Meet the Artist…..Saira Clegg, saxophonist

Who or what inspired you to take up the saxophone, and make it your career? 

I learnt to play the recorder from my best friend in the playground when I was 6 years old. We would practise together every break-time and I was instantly hooked on playing music. My parents gave me the choice between the clarinet or the viola; my mother having played the viola at a younger age and my uncle the clarinet. I started having lessons with the woodwind teacher at my school and it was there that I was introduced to the saxophone. I heard the sound through the door from the pupil before me and I went home and told my parents “that is the instrument for me”.

I started the saxophone aged 9 and a year later, I performed my first concerto with the local orchestra, the Ronald Binge Concerto for saxophone and orchestra. I wish I could hear a recording of it now!

I went to the Purcell School of Music and studied clarinet with David Fuest and saxophone with Simon Stewart. I then ended up completing my degree and masters in performance at the Akademie fuer Tonkunst in Germany, with a former member of the Rascher Saxophone Quartet: Frau Linda Bangs.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career? 

My parents were very supportive of my playing and would always take me to hear classical concerts, both orchestral and specifically saxophone. But, it wasn’t until I heard The Rascher Saxophone Quartet and had lessons from Bruce Weinberger that I really realised what the saxophone could do. The sound they create, the way in which the instruments blend together and the amazing virtuosity in which the players can perform, effortlessly; I wanted to play like that! That is really where I decided the direction and style of playing and decided to study with Frau Linda Bangs.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

One of the hardest points in my career was the unfortunate sports injury which meant I had to have four operations on my hip, removing cartilage, cysts and bone. I continued playing, although it was and still can be painful to sit for long periods of time, sometimes sitting at all! My lecturers and teachers were very kind, letting me postpone exams until after surgery and letting me lie on the floor during lectures and rehearsals (mainly choir!) I really came to understand the importance of health: being healthy in your body but also in mind. I had the opportunity to spend time listening to other players, researching the saxophone and the history and feel that I am a more rounded player because of this.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

My final masters performance has to be one of my proudest moments. I played a programme which was 1hr 45mins long, including pieces for an 11-piece saxophone ensemble with percussion, a trio for xylophone, timpani and saxophone and also a piece for tenor saxophone and boombox. It was such a demanding programme, the adrenaline was racing and the audience were fantastic!

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

Even though people are surprised at the idea, I enjoy playing music from the baroque era the most. It dances and sings all by itself and is such a pleasure to play.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season? 

This all depends on the audience and venue I will be playing at. That’s a hard question to answer!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? 

I haven’t found it yet, although my dream (since I was a child and saw the proms there) is to perform a solo saxophone concerto on the stage at the Royal Albert Hall. I am performing at the O2 next year which has to be the biggest venue for me yet.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I enjoy performing all types of music, especially Baroque and rock n roll!

Who are your favourite musicians? 

The Rascher Saxophone Quartet were, and still are a huge influence and inspiration for me and I enjoy listening to their work very much. I also am a great fan of Maceo Parker, The London Community Gospel Choir and Anthony Strong.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Towards the end of my time in Germany, I performed a baroque Sonata with myself and my colleague Sarah Wuensche on soprano and Frau Linda Bangs on the baritone. I still cannot believe I performed alongside the woman who inspired me and moulded me into the musician I am today. I still have the recording and it brings butterflies every time I watch it.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

I think one of the most important things for any student, being old or young, is to have fun. Music is such a spiritual aspect of a potential fast-paced world and it can bring so much joy and happiness that if it isn’t fun to play, then maybe should be listened to. Passion enables dedication and practise, which in turn can create the most amazing and versatile of players on any instrument. Music is an important part of every life, whether it is being played or listened to.

What are you working on at the moment? 

At the moment I am the most recent member in a 1950s Rock n Roll band and I learning the repertoire by ear, listening to the original records. It’s a wonderful and lively genre of music and performing it in 50s attire is an exciting experience! The band is called The Wonderers and you can find them at www.thewonderers.co.uk !

I have recently founded a saxophone and cello duo, called SaxnCello and we are learning material ready for a series of concerts we have lined up next year. We are playing a wide range of music, from Mozart cello duets to tangos and even the theme tune from the Swedish Series ‘The Bridge’, which my husband has arranged for us.

It is an exciting time at the moment and I am enjoying be part of many different groups and genres.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My most treasured possession would have to be my soprano saxophone, a Buescher, curved gold saxophone from around the 1930s. I bought it from Frau Linda Bangs about half way through my studies and couldn’t give it back. Although it looks small and rusty the sound is sweet and round, producing a true saxophone sound that Aldophe Sax had intended.

Saira Clegg was born in July 1985 in London. She started the clarinet at the age of 8, and one year later started the saxophone. In 1997 she began studying both instruments with a scholarship under the Governments Music and Ballet Scheme at The Purcell School of Music. After leaving school she continued onto The Royal College of Music gaining a Foundation Scholarship for Clarinet and Saxophone. She then spent one and a half years studying with Bruce Weinberger in Switzerland, before restarting  and completing her Degree and Masters in Darmstadt, Germany with Linda Bangs-Urban.

At the age of 10, Saira performed her first solo saxophone concerto and one year later became the principal clarinettist of the English National Children’s Orchestra. Her last performance with the orchestra, at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (UK), was recorded for Classic FM radio. In 1999, she won the “Watford Twin Town” competition resulting in two solo recitals at the Rachmaninoff Festival in Novgorod, Russia. In 2001, Saira played the clarinet for Prince Charles at the UNESCO building, Paris. She won the “Three Rivers Young Musician” and “Watford Young Musician of the Year” in 2002. Saira has performed at Buckingham Palace, the Wigmore Hall, Bridgewater Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and St. Johns Smith Square.

www.sairaclegg.com