4 saxophone players on 1 pillow

Door Suzanne van Nimwegen

Unless you are made of marble, it is impossible not to be kindled by the enthusiasm and bouncy energy of the saxophone quartet Maat, formed by Daniel Ferreira on soprano saxophone, Catarina Gomes on alto saxophone and sometimes vocals, Pedro Silva on tenor saxophone and Mafalda Oliveira on baritone saxophone. They are young, innovative, virtuosic, driven, activistic but above all: best buddies. With their most recent production ‘No one is too small’ and album of the same name, they call attention to climate issues in an optimistic, anti-cynical way. Alto saxophonist and singer Catarina makes time for me in her busy schedule for 10 questions about music, motivations and friendship.  

1. How did you choose the (alto) saxophone?
‘In the north of Portugal, where we all come from, there is a rich tradition of brass bands. It is very normal to join the brass band as a child. Daniel and Pedro both started in a brass band at age 4. I myself started attending music school, as did Mafalda (baritone). A music school in Portugal is very different than in the Netherlands. To begin with, all music education is completely free. Moreover, you immediately receive a very complete package, as is not covered here until the Conservatory: instrument lessons of course, but also music theory, orchestra, choral singing. All branches of music education are covered from the very first moment. Instrument lessons of course, but also music theory, orchestra, choral singing. All branches of music education come along from the very first moment. At age of 11 I started playing the alto saxophone. I also play soprano and tenor, sometimes in the quartet. But the alto remains my undeniable favorite. When I sing in the quartet, my alto part is replaced by singing. It’s not that I then solo and the other three accompany me. It’s still a quartet, but instead of the alto part, you hear my voice.

2. You are from the same region in Portugal. When did you decide to continue as a quartet?
‘This was an idea of Pedro’s and was initially just to participate in the competition in Portugal for the ‘Prémio Jovens Músicos’ music award in 2018. Pedro was eager to participate with four Portuguese from the Netherlands. He and I were studying in Tilburg at the time, Daniel and Mafalda in Amsterdam. I knew Pedro, but the others only by name. When we first got together, things went super well right away. We immediately noticed how well we clicked and how quickly we got along. After a few months of traveling back and forth between Tilburg and Amsterdam, Pedro and I moved to Amsterdam as well, which allowed us to rehearse together more often. We won the ‘Prémio’ and got the opportunity to record an album. Everything gained momentum and now we are already here. For us, the benchmark remained that we enjoyed playing together immensely. And this is still the case. Besides, we have become really good friends.This morning we saw each other again for the rehearsal, which was cancelled last week because Daniel was in Portugal. Then we really have to watch out that we still get to work a bit and don’t just sit around chatting.’

3. Do you never quarrel?
‘No never! But we really don’t. People don’t believe this, but it’s true. Of course sometimes there are little things, but we talk something like that out right away and then it’s done. I think it has to do with the fact that we don’t have big egos among us. None of us tend to make ourselves more important than the rest. And there is no “leader. Every choice we make together. For some projects, we have to decide democratically whether we want to do them. If one of us doesn’t agree, we talk about it and actually the outcome then is always: it’s not my choice, but I trust you.’

4. What makes you guys unique?
‘We feel that our generation has an important role to play. We are very aware of our surroundings and the problems in the world. Climate change is a big issue for us. Our quartet has given us a voice and we feel responsible to use it in a good way and create even more awareness. We really see this as a mission of our generation. I don’t think most saxophone quartets are as keen on putting down a social message’. 

5. Your production ‘No one is too small’ is about the climate. In what way are you making a concrete contribution with this?
For us it is not about being a role model. That would be crazy: we still fly, some of us eat meat. We are far from perfect. What we want to convey is that every action, no matter how small, can have an impact. I hear people say: why should I adapt, let Shell come over first. People don’t believe they can make a difference on their own. This is precisely something we firmly believe. With music alone you can create something big.

No one is too small’ has been quite a large production: not only us as a quartet, but also six composers, among others, worked on it. During the making we had a lot of discussions and conversations with each other: what do you do concretely, how are you aware of your own behavior? How far should that responsibility go? During the performance, we want to give people space to go through this same process. Enjoy the music, but also just think about what climate change means to you. Be inspired. That’s enough for us.’

6. Do your shared roots have much impact and where do we notice that?
‘We have the same background and that helps a lot. Often saxophone quartets consist of a mix of musicians from different cultures. We are 100% Portuguese. Because of this, half a word is enough for us. Playing fado is awesome. We had very minimal sheet music: no dynamics, no articulation, basically just notes and rhythm. With this super basic setup, we were able to go all the way, it felt very natural. We automatically felt how the music wanted to be played. We grew up with fado music, it’s in our blood. We know how it should sound.’

‘When we do play with a substitute, we usually avoid the repertoire of ‘Renascer.’ Otherwise there is too much context needed, too much rehearsal. In our quartet we feel each other and speak each other’s language, literally and figuratively.’

7. Who or what are your sources of inspiration?
‘Oh many! I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately and I’m a fan of the books by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. My favorite is ‘Kafka on the Shore,’ but his more recent work ‘Killing Commendatore’ also really appealed to me. 

‘A film I found inspiring was Wim Wenders’ ‘Perfect Days.’ Also in Japanese spheres, by the way. It tells the story of a man who lives a very simple life, with the same routine every day. It was so soothing for me, a meditation moment. I have a hectic life and this film made me feel totally zen. You might think that a musician goes to a concert every weekend, but for us it is also our work. Sometimes in the few free hours you just don’t feel like dealing with your work. 

‘A fantastic musician for me is Jacob Collier. His genre is jazz, but he is a real crossover artist. We do this as a quartet as well, of course. The nice thing about young composers is that they are very influenced by all kinds of other movements in music and use them. That makes them dynamic and interesting. You won’t easily find a cozy drum&bass sample in a classical Debussy composition.’

8. What is LOEV?
‘With AYA Dance Theater, we are creating the performance “Loev”. That’s what teenagers call love these days, did you know? So it’s about love. We are working with five dancers from the company. The theme of the performance is: love knows no boundaries. A very current theme especially among young people, where love is becoming a less and less linear concept and there is more room for the diversity of manifestations of love. The artistic director of AYA, Ryan Djojokarso, was inspired for the dance by the mating dances of birds. They come up with the craziest and most creative things to make themselves attractive to a potential lover, so you can do anything with that. This performance will premiere in 2025. 

9. If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
‘Two things: athlete and cook. Like Haruki Murakami, I love running very much. In another life, I could quite easily have seen myself at the Olympics. That’s a bit late to pursue now, perhaps. Another big hobby of mine is cooking. I could still do something with that, by the way. I wouldn’t be surprised if I took a break from playing and threw myself into cooking. 

‘Other than that, I love planning and organizing. I run my own music school in Haarlem, the Haarlem Saxophone School. I don’t just teach, but also organize concerts and workshops. This is something I really enjoy doing. But my favorite thing to do is still playing the saxophone and I hope to be able to keep doing this for as long as possible.’

10. Imagine yourself in later life, a pensioner in her rocking chair, looking back on her life. What do you hope will have stuck with you the most? 
‘I’m not so concerned with achieving huge milestones or successes. I am a happy person myself and I would like to make other people happy too. I hope to be able to inspire people and give them something to take away. With my music school, I already notice how much impact you can have with music in the lives of others. If I can continue to do this, together with my friends from the quartet, I will be happy.

On March 27, the Maat saxophone quartet will play its performance “No one is too small” as part of 24Chambers at a yet undisclosed location in Rotterdam. Check out 24chambers – Maat Saxophone Quartet – 24Classics. For more playing and tour dates, see Maat’s website maatsaxquartet.com

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