review

Tom Harrold: Saxophone Concerto - Eemma McPhilemy (soprano saxophone): Concert

This review was published on: November 2nd 2019
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Emma McPhilemy (soprano saxophone)
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra - Rita Castro Blanco (conductor)

Media City, Salford
21 June 2019

This world premiere performance is the result of an ongoing collaboration between the Royal Northern College of Music and the BBC Philharmonic, giving outstanding students who have completed the RNCM International Artist Diploma an opportunity to perform with this world-class orchestra. Emma McPhilemy is the first saxophonist to complete the IAD. In 2017 she approached composer Tom Harrold to write her a concerto, and the stars aligned – as did funding from the Hope Scott Trust.

Tom Harrold is a breath of fresh air in the contemporary music world. His music is a smorgasbord of imagination, wild colours, joyous rhythms and ice-cold beauty, coupled with a complete control of shape and technique. Serious and very hip! In addition to composing works for orchestra, chamber groups and soloists, Tom is an RNCM honorary associate artist, having himself studied at the college.

The key word here is collaboration, with soloist and performer working closely on this concerto for 18 months. The demands placed on the soloist are deep in terms of physical and mental stamina – the soloist ‘fights’ with the orchestra in the outer movements, which frame a beautifully contrasting slower middle movement – and in conveying the lines and bigger shapes throughout.

McPhilemy drew the admiration and respect of both orchestra and audience. With seemingly effortless control she manipulated her tone from crystalline transparency to molten gold, coupled with sheer presence and huge musical integrity. Harrold has created a version with a two-piano reduction and a version with wind orchestra, making the concerto more accessible. Performers also have the additional benefit of being able to reference the BBC recording of the world premiere.

This is a fabulous new addition to the saxophone concerto repertoire, brilliantly played by McPhilemy and the BBC Philharmonic. Harrold is a friend of the saxophone and we need to keep it that way – may we have many more commissions from him over the years. McPhilemy is a saxophonist who possesses a tone of real beauty with an absolute command of her instrument and the music she performs, and an unrelenting desire to push boundaries. Watch this space!

Andy Scott

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The Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No. 3010228, whose registered office is at Flat 51, Parkview Apartments, 122 Chrisp Street, London, E14 6ET. Email: membership(@) cassgb.org. Tel: 01642 769 558

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