Drawing by Fayfay Sheng

Advanced Composition Program

PRISM is deeply committed to working with music schools and conservatories, especially those with outstanding composition departments, to provide opportunities for talented young composers to study the breadth of the saxophone’s capabilities and create new works for the medium of saxophone quartet. Ideally, PRISM’s work with student composers occurs in four stages:

Phase One: Lecture (beginning of residency)

One or more members of PRISM present a 2-hour lecture titled “Writing for the Saxophone Quartet” which starts with a brief overview of the acoustical properties of the saxophone. Scores and recordings of recent saxophone quartets from PRISM’s repertoire are presented and examined to ensure that students are aware of the full measure of the instrument’s sound world, and how composers from a wide range of styles/musical aesthetics have written for the medium. The lecture covers traditional approaches to composition, and extended techniques, including: microtones, subtones, multiphonics, alitissimo range, harmonics, articulation (double/slap/flutter tongue), use of growl, glissandi, key clicks, mouthpiece alone, and best practices in music notation. Students are asked to study scores and recordings from the lecture over several weeks and develop questions that relate to the pieces they intend to compose for PRISM.

Phase Two: Interactive Demonstration (1 month after Phase One lecture)

The entire PRISM Quartet gives a live interactive demonstration of material covered above, showing how each of the four saxophones sounds in traditional compositional settings, and when employing extended techniques. PRISM answers questions that students developed from the lecture, and plays drafts of student ideas (e.g., a student might compose a few phrases in which he/she employs techniques introduced in the lecture).

Phase Three: Readings and Feedback (2 months before end of residency)

Student pieces are composed. PRISM rehearses pieces, and presents an open reading in which feedback is provided to student composers. Students then have an opportunity to edit their works before submitting final versions to PRISM.

Phase Four: Concert (end of residency)

PRISM presents student pieces in a public concert. The program may also include works by faculty composers, or works from PRISM’s core repertoire.