Ashur Square - Rob Deemer

Ashur Square (2010) – Rob Deemer (b. 1970)

Rob Deemer teaches composition at SUNY – Fredonia and the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp. He has composed for all varieties of performance forces including music for theatre, dance, and film. He credits Dan Welcher, Donald Grantham, and Jan Bach as his primary teachers. He has written columns for the New York Times, New Music Box, and Sequenza 21/.

The commission for Ashur Square arose from the Rascher Saxophone Quartet’s (RSQ) long-standing relationship with SUNY – Fredonia. The school’s saxophone professor, Wildy Zumwalt, studied with Sigurd Rascher. The university’s library is houses the Sigurd M. Rascher Collection which includes a variety of scores, articles, and artifacts relating to Rascher’s life and career.

Ashur Square was commissioned for the RSQ’s appearance at the school’s NewSound Festival in 2011. The piece has four sections. The outer movements have a modernist sound with the use of chromaticism, microtones, and extended techniques. The inner movements have a minimalist character, featuring lyrical writing. Throughout the piece Deemer elicits a full swath of timbres from the quartet. Hints of Albright’s Fantasy Etudes may be heard in the writing and Deemer shows moments of humor in his composition.

Here's what he had to say about the piece:
When the Rascher Saxophone Quartet commissioned me to write a new work for them last year, I had to smile - after all this time, I had yet to write a saxophone quartet, even though I had been a saxophonist myself since age 10. Nevertheless, when the opportunity arose, I initially spent a long time researching what others had done in the genre, since the saxophone quartet as a chamber ensemble has a relatively wide variety of works in its repertoire. I did notice a propensity against programmatic concepts in many works for saxophone quartet, so that helped me to decide what direction to take. A year ago I completed an song cycle setting of a large poem by Brian Turner, a contemporary poet living in California who I had worked with before and who had spent several years of his life in the Army stationed in Iraq. The poem I set was called "2000 Pounds" and in a kaleidoscopic manner it described the seconds immediately before and after a suicide bombing in a market square in Mosul, Iraq through the viewpoints of US militia, by-standing Iraqis and the bomber himself. I kept coming back to that poem as I thought about this saxophone quartet and decided that I would do something a little different - take the poem as a skeleton upon which to build the piece and use material from the song cycle, but not an exact transcription of the previous work. This might be subtitled "Inspired by the song cycle '2000 Pounds'" in the same way one finds soundtrack CD's that are "inspired" by films that the music was never used in. The work is divided into sections that are entitled in the parts but are not stand-alone movements - these sections are entitled by the characters that are reflected in the poem. Those section titles are as follows: 1."It begins simply, with a fist...", 2. "A flight of gold, that's what Sefwan thinks", 3. "Sgt. Ledouix of the National Guard speaks but cannot hear", 4. "Rasheed and Sefa at the bridal shop", 5. "The civil affairs officer, Lt. Jackson, stares at his missing hands", 6. "Nearby an old woman cradles her grandson", 7. "The man who triggered the of all things", 8. "The dead comfort the living, speaking 'Habib" softly, so that it may not be forgotten".

Ashur Square is appropriate for an advanced undergraduate, or graduate level quartet. The music demands extended techniques, and mastery of the altissimo register.

Hear it:
The RSQ premiere from 2010:

Deemer’s other works for saxophone: La Maja Dolorosa for piano, soprano saxophone, and viola; In Paradisum (2015) for alto saxophone and wind ensemble