Bolton musicians hit all the right notes

Musicians from Bolton School perform at the 17th World Saxophone Congress in France and Music D’ARCA in Luxembourg

Bolton School’s Saxophone Choir, newly formed at the start of the school year, won a performance slot at the World Sax Congress with a recorded audition and an 8,000-word project about ‘contemporary techniques within a school environment’. 

Meanwhile, the recently formed ‘NAMAHAZO’ Quartet, so-called as a portmanteau of its members’ names, achieved a semi-final place in the Strasbourg International Quartet Competition. 

In July, year 13 students Harriet Gribbin and Matthew Hotham, Zoe Stirzaker from year 11 and Old Girl Natasha Lomas travelled to the Cité de la Musique et de la Danse de Strasbourg with teacher Miss Berry to participate in the next stage of the competition. There they faced fifteen rival quartets from around the world, and were by far the youngest group to have reached this stage. 

Miss Berry said: “Given that the age category for this event was 35 years and under, this was a phenomenal achievement. We later found out that we were the only quartet in the UK to get through.” 

Although they did not make it into the final six, they were nonetheless delighted to have got to the semi-finals. The quartet said: “All four of us know that we have gained invaluable experience by participating in the competition. We have become closer both as an ensemble and as friends. Even though three of us have left Bolton School now, we still plan to keep the quartet together.” 

A few days later, the other six members of the Saxophone Choir joined NAMAHAZO and Miss Berry in Strasbourg. As part of the World Saxophone Congress, they watched a variety of performances, including the opening concert: a premier of symphonic pieces featuring world famous saxophonists.

The Bolton School Saxophone Choir also had the chance to perform at the World Sax Congress. 

A member of the choir said: “Not only has the Sax Open event provided a fantastic opportunity for us to perform, but also given us invaluable experience for our musical futures. We have met virtuoso role models to whom we can aspire, and been given an insight into the international music community. It has enhanced our teamwork, friendship and most of all our musicianship.” 

The NAMAHAZO quartet and Miss Berry were invited to participate in the Sax 200 concert, which was part of the World Streaming Show for the World Sax Day event. They joined the ‘SaxOpen’ saxophone orchestra, which included members from around the world and was conducted by Masahiro Maeda of the Mi-Bémol Saxophone Ensemble.

Harriet, Matthew, Natasha and Zoe were all given different parts to play, while Miss Berry took a role as lead Alto. The performance was part of the World Sax Day event, linking with other live performances from saxophonists across the globe throughout the evening.  

After leaving Strasbourg, the musicians made their way to Luxembourg. On arrival in the city, the choir made their way to Music D’ARCA to rehearse, followed by an hour-long concert which featured performances from the Quartet and the Choir. 

Pupils were also able to rehearse at the Luxembourg Conservatoire: a fantastic opportunity for both groups to receive advice from Guy Goethals, a distinguished saxophonist and teacher. He helped the quartet to improve their dynamics and balance, and also gave the ensemble ideas for improvement in their pieces. 

The European tour was a fantastic opportunity for all of the pupils to learn more about musical techniques and receive tuition and advice from expert saxophonists, as well as giving them the chance to rehearse and perform in the fantastic surroundings of Strasbourg and Luxembourg. Memories of this trip are sure to remain with every member of the saxophone choir for years to come. 

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