Kebyart, extreme synchronisation

Interviews 02.03.2022

Young, promising and ambitious. This is Kebyart, the Catalan saxophone quartet formed by Pere Méndez, Víctor Serra, Robert Seara and Daniel Miguel. Formed at the ESMUC, Kebyart has been reaping the rewards of the work it has been doing since 2014, the year it was founded. Since then, it has continued to amaze audiences and critics alike. Jörg Widmann has said that the saxophone quartet was alien to him, until he met Kebyart. This is no mean feat. As if the instrument were an extension of their body, these musicians reveal their talent, virtuosity and synchronism. Winners of several prizes, their brilliant career is consolidating step by step, in the best European halls, like at the Philharmonie de Paris on 7 March.
Kebyart is passionate about chamber music. 


Tell me how Kebyart, this saxophone quartet, came into being. I'm intrigued.
It was born in the heart of the Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya (ESMUC). We were all studying with the same teacher, Nacho Gascón, although each of us had our own chamber music group. We were friends and wanted to play together. Kebyart was born in 2014 from our interest in chamber music and the desire to spend more time together. Since then, even though many things have changed, the friendship and the pleasure of playing remain intact. We still have certain pillars.

And what are these pillars?
The curiosity to discover a new repertoire, the desire to transcend oneself. We are a saxophone quartet, which is perhaps still a bit atypical today, even though it dates back to the 19th century. Our intention is to make the quartet a pioneering chamber music ensemble in the 21st century, expanding the repertoire through commissions and national and international projects.

What interests you most is musical excellence?
Yes, we seek it by starting from tradition, because since our years at the ESMUC we have trained with teachers who were not specialists in our instrument. The exercise of putting down roots in tradition was done little by little. I am referring to the time when we studied at the European Chamber Music Academy (ECMA) and met the Hagen Quartet.

What do you mean when you talk about transcendence?
We try to ensure that our performances contain a message, that they are not just a collection of pleasant or unpleasant sounds, but sounds that can explain and tell stories. And, furthermore, that the quartet becomes a leading ensemble of our time.

What inspires you?
We play high quality music with stories already written. In the end, we evoke a musical discourse that moves from moments of great intensity to moments of great serenity, creating a contrast, a space for a narrative that does not need to be translated into images or musical stories, but is supported by a force.  

You are a highly synchronized quartet. There's a lot of strength in that.
Yes, there is! Although, of course, there is no limit to technical perfection. We started playing at the age of eight and after so much time spent practising with the instrument, we end up merging into it, trying to achieve that perfection which, although never achieved, is sought after, because the more you know, the more you want to know. 

What is the current situation of the quartet?
We are reaping the benefits of the efforts we have been making for seven years now. We are in a pleasant moment of internationalisation, and at the same time very intense: we have been selected in the European Concert Hall Organisation (ECHO), a support that has allowed us to play in some of the most important halls of the European scene, such as the Philharmonie in Paris or the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg.

You are, without a doubt, in a moment of consolidation. And in Catalonia?
In a way, we are already more established. We have won prizes such as the 2016 Palau Prize or the XII Monsterrat Alavedra-BBVA Chamber Music Prize, which have helped us. 

How do you see the current music scene?
We play contemporary music, but not only. We play in these circuits, such as the MIXTUR festival in Barcelona or other contemporary programmes, but we go through a wide range of styles, where all of them interact and are compatible. When we play in cycles or festivals devoted exclusively to contemporary music, we always feel that this music can be more difficult to understand, because the public has prejudices; but we believe that if we work well and the musicians make the effort to offer the keys to understanding the works, contemporary music ends up being music of great quality that can move everyone.

How would you define Kebyart's style?
Eclectic. We play everything from baroque to neo-classical to music of today. What we believe in is excellence, everything that communicates and brings quality.
We trust in pieces that, although seemingly unrelated, end up being tied together by an idea that connects them all. And furthermore that this idea serves as a guide for the listener, allowing him or her to make additional musical bridges. A bit like going to a museum and looking at a collection of paintings or sculptures that revolve around a theme or aesthetic. They may not evoke anything in isolation, but they do if you link them together in a common discourse.

What are your musical references?
One of our references is the Casals Quartet in Barcelona. And Jörg Widmann, a musician whom we admire and respect in all artistic aspects. He is not only a musician, but also a composer, a conductor and a clarinettist. He tries to be a total musician, distinguishing himself in all disciplines with great talent.

And you are inspired by the same idea?
Yes, we are saxophonists, but we make our own arrangements. We believe in a more complete vision of the musician, who is not limited to being a performer. The 19th century was the century of specialisation, but long before that, many musicians of the stature of Mozart, Bach or Mendelssohn were already improvisers, composers or musicologists, artists connected to music as an art and not just as a specialisation. 

How do you approach the important concerts that await you in those famous halls you mentioned earlier?
They are impressive venues, with a lot of character, and you certainly feel a bit small. But when the music plays and gives you strength, the environment helps you. That first thrill is anecdotal.
What we want to do is create music in the most beautiful venues and we are excited! We try to live it with absolute naturalness.  

And in Barcelona?
We are currently in a chamber music programme. Then we'll be playing in Girona, in a programme of contemporary music. We're also collaborating on a piece for saxophone quartet and orchestra by Philip Glass, which I think will be performed for the first time in Catalonia. A very exciting programme.

One last question: where does your ambition lead you?
We would like to assimilate as many styles as possible and go deeper into all these languages. We are a saxophone quartet, but we try to get closer to the tradition; for example, that if we play Mozart (even though he didn't write for a saxophone), we could play Mozart in the style he played himself. This, yes, takes time and ambition. 

You also play Bach.
Yes, and we try to approach his style with the greatest respect, trying to bring a new light or an authentic sound, understanding his harmony. 

Interview by Txema Seglers

Next concerts:
* Philharmonie de Paris, 7/03
* Palau de la Musica, Barcelona 21/03


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