World Saxophone Congress 2012, St Andrews, Scotland


Sally Beamish

sonata for soprano saxophone and piano

for Branford Marsalis

1. Albatross
2. The Souls of Lost Sailors
3. Dance 
4. Bird Bone Whistle

10am, Wednesday 11th July, The Younger Hall

When I knew that this new sonata would be given its premiere in St Andrews, by a passionate golfer, I wondered if there was a golfing term that might give me a starting point for the piece.

The first one on the list is ‘albatross’ – a term for the exceptional achievement of three shots under par for a hole. (In the USA this is known as a double-eagle).

The first movement of the sonata, which is driving and energetic, takes this as inspiration, with a short repeated motif which curls around a single note, like a ball finally dropping into a hole. The Latin name for the albatross, Procellariiformes, derives from the procella: a violent wind or storm; and the unpredictability of sea weather is never far away. 

Albatrosses have been described as "the most legendary of all birds", and they can be an omen of either good or bad luck - or even a burden to be carried as penance (as in Coleridge’s famous Rime of the Ancient Mariner). These huge birds are regarded in some cultures as embodying the souls of lost sailors. The second movement is a ‘barcarola’ – a kind of ghostly ‘sea-lullaby’ in 6/8 time.

The ‘Dance’ is a response to the extraordinary mating dance of the albatross – a kind of synchronized, symmetrical duet, interspersed with pointing and calling.

Ancient tribes used the wing bones of the albatross to carve flutes, and the last movement begins with a solo ‘open-air’ call. This is followed by a fast, unpredictable toccata section, which abates into a reprise of the ‘bird whistle‘ music, before a short, fast coda.

Albatross was commissioned by the WSCXVI, the Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain, and Creative Scotland.

Sally Beamish, 2012



World-renowned saxophonist Branford Marsalis, born in 1960, has always been a man of numerous musical interests, from jazz, blues and funk to such classical music projects as his Fall 2008 tour with Marsalis Brasilianos.  The three-time Grammy winner has continued to exercise and expand his skills as an instrumentalist, a composer, and the head of Marsalis Music, the label he founded in 2002 that has allowed him to produce both his own projects and those of the jazz worlds most promising new and established artists

The New Orleans native was born into one of the citys most distinguished musical families, which includes patriarch/pianist/educator Ellis and Branfords siblings Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason.  Branford gained initial acclaim through his work with Art Blakeys Jazz Messengers and his brother Wyntons quintet in the early 1980s before forming his own ensemble.  He has also performed and recorded with a whos-who of jazz giants including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock and Sonny Rollins.

Known for his innovative spirit and broad musical scope, Branford is equally at home on the stages of the worlds greatest clubs and concert halls, where he has performed jazz with his Quartet and his own unique musical approach to contemporary popular music with his band Buckshot LeFonque.  In recent years, Branford also has become increasingly active as a featured soloist with such acclaimed orchestras as the Chicago, Detroit, Düsseldorf and North Carolina Symphonies and the Boston Pops, in a growing repertoire that includes compositions by Copland, Debussy, Glazunov, Ibert, Mahler, Mihaud, Rorem and Vaughan Williams.

As Marsalis continues to establish his presence in the classical realm, his propensity for innovative and forward thinking compels him to seek new and challenging works by modern classical composers.  One such composer, Sally Beamish, after hearing Branford perform her composition The Imagined Sound of Sun on Stone at the 2006 North Sea Jazz Festival, was inspired to reconceive a piece in progress, Under the Wing of the Rock, which he premiered as part of the Celtic Connections festival Beamishs home country of Scotland in January 2009.  This performance followed on the heels of his two month classical tour with the Philarmonia Brasileira in a program featuring the music of Brazil's master composer Heitor Villa Lobos and his friend, French composer Darius Milhaud, allowing the saxophonist the opportunity to more thoroughly engage the music and make it his own.

Marsalis's nearly two dozen recordings in these various styles have received numerous accolades, with his latest CD, Metamorphosen, scheduled for release in March 2009.  Metamorphosen marks the tenth anniversary of Marsalis quartet, which features pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jeff Tain Watts, and includes original compositions by all four members in a variety of moods, as well as features for Marsalis on tenor, soprano and alto saxophones.

His previous disc, the Grammy-nominated Braggtown, was acknowledged as his quartets greatest recorded achievement to date.  The Marsalis quartets Eternal also received a Grammy nomination as well as virtually universal inclusion in lists and polls for the best jazz recording of 2004.  Marsalis playing on the DVD Coltranes A Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam also received a Grammy nomination for best instrumental jazz solo, while also garnering awards for music and video excellence from the DVD Association.

Marsalis is also dedicated to changing the future of jazz in the classroom.  He has shared his knowledge at such universities as Michigan State, San Francisco State, Stanford and North Carolina Central, with his full quartet participating in an innovative extended residency at the NCCU campus.  Beyond these efforts, he is also bringing a new approach to jazz education to student musicians and listeners in colleges and high schools through Marsalis Jams, an interactive program designed by Marsalis in which leading jazz ensembles present concert/jam sessions in mini-residencies.  Marsalis Jams has visited campuses in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Southwest, and established an ongoing Marsalis Berklee Jams series with the Berklee College of Music in 2008.

These diverse interests are also reflected in Marsalis other activities.  He spent two years touring and recording with Sting, and was the musical director of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno for two years in the 1990s.  He has collaborated with the Grateful Dead and Bruce Hornsby, acted in films including Throw Mama from the Train and School Daze, provided music for Mo Better Blues and other films and hosted National Public Radios syndicated program Jazz Set.

Among the most socially conscious voices in the arts, Marsalis quickly immersed himself in relief efforts following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  He is the honorary chair of the New Orleans Habitat for Humanity effort to rebuild the city, and together with his friend Harry Connick, Jr. conceived the Habitat Musicians' Village currently under construction in the city's historic Ninth Ward.

Whether on the stage, in the recording studio, in the classroom or in the community, Branford Marsalis represents a commitment to musical
excellence and a determination to keep music at the forefront.


Sally Beamish is known internationally as a composer. Initially a viola player, she moved from London to Scotland in 1990 to concentrate on writing music.

Her work embraces many influences; particularly jazz and Scottish traditional music. The concerto form is a continuing inspiration, and she has written for many soloists, including Tabea Zimmermann, John Harle, Steven Isserlis, Håkan Hardenberger and Branford Marsalis.

Branford has performed a number of Sally’s works for saxophone, and in addition to the new sonata, there are plans for an orchestral project to include the Branford Marsalis Quartet.

Her music is performed and broadcast worldwide, and since 1999 she has been championed by the BIS label, who have recorded much of her work.

Recent premieres include a concerto for Catriona McKay and Chris Stout (Scottish harp and fiddle), and a percussion concerto for Colin Currie which received its UK premiere with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Joseph Swensen. Her third string quartet, Reed Stanzas, written for the Elias Quartet, received its premiere at the 2011 BBC Proms and was subsequently awarded a Royal Philharmonic Society prize. Forthcoming commissions include works for the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and an opera for the Presteigne Festival 2013.

This event is kindly sponsored by

Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain Creative Scotland

Pictures of Branford Marsalis and Sally Beamish

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