Record label debuts with compositions from Curtis

    PRISM Quartet (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Hanna)

    PRISM Quartet (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Hanna)

    One casualty of our online world has been the recording industry. Since the ’90s, many record labels have folded or consolidated as listeners turned to digital downloads and free music on YouTube, instead of buying albums.

    But Philadelphia’s Prism Quartet is bucking that trend with the launch of XAS Records  (“sax” spelled backwards). 

    Tenor saxophonist Matt Levy explained that running the whole show themselves wasn’t that great a leap.

    “Artists often take all the risk when working with professional labels,” he noted. “The artist will pay for the entire gamut of expenses related to making a record — artist fees, production fees, manufacturing. We decided we would cut out the middleman.”

    Prism already had the content for the label’s first offering, culled from a residency in the composition department at the Curtis Institute of Music. Curtis is best known for educating world-class orchestral players, but this new recording showcases another side of the venerable institution — as a center for music composition.

    “We wanted to include a program that featured five new works by composition students, as well as a new work by [dean of artistic programs] David Ludwig called ‘Josquin Microludes’,” said Levy.

    The project also included some star power, with a piece by Jennifer Higdon. The Curtis alum and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer said she wrote “Short Stories” for Prism to perform at branches of the Free Library of Philadelphia, where the audience makeup was unpredictable.

    “The idea was to create a bunch of short movements that could be moved around in any order. They could be fit anywhere you needed,” she said. “Including if you’ve got a raucous bunch of 8-year-olds running around the room.”

    The Prism Quartet will follow the release of “The Curtis Project” with another album of saxophone quartets, and a collaboration with the percussion ensembles Partch and So Percussion.

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