Award-winning classical saxophonist and current Bradford Cathedral what’s-on cover star, Rob Burton won the Woodwind Category Final and was a Grand Finalist in BBC Young Musician 2018. Rob currently studies on a full scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music with Huw Wiggin and previously at the Junior Guildhall School of Music, where he was a Sax.co.uk Scholarship holder. We caught up with him ahead of his February Coffee Concert here at Bradford Cathedral as he waited for some emergency repairs to his saxophone, to talk about his musical background, what to expect from him at his concert, and what it was like to play on national television.
Could you give background to you as a musician?
I got into music because my friends started recorder lessons at primary school. Even though I wasn’t signed up for these recorder lessons I thought that it sounded awesome and that I really wanted to do that as well. My parents went out and bought me a recorder and I started taking the lessons. I think because I enjoyed it so much I really got the hang of it a lot quicker than a lot of my friends. I guess I naturally progressed onto the saxophone after playing the recorder for four-or-five years.
The reason I chose the saxophone was because my parents absolutely adored the instrument. They actually made a CD for me of all their favourite pop saxophone solos, so it had songs on it like Baker Street and those kind of tunes. I used to listen to that when I was eight-or-nine and I fell in love with the saxophone and couldn’t wait to start playing it.
Could you tell us a little about the pieces you’re going to play?
I’ll be playing a complete mixture of kind-of classical saxophone repertoire. I say kind-of classical because you shouldn’t expect pieces from composers like Mozart or Beethoven. They’ll be quite a lot of crossovers. I’ll be playing some pieces by Piazzolla which is kind-of classical music, but tango-inspired, and other work that has Spanish or jazz influences, as well as some Fauré. It’ll be a complete mixture: it’ll be a programme that showcases the saxophone in many different lights.
You were a grand finalist in the BBC Young Musician 2018. What was it like to get that far?
It was absolutely amazing, and very surreal. I entered the competition thinking I’d never even get past the first round and so, as I progressed through the rounds, it got weirder every time! Ending up on television, playing in front of so many people watching at home and performing with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was an incredible experience, but a weird one. It went so quickly; it was phenomenal.
Did you find it nerve-racking?
I think because the competition took place over several months, it was like a whirlwind of emotions. I had to do lots of practice and meet so many amazing people, and really pushing myself hard, I don’t think I got too nervous. I was propelled by the whole experience!
You did some work with the young musicians of the Jersey Symphony Orchestra last year; do you enjoy inspiring other musicians?
Yes, definitely. I’ve done a few masterclass workshops recently, and done presentations to primary schools. I even went back to my old school. Doing things like getting young people interested in music and introducing playing an instrument to them is very rewarding for me, as it feels like I’m making an impact. Also, it’s lovely to see how much they all enjoy it.
What’s been your favourite place to play?
That’s a very difficult question! I do really love playing music by Piazzolla. It’s has the classical side of music that I enjoy but it’s got this freedom, from the tango influences. His writing is either beautifully lyrical, or really raw and has a typical tango ‘drive’ -which is great fun to play!
You also play as part of a trio and quartet; does this help keep things fresh and interesting for you?
Yes, it does. Collaborating with other musicians is probably one of my favourite things. Whether that’s with a pianist or a trio or quarter, everyone brings so many ideas to the table; it’s not just always what I’m thinking all the time. I find it extremely inspiring to be with such amazing musicians like my peers at the Royal Academy of Music. And it gives me lots of notes to learn!
You are also a keen pencil artist – how did that come about?
From the down time I do get (as I have a very busy schedule of practicing and concerts) I do enjoy doing art. I take on quite a few drawing commissions, usually animals or portraits, so that gives me something to do when I’m not practicing! I absolutely love doing it, and it gives me the chance to relax a bit, and take a break from music.
What else do you have lined up for 2020?
I’ve got lots of concerts lined-up. I’m playing all around the UK, then in Switzerland, Italy, in the Cayman Islands, and I’ve got lots of studying planned all over Europe. My dream is to just keep doing what I’m doing, and working with lots of young musicians and getting them involved with music. And to keep enjoying it!
Finally, have you had a place you’ve particularly enjoyed performing?
I think performing at Buckingham Palace was one of my favourite experiences! The audience was made up of some amazing international musicians who were so great to meet.
Join us on Tuesday 11th February from 11am for our Coffee Concert with Rob Burton. Entry is free and refreshments are available from 10:30am.