Bolton School Senior Girls

School’s Saxophonists Join World Congress

This summer, two groups of musicians from Bolton School joined the 17th World Saxophone Congress in Strasbourg, France. The School’s Saxophone Choir was newly formed at the start of the School year, and won a performance slot at the event with a recorded audition and an 8,000-word project about ‘Contemporary techniques within a school environment’. Meanwhile, the recently-formed ‘NAMAHAZO’ Quartet – so-called as a portmanteau of its members’ names – achieved a semi-final place in the Strasbourg International Quartet Competition!

In early July, Year 13 students Harriet Gribbin and Matthew Hotham, Zoe Stirzaker from Year 11 and Old Girl Natasha Lomas travelled to the Cité de la musique et de la danse de Strasbourg with Miss Berry to participate in the next stage of the competition. There they faced fifteen rival quartets from Russia, Thailand and various European countries, and were by far the youngest group to have reached this stage. Although they did not make it into the final six they were nonetheless delighted to have got to the semi-finals.

Miss Berry said, “Given that the age category for this event was 35 years and under, this was a phenomenal achievement. We were later to find out that we were the only quartet in the UK to get through.”

The quartet said, “All four of us know that we have gained invaluable experience by participating in the competition. We have become closer both as an ensemble and as friends. Even though three of us have left Bolton School now, we still plan to keep the quartet together.”

A few days later, the rest of the Saxophone Choir joined ‘NAMAHAZO’ and Miss Berry in Strasbourg. As part of the World Saxophone Congress, they watched a variety of performances, including the opening concert: a premier of symphonic pieces from international composers by the Strasbourg philharmonic Orchestra and world famous saxophonists. They also particularly enjoyed watching the Royal Northern College of Music Saxophone Choir and the Apollo Sax Quartet. The performance by sixteen-year-old Jess Gillam, who played a plethora of premieres on her alto and soprano saxophone, was particularly inspiring to the Bolton School saxophonists. They also really enjoyed hearing a piece called ‘Sir Patrick’ by P. Geiss, performed by the Orchestre de la Garde Republicaine and some of the world’s greatest saxophonists, including Claude Delangle, Branford Marsalis and Jo Yanik.

One of the highlights of the trip was a workshop with Derek Brown, a player who specialises in ‘beat boxing’ on the saxophone! His session went through many of the advanced techniques used to create the sound of a melody accompanied by drums on one instrument. After the workshop, the Bolton School players were all keen to try what they had learned, but the sound created was not quite the same – setting another challenge for Miss Berry to conquer!

The Bolton School Saxophone Choir also had their own chance to perform at the World Sax Congress. They took to the stage at the Walle de Bourse, which was a wonderful experience for everyone involved.

One of the members of the Saxophone Choir said, “Not only has the Sax Open event provided a fantastic opportunity for us to perform, but also given us invaluable experience for our musical futures. We have met virtuoso role models to whom we can aspire, and been given an insight into the international music community. It has enhanced our teamwork, friendship and most of all our musicianship.”

The ‘NAMAHAZO’ Quartet and Miss Berry were invited to participate in the Sax 200 concert, which was part of the World Streaming Show for the World Sax Day event! They became part of an international saxophone orchestra, including players from all over the world, and the performance was streamed live online to a worldwide audience – including family and friends back home. This was a fantastic end to the group’s time in Strasbourg.

The Bolton School saxophonists went on to play in Luxembourg before returning to the UK.


Click here and here to watch the ‘NAMAHAZO’ Quartet’s audition pieces on YouTube, or click here to find a selection of recorded performances from the Saxophone Choir’s tour.

The Saxophone Choir performing at the Walle de Bourse

The Saxophone Choir performing at the Walle de Bourse

The  'NAMAHAZO' Quartet ready to perform in the semi-finals

The 'NAMAHAZO' Quartet ready to perform in the semi-finals

Miss Berry, Harriet, Matthew, Natasha and Zoe join the 'SaxOpen' Orchestra for the Sax 200 concert

Miss Berry, Harriet, Matthew, Natasha and Zoe join the 'SaxOpen' Orchestra for the Sax 200 concert