Saxophones Compete and Take High Honors

MSU students from classical and jazz saxophone studios stand out at honors national saxophone conference in Texas.

The Viridian Quartet performing on stage. Members show left to right: Casey Grev, Madeline Morizio, Eric Troiano, Kyle Landry.
Members of the PSOGO Quartet take a moment to pause for a photo prior to their performance outside of the convention. Left to right: Joseph HerbstMark Main, Jordan Lulloff, Julian Velasco.
Markus Keon plays tenor saxophone with his quartet, shown here from the summer of 2015. Photo by Camille Gowdy.

The resounding artistry of the saxophone studios at the MSU College of Music was evident this March when two student quartets and an individual performer stepped onto the stage at the North American Saxophone Alliance (NASA) biennial meeting in Lubbock, Texas.

Following a stringent audition process, MSU's Viridian and PSOGO quartets were accepted into NASA's Chamber Music Competition, and then into the finals. The Viridian Quartet finished first, while the PSOGO Quartet was the only all-undergraduate quartet to make it to the final round of six quartets. Just 25 quartets were invited to perform at the prestigious conference that attracts saxophone enthusiasts, talent and professionals from around the globe.

“We had a great showing at the conference,” says Professor of Saxophone Joe Lulloff who coaches the two quartets. “It was incredibly intense, but really fun and musically rewarding.”

Lulloff says this year's honors and the excellent results from 19 previous conference appearances continue to elevate the profile of MSU as a center for saxophone study and artistry.

“The conference is a way we can celebrate our interests of saxophone performance and reinforce the excellence we've come to be known for,” says Lulloff. “It’s also a wonderful event for our students to interact with their peers from other institutions, to get a sense of what new compositions exist, and to experience firsthand other activities and projects that professional saxophonists from the U.S. and abroad are involved with.”

Lulloff explained that students apply to NASA Selection Committees through CD submission to compete, or to perform new works and present research projects at the conference. If selected, students vigorously prepare their music, recitals and presentations over several months.

“That in itself, is a great motivation tool to pursue one’s music and art at the highest level,” he says.

Viridian Quartet member Madeline Morizio attests to the educational and professional value she has gained from attending the conference for two consecutive years.

“We were so proud to represent MSU, and then to hear professional musicians say they like what they hear is an amazing feeling,” says the first-year masters student in saxophone performance. “The conference is a great opportunity to hear performances, attend lectures, and converse with colleagues and big names in the saxophone world. And then we get to bring everything we've learned back to MSU.”

PSOGO Quartet member and junior Julian Velasco agrees on the value of attending, and said it was a great honor to make the finals.

“We were really proud of everything we did,” says Velasco, who majors in both classical performance and jazz studies. “It was also just a great opportunity to see what your peers are doing around the country, and to expose yourself to a variety of music.”

Jazz saxophone student Markus Howell was also recognized at the annual conference with an honorable mention in the jazz competition. The jazz studies junior attended the conference with Professor of Jazz Saxophone and Improvisation Diego Rivera, and was among eight finalists in the competition.

“Markus works extremely hard to develop his talents which are abundant,” says Rivera. “It's great to see him enjoy these high levels of success, and to have provided these opportunities and incredible moments.”

One of those moments was the chance to meet and sit in on a session with Branford Marsalis, one of many accomplished performers and artists in attendance, and a former instructor of jazz at MSU.

“I was a little nervous but I shook it off,” says Howell of standing five feet away from Marsalis. “That experience plus the whole conference and competition gave me a different perspective in a positive way. I learned a lot about my playing ability, and I know this is only the beginning. I'm inspired to push harder and get better.”

About a dozen saxophone students from the MSU College of Music attended the conference from both the classical and jazz studios. Members of the Viridian Quarter are Casey Grev, Kyle Landry, Madeline Morizio, and Eric Troiano. Members of the all- undergraduate PSOGO Quartet are Joseph Herbst, Jordan Lulloff, Mark Main, and Julian Velasco. 

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