Report by Alison Owen-Morley
The World Saxophone Congress returned to the UK for the first time in 36 years this summer, when the 16th gathering took place in St Andrews from 10 to 15 July, directed by Richard Ingham. The triennial Congress is the leading international event for classical saxophonists, bringing musicians together from all over the world to showcase their work and share new ideas.
With around 800 performers and a total of over 1000 delegates, the Congress featured a packed programme of concerts, recitals, masterclasses and interviews, with up to six events taking place at a time. Traditions Old and New was the theme for the week, which included over 200 world premieres as well as some gems from the classical saxophone repertoire.
Internationally renowned American saxophonist Branford Marsalis gave the world premiere of a new work by Andy Scott for tenor saxophone in the opening night gala concert with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Clark Rundell. The concert also featured concerto performances by leading players Arno Bornkamp from the Netherlands, Australian Barry Cockroft and the UK's own John Harle, as well as a Scottish themed opener by Richard Ingham, performed by his Scottish Saxophone Ensemble (featuring Assistant Directors Sue McKenzie and Michael Brogan) and invited guests.
With the prestigious event on the doorstep, British saxophonists and composers featured strongly in the programme. The Apollo Saxophone Quartet gave a late night concert of music for silent film, and the recently formed Apollo Saxophone Orchestra gave their inaugural performance of works by Barbara Thompson in the presence of the inspirational composer. There were recitals by ensembles such as Scorch, Equinox and Yorkshire Saxophone Choir, quartets including Flotilla, Brass Jaw and many soloists and duos.
Composer in Residence Sally Beamish performed alongside Branford Marsalis in the premiere of her new work for alto saxophone and piano, written specially for the occasion. Sarah Markham directed a performance of Rachel Stott's Several World for massed saxophones, and Alistair Parnell gave an impressive introduction to the EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument).
An open education day brought 100 local students and amateur saxophonists to the Congress, with specially commissioned works from Cat Evison, who directed the day, and Charlotte Harding. The Tenor Saxophone Index, an online repertoire resource for saxophonists, was launched at the Congress, and a tubax was even sold at the extensive trade exhibition of instruments, sheet music, CDs and saxophone paraphernalia.
There were masterclasses from the world's great teachers including Eugene Rousseau, Claude Delangle, Carina Rascher, Otis Murphy and Vincent David, and special interviews with leading lights in the saxophone world. A celebration of John Cage's music marked the centenary of the groundbreaking composer's birth. Two great figures, Eugene Rousseau and Jean-Marie Londeix celebrate their 80th birthdays this year and remain an inspiration to the younger generations.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Moscow born Matvey Sherling, already an established soloist at the tender age of 13, wowed the crowd at his recital. Conservatoires from Europe, America, Asia and Australia showcased their student saxophone ensembles, with particularly strong performances from Strasbourg, directed by Phillipe Geiss, Paris under Claude Delangle, and the RNCM Saxophone Orchestra led by Rob Buckland and Andy Scott, which was selected for a repeat performance in the final day's showcase, curated by Richard Ingham.
Two further gala concerts featured concerto performances by Paul Nolen, Kohei Ueno, Zagreb Quartet, Timothy Roberts, Philippe Geiss and Diastema Quartet with the RNCM Wind Orchestra, and Debra Richtmeyer, Vincent David and Otis Murphy with the SCO. Other highlights among many included RompDuo, beatboxing Pedrosaxo, entertaining SONSAX and quartets Zzyzx, Tsukuba and QuadQuartet.
The memories will remain long after the last notes sounded, saxophones returned to their cases and delegates to their home countries. Congratulations to Richard Ingham and his team on an intensive, stimulating and highly successful event. Saxophonists are now looking forward to the next Congress, which takes place in Strasbourg in July 2015, directed by Philippe Geiss.