7 Nov 2018

Music of Today: Q & A with Amy Dickson


7 Nov


We're joined by saxophonist Amy Dickson in our next free Music of Today concert on 15 November, performing Franco Donatoni's Hot as the centrepiece of our composer showcase. 

One of the world's leading saxophonists, Amy's performances fuse genres and styles, and in 2013 she became the first saxophonist to win a Classical Brit Award. We chatted to her ahead of her concert with us, revealing how she first picked up the saxophone, and introducing her passion for new music.


Audiences around the world are familiar with the sound of saxophones in a variety of genres, from jazz pioneers like John Coltrane or Cannonball Adderley, to the world of pop, with artists like Branford Marsalis featuring on Sting’s Englishman in New York. But until recently, saxophones have been a rarity in the world of classical music – so what originally drew you to the instrument and led you to this genre?

The thing that drew me to the saxophone when I was child, was the sound. There’s something about it that just touches my ear in a way that other instruments don’t. I had a wonderful teacher who covered all the musical genres with me, and it was classical and contemporary music that always felt like my native musical language. The saxophone is a beautiful classical instrument and actually, when Adolphe Sax invented it, was intended to be a classical instrument - to bridge the gap between the woodwind and brass instruments. 


Amy Dickson performing Philip Glass


You play a variety of saxophone types, and in your performance with us we’ll be hearing you on the tenor and the tiny sopranino – what are the differences and quirks between the instruments? Do you have a favourite?

I usually play alto and soprano saxophones, as they are the instruments for which most of our solo repertoire is written. Each of the members of the saxophone family are vastly different to play, although they all have the same fingering patterns so, technically, once you can play one, you can play them all - it just takes a bit of work to get used to them! 


Tonight you’re performing Hot by Italian composer Franco Donatoni. What do you enjoy in his music, and what would you encourage our audience to listen out for?

I absolutely love this piece - as do so many of my musical friends. It builds in intensity in the most gripping way and it completely effective as a work.


Hot by Franco Donatoni


Throughout your career you’ve championed the creation of new music for saxophone, collaborating with leading composers including James MacMillan and Cecilia McDowall. Do you think composers enjoy the chance to explore new sounds for your instrument? What’s it like to be the first person to play a brand new piece of music?

One of my favourite things about working with composers is the privilege of getting to know the inside story to a new piece of music. Most of the time, while working with a composer during the early stage of a piece, I hear stories which most musicologists would dream about hearing. Technically, the saxophone is still developing and boundaries are still being pushed. I try very hard to let composers have free reign - which can mean months of work for me, learning new ways of playing, which is really, very exciting.


Amy Dickson performs with us in Southbank Centre's Purcell Room on Thursday 15 November, 6pm. Tickets are free, available here.