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THE QUARTET'S NEW SAX SYMBOL

She's young, attractive, a native of Albion and plays the saxophone like a dream.

Meet Susan Fancher.

Fancher, a soprano saxophonist, will make her debut as the new member of the Amherst Saxophone Quartet at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Westminster Presbyterian Church, 724 Delaware Ave.

Fancher's joining the Amherst Saxophone Quartet is only the second personnel change in the ensemble's 20-year history. Tenor Stephen Rosenthal and baritone Harry Fackelman are its remaining charter members; alto Russ Carere rounds out the quartet.

Such a low turnover demonstrates a remarkable stability and loyalty among the players of this Buffalo group.

From its founding in January 1978, the Amherst Saxophone Quartet went on to appear in Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson. It also has toured from Maine to Hawaii, plus several overseas locations.

Today the Amherst Saxophone Quartet stands as one of the world's pre-eminent saxophone ensembles. This means it has the luxury of being able to choose from among the finest players when someone new is needed.

"When we looked around for a soprano (to replace the departed Sal Andolina)," says spokesman Stephen Rosenthal, "we didn't put out an open call. That might have brought in 200 or 300 applications, which we simply wouldn't have had time to sort through.

"So we sought out selected applicants, maybe 15 in all, because we needed the kind of player not just with great technique and a lot of potential, but one who could step in right away and knock people's socks off."

Fancher's resume shows clearly why she became a front-runner for the position, which carries with it faculty status in the music department of the University at Buffalo.

Fancher earned bachelor's degrees at Northwestern University in mathematics and music in 1987. Then, sandwiched between other teaching and performing engagements here and abroad, she pursued music at Northwestern to the advanced master's (1997) and doctorate (1998) levels.

Included in Fancher's professional life have been two years with the Swedish saxophone quartet with the evocative name Rollin' Phones, and six years with the Vienna Saxophone Quartet, which has seen 10 new works dedicated to Fancher and more than 30 new works that she had commissioned.

Fancher considers these the highlights of her career so far, but she also says that her positions as instructor at Indiana State University and the Danube International School in Vienna gave her much experience and insight.

"When I got the offer and decided to leave Chicago and join the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, I was still traveling the world but also was with Northwestern University's School of Music as coordinator of music opportunities for non-music majors," she said.

Fancher is philosophical about the opportunities for women in the saxophone world.

"It seems that at the conservatory level about a third of the students are women, but when you survey those playing professionally the numbers are quite a bit smaller," she said.

"For my own career, I don't feel particularly intimidated by this, as I have the sense that things are changing, but still have a way to go."

In surveying the impressive lists of compositions either dedicated to Fancher or commissioned by her, the name of Mark Engebretson shows up quite a lot.

"Yes," she said, "Engebretson is composer I've premiered a lot of works for."

And after a brief pause she happily added: "Oh yes! He and I will be observing our 10th wedding anniversary next Jan. 22."

In a private auditioning process such as the one the Amherst Saxophone Quartet just concluded, applicants are encouraged to furnish tapes and recordings of their performances.

Fancher offered several CD recordings made with the Rollin' Phones and the Vienna Saxophone Quartet.

"We sorted through her CDs and selected one by the Vienna Saxophone Quartet to play first," Rosenthal said.

"When the three of us listened to how well she played, the smile on Harry Fackelman's face told us we had a winner."

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet's concert, the second of its four-program season series, will be repeated at 3 p.m. Saturday in Slee Hall on the University at Buffalo North Campus, and at 8 p.m. Dec. 16 in the Bijou Grille in the Theater District.

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