Florida State saxophone quartet makes history

Mana Quartet, from left: Florida State University graduate students Josh Meyers, Michael Hernandez, Michael Mortarotti, Dannel Espinoza.

A quartet of student saxophonists from The Florida State University College of Music has won the grand prize at the 2009 Coleman International Chamber Ensemble Competition. The annual contest is one of the world’s most rigorous and respected for ensembles of young, non-professional performers from the nation’s top music schools.

Collectively known as the Mana Quartet, the four FSU students who comprise the graduate ensemble earned the competition’s distinguished Alice Coleman Prize. Mana is the first saxophone quartet ever to win the top award in the 63-year history of the celebrated contest, held this year on April 25 in Pasadena at its home institution, the California Institute of Technology.

Florida State College of Music Dean Don Gibson calls the Coleman Competition grand prize a "world-class accomplishment, equal to the best accolade Florida State students have achieved."

Patrick Meighan, professor of saxophone at Florida State, coaches the Mana Quartet. "Although the Florida State saxophone program has a history of national prizewinners, the Mana Quartet’s achievement is unprecedented," Meighan said. "Considering our competition from such world-renowned programs as The Eastman School of Music and The Cleveland Institute of Music, our grand prize is even more remarkable."

The groundbreaking saxophonists of the Mana Quartet are:

  • Michael Hernandez of Phoenix, Ariz. A third-year doctoral student in performance, Hernandez has been part of the quartet for three years and plays the soprano saxophone. He received his master’s degree in music performance at Syracuse University.
  • Josh Meyers, also of Phoenix, who plays the tenor saxophone and has been a member of Mana for five years. He will graduate May 2 with a master’s in saxophone performance. Meyers earned his bachelor’s in music performance at Northern Arizona University.
  • Dannel Espinoza, of Miami, Fla., who graduated May 2 from FSU with a master’s in saxophone performance. A baritone saxophone player, Espinoza has spent five years with Mana. He received his bachelor’s in music performance from Northern Arizona University.
  • Michael Mortarotti, of Berkeley, Calif., who plays the alto saxophone. He graduated May 2 from FSU with a master’s in saxophone performance. He earned his bachelor’s in music performance at Northern Arizona University. Mortarotti has been with Mana for five years.

"It was a privilege to coach such talented, dedicated and down-to-earth young men in an ensemble that prides artistry over virtuosity," Meighan said. "This group knew what they wanted to say in their competition pieces. They have become extremely adept at figuring out the meaning of the notes they play and relaying that meaning convincingly to audiences."

The four saxophonists will share a $7,500 cash prize and the Coleman competition prestige that since 1947 has propelled many past winners to careers as widely acclaimed artists. On April 26, the day after their competition performance, the quartet presented a formal concert at Cal Tech, joined by the winners of the competition’s Woodwinds & Brass and Strings categories. Mana Quartet’s unique sound emanates from its historical instruments, which possess acoustical qualities that derive from their construction to circa 1840 specifications.

"It is an honor to be among the past winners of this prestigious event and to have all of our musical goals so clearly recognized by not only the judges, but also the other contestants and audience members," said the Mana Quartet members in a joint statement. "This first-ever event is a breaking point for the saxophone in classical music. While we remain somewhat awestruck of our success over such well-founded programs as Cleveland, Eastman and Juilliard, we now are eager to see where it takes us. Meanwhile, we are grateful to the College of Music for removing some of the financial burden from our endeavors, allowing us to focus more on the task at hand, music making."

The students credit their success to Meighan, whom they call their mentor. "His expertise in the field of chamber music cannot be overstated," they said. "From his work with his own Trio Bel Canto and the Raschèr Saxophone Orchestra to his continuous contribution to the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet, which contains three FSU graduates and is one of Europe’s premiere chamber ensembles, Patrick is an invaluable proponent of chamber music."

To learn more about the Mana Quartet, go to www.manaquartet.com. For more on Florida State’s College of Music, visit the Web site at music.fsu.edu.