Saxophonist Rob Burton's programme for his 30 April concert in Southwark Cathedral 2019

Rob Burton at Southwark Cathedral

19-year-old saxophonist Rob Burton gave a recital at Southwark Cathedral this week. With BBC Young Musician 2018 behind how is life as a musician progressing?

A glance at Rob’s concert schedule suggests a long list of activities for the saxophonist/clarinettist/recorder player and for the quartet he’s a member of. That’s good to see. As someone I personally backed to lift the trophy in last year’s competition I was interested to see him play outside of the relatively controlled and presumably stressful TV experience.

He didn’t disappoint. As a clarinettist I marvelled at the finger technique (no key sounded, meaning there’s an impressive lightness of touch), feather-like articulation, and a laser-like attention to ornamentation.

But there was something about the effect his playing created which resonated a little deeper for me. In the Marcello oboe concerto arrangement there was a sense he was using the melody to create a dramatic space somewhere in the middle distance which we could all observe and reflect upon.

Obviously, I can’t speak for others. I can’t state that as fact. But that was the feeling in the moment, suggesting that Rob had achieved more than just delivery of notes or an interpretation, but made the otherwise boomy acoustics work for the sound the instrument he plays.

What particularly impressed me was his isolation. There is no unneccessary or distracting movement. No tension in the shoulders. All of the energy and attention is focussed on sound production.

Technically speaking, as someone who struggled with that when I was learning the clarinet, that’s the kind of thing that should really irritate me. But it doesn’t really.

It reminded me of my consultation with clarinettist Colin Bradbury hundreds of years ago and the teacher he recommended to me, both of whom in the space of a few lessons eradicated the tension in my body, improved my breath control and support and, as a result, transformed my playing.

And to my mind that really comes to the fore in the movements like the last in the Marcello where the melodic lines are nightmarish to someone who’s older, fatter and considerably more fearful.

Rob Burton plays at Buckingham Palace on 22 May, and has solo recitals throughout the year in addition to appearances with the Kavinsky Trio, Kumori Quartet and Lambeth Wind Orchestra.

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