Unlikely duo hits musical high note with partnership

Jonathan Bergeron and John Masserini

Where do good ideas come from? If you ask NAU School of Music’s Jonathan Bergeron and John Masserini, they often arise while enjoying coffee.

It was five years ago over coffee at the University Union that the two musicians struck up the idea to play together. While their instruments are from the same woodwind family—Bergeron plays the saxophone and Masserini the clarinet—music written for these two instruments is rarely seen in the established chamber music world.

Despite this, the two saw an opportunity to explore the unique combination of their instruments and create their own canon of work. “There’s something about the timbre—we can alter the sound to be as different or the same as we want,” Masserini said.

After their first formal performance at NAU’s New Music concert in 2009, they knew they had hit the mark. “There was this unspoken bond between us and we just clicked,” Bergeron said. Masserini added, “There are very few people I can walk onstage with and have absolutely no nerves. With Jonathan there’s a feeling of mutual respect and trust. Even when we improvise on stage, I know the final product will be fantastic.”

After performing across the country for two years as Velocity2, they took their journey a step further and created a demo CD. “We had to find compositions written specifically for saxophone/clarinet pairings—and let me tell you there’s not a lot out there,” Bergeron said.

Luck seemed to be in their favor. After a performance at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, the duo was approached by composer Igor Iachimciuc. He enjoyed their sound so much he arranged one of his existing compositions specifically for them. Bruce Reiprich, NAU professor of music composition, also wrote a piece to add to their collection. Soon the two found themselves sending out a finished demo to a number of record labels, including Centaur Records, one of the largest independent classical labels in the United States.

Two weeks later they hit the jackpot, said Bergeron. “Victor Sachse, the founder and president of Centaur Records, called us himself saying we had ourselves a deal.”

Velocity FluxThe final product, the CD Flux, features six full works that range from strict clarinet and saxophone duos to pieces incorporating electronic effects and piano. Although Bergeron notes their musical approach may be unconventional, the resulting sound possibilities are “magical” and “speak to a new audience.”

Bergeron and Masserini are on a quest to show the musical world that a saxophone and clarinet pairing is not only a viable—but a successful chamber music option. They’ll hit the road for performances in Pennsylvania and hope to perform at the 2015 International Clarinet Conference in Madrid.

Until then, you can find the two practicing at least three times a week in the School of Music with their instruments and a cup of coffee in hand.