José María Sánchez-Verdú is one of the greatest figures of the new Spanish and European music. His work, moving and full of wisdoms, talent and personality, is embedded in the most subtle and obscure of Mediterranean culture. He has premiered, in absolute terms, the full version of Khôra. It is a monumental cycle for saxophone quartet and microtonal accordion that is almost seventy minutes long and has Platonic resonances.

What took place in the capital of Extremadura on Saturday was a first-rate musical and life experience; Sánchez-Verdú is a master of an unmistakable language. His refinement, appreciation for nuance and detail, mastery of a craft that he believes artisanal – his handwritten scores are, besides music, visual poems – and sensibility, which is willing to mold and enjoy itself within its emotional horizons, are the pillars that support, frame and nourish this new height of his substantial and selected catalogue.

The cycle’s etymological origin is not trivial – it was Plato who coined the term “khôra”. Sánchez-Verdú explains that this concept “places us in the spatial field”. Nor it is accidental that, with the aim of materializing the specific sonorities demanded by the creator’s imagination … he creates what he has called the “Egyptian saxophone” – the result of adding a bassoon’s crook and a Baroque bassoon’s reed to the tenor saxophones. Their final appearance suggests, nevertheless, the snake goddesses of Crete, Minoan inhabitants of the blue and inspirational Mediterranean dormant in the sheer universe of the composer from Algeciras.

Sánchez-Verdú dodges the temptation of the bright and sensationalist saxophone to investigate and achieve sonorities, effects, levels, registers, harmonies, suggestions and polychromies that are specific of said clear, crystalline, ancient and new language. They are now engraved in a homogeneous mosaic of scriptures “that occupy ambiguous and transitional spaces, like containers of an ungraspable thought, of a universe of reflection and questioning”, to use the author’s own terms.

Rather than premiering Khôra, SIGMA Project’s four members became an inseparable part of the work of which they are receivers themselves. Certainly, it is impossible to invoke a more involved interpretation – neither musically nor scenically, emotionally nor physically. More than a quartet, Sigma is a single instrument, a single sense. Barefoot, feeling the connection to the earth and the vibrations of a sound that spread in the ideal museum space; dressed in pristine white and next to the prepared accordion (with microintervals in its system of reeds) played by the colossal Iñaki Alberdi. Not even such virtuosity and cluster of virtues were able to dominate over the subjugating communicative and sensory strength possessed by the new masterpiece in the hands of its master performers.

Justo Romero
Music journalist

Scherzo Magazine, 27/I/2020