Christian Forshaw, saxophonist & composer

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Until I was 16 I had my heart set on being a vet. Then just after my GCSEs a friend told me about a wonderful American clarinet and saxophone teacher (Dr Cecil Gold) who was teaching at the local performing arts college. He was only going to be in the country for 3 years, so I decided to give it a go. He showed me what a professional sound was and for the first time music became something I wanted to do professionally instead of as a hobby. There were also two other people running the A-level course (Harry Gibson & Chris Roe) who really taught me how music worked. They showed me that classical music was fun and passionate and from then on I was completely gripped.

My friend Mick Foster went from that college down to the Guildhall in London to study with John Harle. He came back for the holidays overflowing with enthusiasm about the things that were going on there, so I then set my sights on that. If it wasn’t for Mick I would have never have pursued it all.

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

Holding onto my own musical values amongst rapidly changing landscapes.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My first CD ‘Sanctuary’ will always hold a very special place because that’s where I really found my voice. Songs of Solace (released in 2012) was highly personal and the first time I had written the entire album. It’s hard hitting at times because of the subject matter, but I’m really proud of that one.

In terms of performances, I think a performance we did in Ripon Cathedral about 10 years ago was one of my most memorable. The organ was amazing and we played to a packed cathedral. If felt like it had all come together.

What did you enjoy most about the process of making your new album Historical Fiction with soprano Grace Davidson?

I really enjoyed working in partnership with Grace. She’s been featured on a number of my previous recordings, but this was the first time we collaborated. I loved the way we let our imaginations run wild and gave ourselves time to allow the album to develop organically. There were no deadlines for us, and no external influences. It’s just the album we both wanted to make.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

That’s a really difficult one. I began writing because I didn’t feel that the music existed that I really wanted to play. I’m very keen for my music to have an emotional connection, but also for it to make people think. Ultimately I’m trying to write the music that I would like to listen to.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I did an extended setting of a Vaughan Williams hymn Down Ampney on my first album. Every time I perform that I am taken back to where things all started for me. That’s always very special.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I do most of my thinking and planning whilst I’m walking the dog or running. I rarely listen to anything whilst doing those things, but relish the quiet and time to think. Much of my listening takes place whilst cooking. I shove on a pair of headphones and immerse myself. My listening is incredibly eclectic and there aren’t many genres I don’t listen to. I think because my career has been so varied I tend not to hear distinctions between musical genres, but am only interested in whether the music connects with me.

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

I love the sound in St George’s in Bristol. There’s an intimacy but also a generosity to the sound.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

I think we need to go right back to the roots and re-energise music in schools. There is so much evidence to show the phenomenal good it does, and unless our society places value on that and invests in it, I feel that classical music will be pushed to the fringes.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I flew to New York with the London Sinfonietta to play at the Lincoln Centre. We were playing a phenomenally complex and exposed piece by Louis Andriessen, De Snelheid. It’s almost guaranteed that there will be a few wrong entries and there were quite a few in rehearsals, but in the performance it went pretty much flawlessly and there was such a communal sense of triumph at the end of it.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Feeling that you’ve been given the chance to say the things you need to say as a musician, and for those things to connect with your audience in a profound way. It’s very easy to play a numbers game and view success through that, but ultimately it’s about the quality of the connection rather than quantity.

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

Don’t allow anyone to tell you that there is only one way of doing things. If you have a strong idea of how you think things should be presented then you should run with it.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Still making recordings I’m proud of and continuing to explore my musicianship further.

What is your most treasured possession?

Excluding the obvious saxophones, either my espresso machine or my pizza oven.

What is your present state of mind?


Christian Forshaw’s new album ‘Historical Fiction’ with soprano Grace Davidson is out now on Integra Records. More information

Christian spent him childhood in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. He moved to London when he was 19 to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.  

In his late teens he had the privilege of working with Moondog, aka Louis Hardin.  This experience had a profound effect on Christian’s understanding of the way contemporary music could work, without boundaries or preconceptions. He later went on to work with Michael Nyman, performing with the Michael Nyman Band and also working as part of the production team on a number of his film scores.    

In his late twenties Christian was appointed Professor of Saxophone at the Guildhall School.  Around the same time he released his debut album Sanctuary which received an unprecedented amount of air play on BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM, reaching No.1 positions in the classical charts. 

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