NICHOLAS RUSSONIELLO AND THE ACACIA QUARTET
Between Worlds album launch
Wollongong Conservatorium, August 22, 7.30pm
As a classically trained saxophonist, Nicholas Russoniello has always found himself caught between two musical styles, with most people expecting to hear him play jazz instead of classical music through his bold, brassy instrument.
It's this predicament that has inspired the talented Wollongong-born musician's debut album Between Worlds, due to be released at the end of this month.
According to the 29-year-old, now based in Sydney, the album has been "years in the making" because he's always wanted to test out the unlikely combination of saxophone and string quartet.
"I thought it would sound awesome and there's just no music for saxophone and string quartet because they kind of missed each other in terms of classical music development," he said.
"Years ago I spoke to my friend and composer, Jeremy Rose, to write me a new work and he wrote it straight away but it took years to get the funds and the right team together to do it."
Winning a competition sponsored by classical radio station Fine Music Radio late last year allowed Russoniello the much-needed studio time to finally turn his "mucking around" into an album.
The result is a mix of world music and classical/jazz fusion, and includes songs from a range of contemporary composers as well as two original pieces.
"I'm always trying to build more music for the saxophone and explore different things the sax can do," he said. "So a couple of years ago I started just writing things and mucking around."
As well as working with Rose, whom many Illawarra music fans would know from his work in the Strides and the Vampires, he worked with prominent classical composer Elena Kats-Chernin.
Describing her as "pretty much the biggest classical composer working in Australia at the moment", Kats-Chernin helped him to find the Acacia Quartet, the string group which plays with him on Between Worlds.
For Russoniello, finishing and preparing to release his first solo album has been the crowning achievement after an extremely successful few years.
In 2011, he was named the ABC Symphony Australia young performer of the year, winning $25,000 and the chance to play at Sydney's Symphony in the Domain in front of 50,000 people.
The following year he was a finalist for the prestigious Australian Arts Council's Freedman Fellowship, which has been nicknamed the "genius" award.
Russoniello will perform at a sneak preview concert at the Wollongong Conservatorium auditorium on Friday, August 22, a week before his album's official launch.
He hopes performing at his old stomping ground, where he once took lessons and played in the BHP Youth Orchestra, will inspire some of the next generation of classical musicians.
"I've had a long-standing relationship with Wollongong Con and I really wanted to bring the project home," he says.
"We're going to be doing the concert right away the youth orchestra finish their rehearsal, so hope the kids will stick around and check it out and hopefully they get into the music."
The album will be officially launched on August 28 at the Australian Hall in Sydney, before he takes off on an Australian tour that will cover Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Hobart.