Best known for being an important part of the jazz and pop music scenes, the mighty saxophone is often overlooked when it comes to classical music. However, here too its expressive, fluid tone and surprising amount of repertoire means that it has a major role to play.
As an increasing number of players advocate the style, the classical saxophone is more popular now than it has ever been. Here are six of the best classical saxophonists, past and present, to introduce you to this exciting sound.
Marcel Mule (1901-2001)
Frenchman Marcel Mule was a highly influential figure in the world of the classical saxophone throughout the 20th century. Seen as the creator of the French saxophone school, Mule was the second professor of saxophone at the Paris Conservatoire, after Adolph Sax himself.
His teaching involved emphasis on sound quality, and many of his pupils became significant figures in the music world. A pioneer of the classical saxophone, Mule premiered a great deal of new repertoire, and led the way for the genre to expand and develop.
Sigurd Raschèr (1907-2001)
Sigurd Raschèr was a contemporary of Mule; however, he took a very different approach to the instrument. After moving to saxophone from clarinet because he thought it would be easier to play, Raschèr soon became frustrated by what he considered to be the limitations of the saxophone’s sound.
Working tirelessly to hone his technique, he mastered the instrument and demonstrated its versatility. He encouraged classical composers to write works for the saxophone: Glazunov, Hindemith and Milhaud all dedicated compositions to him.
At the height of his career, Raschèr was a celebrated concert saxophonist, playing with many of the world’s greatest orchestras.
Eugene Rousseau (born 1932)
Eugene Rousseau was an acclaimed pupil of Mule’s, but has since become an influential instrumentalist in his own right. Rousseau has achieved many milestones in the classical saxophone genre, including performing the first solo saxophone recitals in cities such as London, Paris and Vienna.
In 1969 he co-founded the World Saxophone Congress, and he has been president of both the Comité International du Saxophone and the North American Saxophone Alliance.
John Harle (born 1956)
John Harle is one of the leading saxophonists of his generation. A player and composer, his work covers both the classical and popular genres. He was appointed the youngest ever professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1989.
A premiere of Harrison Birtwistle’s controversial saxophone concerto Panic at the Last Night of the BBC Proms in 1995 thrust Harle into the spotlight, and since then his work has been important in popularising the genre.
He has achieved great commercial success, and is one of the world’s most recorded saxophonists.
Arno Bornkamp (born 1959)
A master of both the traditional and the more contemporary repertoire, Arno Bornkamp is a saxophonist who is highly admired for his virtuosic playing style. He has won many prestigious awards, including the ‘Silver Laurel of the Concertgebouw’ and the ‘Netherlands Music Prize’.
In 2001 Bornkamp and pianist Ivo Janssen released Adolphe Sax Revisited, a collection of 19th-century compositions performed on period instruments including saxophones made by Adolph Sax himself.
A keen chamber musician, he plays tenor saxophone in the much-acclaimed Aurelia Quartet.
Amy Dickson (born 1982)
Australian saxophonist Amy Dickson is quickly making a name for herself as a rising star in the saxophone world. She studied under Arno Bornkamp at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam and has since gone on to win a great number of awards, including becoming the first saxophonist to win a classic Brit award, as Breakthrough Artist of the Year in 2013.
Passionate about new music, Dickson has had works commissioned from composers such as Steve Martland and Timothy Salter. Known for her unique tone and masterful control of the instrument, she effortlessly bridges the gaps between different genres and styles.
And one to watch…
Jess Gillam (born 1998)
Jess Gillam is a young saxophonist from Cumbria, who reached the final of BBC Young Musician in 2016. Her ‘remarkable youthful drive and efficiency’ along with her impeccable mastery of the instrument has led to massive popularity.
Recent achievements include winning a classical Brit, signing a record deal with Decca, and performing at the Last Night of the Proms. Her sound on the instrument is as a result of hard work and dedication, devoting two hours every day to practicing long notes.
Recently performing the premiere of a piece written especially for her by her teacher and renowned saxophonist John Harle, Gillam is also a fierce advocate of the importance of informing and enthusing people about classical music.
Her openly-discussed opinion on the lack of musical education in schools is hopefully a sign of things to come. As a high-profile young ambassador for classical music, Gillam’s influence can only be positive.