A Performance from The Unexpected Duo

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Oteo.

The first of the concert series for the spring semester drew a large audience composed of students, faculty and community members alike. On Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m., The Unexpected Duo took the stage at Julien J. Studley Theatre accompanied by SUNY New Paltz adjunct music theory, music history and piano professor Ruthanne Schempf on the piano.

The concert began, the room buzzing with anticipation as alto and soprano saxophone player Lois Hicks-Wozniak and bass trombone player Matthew Wozniak appeared in matching red and black attire, striding to their positions and showing their audience that they were in for a treat. 

The Unexpected Duo began their show with “Señor Bombast and the Chili of Swinks Kazoo.” Composed by Rob Deemer and written in 2016, the piece began as an almost playful lilt with the saxophone acting as a descant-floating high above the consistent drone that resonated from the bass trombone. These instruments in particular elicited a flirtatious combination of sounds, painting the image of a chase between friendly counterparts, up and down the scales.

It was the second piece that called for the assistance of Schempf on piano. Soft and as precious as a lullaby, “Viens,” composed by Camille Saint-Saёns, was prefaced with Wozniak breaking the fourth wall, which inspired giggles among the audience when he admitted he probably should not have broken it in the first place. From that point forward, it became clear that the atmosphere was relaxed and welcoming, much like the way the three musicians conveyed the piece.

They continued on with “Pleurs d’or” to “Puisqu’ici-Bas Toute  me,” both composed by Gabriel Fauré. The two pieces seemingly flowed into one another, making it almost impossible to recognize that the songs were not one of the same. 

This was followed by “Mahogany Moods” composed by James M. Stephenson. Arguably the most intriguing of the entire repertoire, the song commenced with an abrasive presence from Hicks-Wozniak’s saxophone and an exponentially unnerving dissonance from Schempf’s piano playing.

Typically meant to be performed by clarinet, cello and piano, The Unexpected Duo kept things unexpected by performing “Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 11, Allegro con brio.” 

Hicks-Wozniak once again took a moment to address her entranced audience. “We realize this isn’t the way it is typically played, but we thought Beethoven would have enjoyed it this way too,” Hicks-Wozniak joked.

After this Wozniak and Schrempf left the stage, leaving Hicks-Wozniak with the undivided attention of the audience. 

Hicks-Wozniak asked the audience, “How many of my students are here tonight, past or present?” 

Instantaneously, more than half the audience raised their hands. Hicks-Wozniak took this time to discuss her experience teaching. Hicks-Wozniak has been an educator at Marist College, SUNY New Paltz and the New England Music Camp.

“I have had the distinct pleasure of teaching Music Cultures here. So I am taking this time to quiz my students: what is the definition of music?” Hicks-Wozniak asked.

Her question was met with an electric response in which the audience shouted, “humanly organized sound.”

She nodded and replied, “The most important of those words being ‘humanly.’ No music culture stays the same. Nothing is static.”

Hicks-Wozniak began to broach the subject of humanity.

“We all are afraid to jump in — we all fear and we all love,” she said. “There is no door or wall that will keep music out. We all make music, so tonight there is a little bit of Václav in all of us.”

On that note, the spirited saxophone player began her rendition of “Václav’s Dream.” Hicks-Wozniak remained engaged with her audience, urging them to clap with her on the rests. The entire audience eagerly participated.

The Unexpected Duo with Schempf in tow, completed the evening with a trio for soprano saxophone, bass trombone and piano composed by Daniel Schnyder. As their performance came to a close, the audience was enthralled and boisterous, ready to give them a well-deserved standing ovation.