Friday, 2 May 2014

Contemporary saxophone; an interview with Lucy Fox

High-pitched squeals echo down the hall as I approach the practice room I am to interview saxophonist Lucy Fox. As a saxophonist myself I approach this interview with a certain trepidation but also interest to see if our opinions on classical saxophone playing align.

From growing up in her hometown of Birmingham she tells me that her interest in music was ‘always strong’ as she played in ‘various ensembles’ playing the saxophone but when at school actually primarily flute. She goes on to tell me that after listening to many albums and CD’s she ‘loved the tone’ of the saxophone, especially classical saxophone. ‘The main sound people associate with the saxophone are the harsh jazz sounds of [Michael] Brecker or [Charlie] Parker, which are nothing like the developed [classical] sounds of Arno Bornkamp or Claude Delangle’.

Lucy tells me ‘its hard to imagine a time when I hadn’t heard these players’. In secondary school a lot of her playing was learning pieces for ABRSM (associated board of the royals schools of music) exams, and although she was successful in these exams it wasn’t until sixth form that she ‘even listened to classical saxophone’.  She says this as though its madness but I say it ‘wasn’t until university that I first listened to a classical saxophone recording’ and we both laugh. The repertoire for the ABRSM saxophone exams includes works by Bozza, Bach and Singelee and although these are great pieces they ‘are steeped in a tradition which perhaps isn’t relevant to classical saxophone players today’. 

‘A classical pianist has a catalogue of hundreds of fantastic ‘classical’ works to draw upon with many audiences knowing the works being performed’. Lucy tells me that in her opinion the classical saxophone does not have this ‘deep rooted’ tradition and although some of the great composers have written works for the saxophone, ‘Ibert, Glazunov and Bozza’, these are few and for Lucy the more interesting and exciting repertoire are ‘contemporary and written considering the saxophone as more than just a classical instrument’.  Repertoire Lucy is looking at this year includes a piece I have never come across before by composer Eugene Rosse, Lobuk constrictor. ‘The piece explores the tonal versatility’ of the saxophone with its ‘use of multiphonics slap tonguing’ and many more extended techniques.  Lucy tells me the piece was described by Jean Marie Londiex as ‘THE introductory work for students looking at contemporary repertoire’. I ask her if she wouldn’t mind playing it to me and she happily obliges.  Lucy’s playing is very well controlled with a sonorous tone, which projects beautifully, and although we are only in a small practice room I can imagine her sound would comfortably fill a large concert hall.  One of the things that strikes me about this piece is that there are no elements of it that I could sing back or would find myself humming on the way home and yet still the piece was hugely effective and kept me transfixed throughout the performance.  Lucy tells me that, in her opinion, ‘the piece is mainly effective because of the atmosphere it creates’.

            ‘Christian Lauba is a composer who I feel similarly embodies this idea of creating an atmosphere in his works rather than beautiful ‘classical’ melodies’. She tells me that she performed one of his works, ‘Mutation Coleurs’, with the Huddersfield saxophone ensemble, which was a big, hit with the audience.  Lauba is an avid composer of the saxophone and his compositions embrace many elements of the saxophones versatility of saxophone drawing inspiration from ‘bebop and jazz and then composing it in a contemporary classical style’. I ask if she is looking at any more of his works in her playing yet and she tells me that ‘they are very advanced in technique and hugely demanding from the performer’, currently Lucy is looking at learning the techniques but as soon as she has got them under her fingers she will ‘definitely start to learn them’.  Another exciting composer who ‘looks at and embraces the saxophone’s cross genre versatility is Barry Cockroft’. ‘His music is so exciting, as a saxophone player himself he knows exactly what will work on the instrument and really pushes the boundaries of in terms of techniques’. With works like Ku Ku and Beat me Barry Cockroft uses the saxophone ‘as a percussive instrument’ and ‘explores the sounds’ the saxophone can create even at one point in beat me asking the saxophone to ‘resemble the tone of a distorted guitar’. Barry Cockroft came to the UK three years ago to attend and perform at the fifteenth world saxophone congress in St Andrews and his performances for me were inspiring and opened my eyes to the potential of the instrument I was learning. I ask Lucy if she attended the fifteenth world saxophone congress and she tells me ‘no but the next one is next summer in France and I will definitely be attending’.

Next year Lucy has taken the initiative to set up and be the alto player for the Mousai Saxophone Quartet as well as playing in a saxophone Duo with fellow Leeds College of Music saxophonist Rosie Lord.

I leave the interview feeling that the future of classical music is in safe hands. Lucy Fox is a great saxophonist with fantastic control of the instrument and an enthusiasm which is inspiring to see. I look forward to hearing her play in her professional career.