A quartet of saxophonists with Michigan ties is hitting all the right notes.
The Donald Sinta Quartet, which is made up of saxophonists Dan Graser, Zach Stern, Joe Girard and Danny Hawthorne-Foss, recently won first prize at the Concert Artists Guild International Competition.
All four are based in Michigan, with Graser working as an assistant professor in the Department of Music and Dance at Grand Valley State University.
The award includes a management contract with Concert Artists Guild, $5,000 and a Carnegie Hall debut recital.
The group was selected from a pool of more than 300 applicants who competed on Oct. 22 in New York.
This is only the third time in the Concert Artists Guild’s more than 60-year history that a saxophone quartet has been among the winners, and it’s only the second time one has been the competition’s first place winner.
“There aren’t that many international competitions that would allow a saxophone ensemble at all, or even saxophone, and so what is unique about Concert Artists Guild is that they accept almost any combination of instruments,” Graser said.
“In terms of what saxophone can win, this is about as prestigious as it gets. But in terms of just international competitions in general, this is one of the most, if not the most (prestigious).”
The management contract is really the big prize that makes the competition unique.
“While they are a professional management agency, they also see themselves as providing a training ground, a more nurturing environment for young professionals who haven’t stepped into the business yet,” Graser said. “They see themselves as management, but also as educators in a way. They are particularly unique in that regard. That’s why you see most of the people competing for this are up-and-coming young ensembles that haven’t gotten management, that are looking to break into the world of contemporary classical music, which is an extremely competitive market.”
Graser said that the day after they were announced as the competition’s winners they already had a meeting set up with the Concert Artists Guild’s management team, booking staff and others.
“They’ve already started managing us,” he said. “We’ve already gotten a few gigs out of it in the last week around the country. It moves really fast.”
The Donald Sinta Quartet was founded under unconventional circumstances in 2011 at the University of Michigan, where they were all students.
Its four members had all auditioned and been selected to perform American composer and University of Michigan professor William Bolcom’s Saxophone Quartet Concerto during a tour of China by the U-M Symphony Band.
“We played through the tour, we recorded a CD with the Michigan Symphony Band and things went pretty well, so we decided to get serious after that and it seemed to work pretty well,” Graser said.
The group took its name to pay homage to Donald Sinta, who 50 years earlier had been chosen as the U-M student soloist on a tour of Russia and the near east with the U-M Symphony Band.
“Since half a century later it’s the four of us who are going to be the student soloists, we decided to pay tribute to that history and name the group after him,” Graser said.
Since playing the China tour the quartet also has played in Scotland, Greece and most recently Paris. The group also earnedthe Alice Coleman Grand Prize at the 2013 Coleman International Chamber Competition, as well as first prize at the North American Saxophone Alliance Quartet Competition.
Graser said the band is very interested in playing music by emerging composers.
“Last year, we started a national composition competition and got around 100 submissions. We chose two winners, both of whom got a $500 prize and got their pieces premiered and toured in Paris,” he said. “We do a lot of work with composers of today and, at the moment, we’ve got eight commissions for new pieces going on.”
The quartet will give performances at GVSU as part of the Guest Artist Series at 8 p.m., Dec. 6 and 7, in the Performing Arts Center’s Sherman Van Solkema Recital Hall on the Allendale campus. They will also conduct a Master Class from 2-3 p.m. in the same location on Saturday, Dec. 7. All events are open to the public with free admission.
The boys in the band:
- Dan Graser, originally from New York, teaches and resides in Allendale.
- Zach Stern, originally from Houston, is working on his master’s degree at the U-M.
- Joe Girard, originally from Canton, is working on his doctoral degree at Michigan State University.
- Danny Hawthorne-Foss, originally from San Francisco, is working on his master’s degree at U-M.