Down Beat recognizes sax quartet

When it comes to winning competitions, Kansas University's Saxophone Quartet I is hitting all the right notes.

The student group has won its third Down Beat magazine Annual Student Music Award as best classical instrumental chamber music group, under the direction of Vince Gnojek, professor of saxophone and woodwind division director.

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Special to the Journal-World

Kansas University's Saxophone Quartet I, the top one of four saxophone quartets at KU, is the most recent recipient of Down Beat magazine's annual Student Music Award in the category of Best Classical Instrumental Chamber Music Group. Group members, under the direction of KU professor Vince Gnojek, top left, are, from bottom left, Steve Ruger, tenor; Tina Claussen, alto; back center, Kevin Gosa, soprano; and Danny Loental, baritone.

"This is a prestigious award, and it is a tremendous honor to be at the top of this elite category of classical musicians," Gnojek said.

Students Kevin Gosa, soprano; Tina Claussen, alto; Steve Ruger, tenor; and Danny Loental, baritone, make up Saxophone Quartet I, the top one of four saxophone quartets at KU. They are the most recent recipients of a Down Beat award under the direction of Gnojek, who has been at KU 15 years. The Saxophone Quartet I also won the award in 1994 and 1996.

Additionally, two of Gnojek's former students, Paul Haar (1993) and Jeff Timmons (2001), won Down Beat Student Music Awards for best classical instrumental soloist.

Down Beat, one of the world's leading jazz and contemporary music publications, presents the award annually. Students and educators nominate themselves in an open call for recorded performances and applications, which are due each year at the end of December. Honors in various categories are announced the following spring in high school, performing arts institution and college categories, and winners are published in the June edition of the magazine.

Participants send in a minimum of 20 minutes of music for judging. Saxophone Quartet I's selections for this year's competition included: "Quartet for Saxophones: Gently, With Vigor" by Elliot del Borgo; "Molly On the Shore" by Percy Aldridge Grainger, arranged by Ruger; and "Back Burner" by Frank Ticheli.

Winning the award brings recognition and legitimacy to the students' talents and the saxophone as a classical instrument, Gnojek said.

"It's an honor for us simply because we're competing against chamber music groups that include other instruments ... not just saxophone," Gnojek said. "Saxophone tends to be considered a lesser classical instrument than others. So for a saxophone group to win it, it really makes us feel good about the level of our performance."

Gnojek is the alto saxophonist with the acclaimed Harvey Pittel Saxophone Quartet, a position he has held for 15 years. For six years, he was the soprano saxophonist in his own saxophone quartet in Denver. In addition, he played in saxophone quartets while he was a student at the University of Colorado and Mannes College of Music in New York.

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