have no doubt that he will be valued wherever he is and whatever he puts his energy into. I treasure all the memories of music making with him and hope that he achieves everything that he wishes to in the years to come. Bravo and see you around, Jarrod!