Yeoman of the Month December 2015 – Anthony Brown

Last week, a lady on a train from London to Manchester asked me what I did. I told her I was a musician and that I played the saxophone, to which I received the routine response “So, are you in a band?” “Well, a few different ones, of sorts,” I replied. Responding to “So, what exactly do you do?” would, after all, probably take longer than the 2 hours 10 minutes train journey to explain.

I’m lucky to have such a varied career in music, and I have a lot of people to thank for that, starting with my earliest music teachers in my hometown of Rochdale. I began music lessons on guitar. What young boy aged six would pass up the opportunity to study with a Mr. Bond? I don’t ever recall playing that particular theme tune, though. Piano and saxophone lessons followed. Urged to audition for a place at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) by my saxophone teacher at Rochdale Music Service, I chose to abandon the option of studying maths/engineering at university.

I entered the RNCM with a real passion for jazz, and a keen interest in bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker. During my time there, I developed a love for the classical approach on the instrument, and the institution allowed me to nurture my passion and creativity in all kinds of music. The RNCM was a wonderful place to study. It balanced academic, group and private tuition with a friendly atmosphere to a tee. First impressions really do count, though I can’t say I made the best start. My first teacher, now a good friend and colleague, tells a story of my first lesson, in which he had to stifle his laughter at my saxophone playing! Not my finest admission.

Attaining full marks in my final recital at the RNCM, with the support of Rob Buckland, Andy Scott, Carl Raven plus many other tutors, I went on to study for an International Artist Diploma in Chamber Music – the RNCM’s ‘Pinnacle of achievement in performance at the College’ – with Absolution Saxophone Quartet. My recital mark also led to one of my proudest achievements, a Silver Medal awarded by the Worshipful Company of Musicians. While at the awards dinner, I met pianist Leo Nicholson. This chance meeting led to a collaboration that has lasted for over four years, in which time we have won two national competitions (Haverhill Sinfonia Soloist Competition and the Bromsgrove International Young Musicians’ Platform and performed at venues throughout the UK, including Wigmore Hall in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and the Purcell Room in 2014.

Young Artist Programmes have played a huge part in my development as a young musician. Some of the schemes I have been a part of include Making Music, The Tillett Trust, Park Lane Group and the Hattori Foundation. Opportunities from these schemes often led to further collaborations. One such opportunity presented itself after a Purcell Room concert, supported by Park Lane Group. This concert showcased a premiere work, Coronach, for saxophone and piano by Graham Ross, head of music at Clare College, Cambridge. This relationship continued, and Ross composed a work for soprano saxophone and the choir of Clare College for the Ascensiontide and Pentecost disc released on the Harmonia Mundi USA label in early 2015.

In 2014, I received funding from the Hattori Foundation to further my studies. Some of this money went towards an intensive summer course in Gap, France, with some of the world’s leading classical saxophonists. This wonderful opportunity not only gave me the chance to meet like-minded saxophonists from around the world but also to receive and observe lessons. As well as contemporary classical music, the course covered many different styles of performance, ranging from Baroque and Costa Rican music through to Soundpainting.

Earlier this year, I made my BBC Proms debut as a soloist at Sondheim’s 85th birthday cabaret-style celebration under the direction of pianist Richard Sisson. This concert, broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, featured three wonderfully talented singers, Kitty Whately, Jamie Parker and Siân Phillips at Cadogan Hall in London.

I have been lucky enough to perform in orchestras including The Hallé, Liverpool Philharmonic, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Royal Northern Sinfonia, and most recently in a production of Kiss Me Kate with Opera North. However, I have never forgotten my first love of jazz – the reason I chose to play the saxophone in the first place. With an instrument steeped in jazz history, I have always performed in big bands and small ensembles. One such group to which I belong is Beats and Pieces, a 14-piece big band formed at the RNCM in 2008. This high-energy group, “Fast becoming one of the foundations of the current UK jazz scene”, have recently released a new album All In, available at www.beatsnpieces.net.

Finally, as well as performing, I also enjoy a varied teaching career, ranging from primary school workshops supported by the Worshipful Company of Musicians, through to university teaching.

To listen to or find out more about Anthony, visit www.anthonybrownsaxophone.com.