Borealis Saxophone Quartet
Gillian has been a member of this award winning ensemble since 2011. Their accolades include winning the Trevor Wye Memorial Prize, the Apollo Saxophone Quartet Prize and the June Emerson Launchpad Prize. The quartet won the Christopher Rowland Prize and were named 'RNCM Ensemble of the Year 2013'. They reached the finals of the RNCM Concerto Competition and the Royal Overseas League Chamber Music Competition.
They are Park Lane Group Young Artists and are musicians for Yehudi Menuhin's 'Live Music Now' scheme where they give interactive performances in variety of settings including special educational needs schools and care homes. In 2016 they were selected as BBC Introducing Artists and were featured on BBC Radio 3's 'In Tune' programme, and have most recently been selected as 'recommended artists' for the Making Music Concert Promotors Group.
In 2014, the quartet made it's first international tour to Serbia and they regularly give recitals around the UK. They have performed at venues including King's Place, St John's Smith Square, St Martin-in-the-Fields, the Royal Festival Hall, the Purcell Room and the Bridgewater Hall, as well as giving a perfomance at the BBC Proms which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
The quartet have a strong interest in creating their own repertoire and have commissioned and premiered numerous new saxophone quartets by composers including Gary Carpenter, Darren Bloom and Tom Harrold, and a concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Strings by Lucy Pankhurst. In 2014, the quartet were selected to premiere 4 new works by RNCM composers at the RNCM Gold Medal Competition and 2 of these works feature alongside other commissions and arrangements by the group on the quartet’s debut album; ‘The North’, which was released in October 2014 and is availble to purchase from their website.
Alastair Penman - Soprano Saxophone
Gillian Blair - Alto Saxophone
Victoria Puttock - Tenor Saxophone
Tom Gimson - Baritone Saxophone
The Polaris Duo is dedicated to presenting new music and expanding the repertoire for this uncommon pairing of instruments. They have worked closely with several composers on new works and are delighted to regularly give UK, European and World premieres of pieces from both local and international composers.
In 2015 they won 2nd prize in the British Harp Chamber Music Competition where Gillian was also awarded a prize for 'Best Wind Player'. Most recently they were selected as 'BBC Introducing' Artists and subsequently have had their music broadcast and appeared live on BBC Radio 3.
2018 saw the duo release their debut album in April and perform at the World Saxophone Congress in Croatia in July.
Gillian Blair - Saxophones
Elinor Nicholson - Harp
Gillian formed the Polaris Duo with Harpist Elinor Nicholson in 2011 and they have since been exploring an eclectic range of repertoire and possibilities for this unusual instrumentation. They gave the world premiere of Andy Scott’s 'Sonata for Saxophone and Harp' at the 2012 World Saxophone Congress and have recently been featured in the Lake District Summer Music 'New Generation Artists' Concert Series. They perform regularly around the UK at venues including the Bridgewater Hall, Buxton Opera House, Warwick University and the RNCM Concert Hall.
Nathan Mertens and Gillian Blair met in 2015 whilst studying at the Université Européenne de Saxophone in Gap, France. The duo have seen their friendship grow into an exciting musical collaboration, and have recently made their debut performance together in Tokyo, Japan.
The duo have commissioned several new works for 2 saxophones and piano from composers including Lucy Armstrong (UK), Zack Browning (USA), Rob Buckland (UK) and Andrew Boss (USA). In July 2018 they began recording their first studio album of the works they have commissioned, as well as performing around the UK and at the World Saxophone Congress in Croatia.
In 2019 the duo gave a masterclass and recital tour in the USA, visiting universities in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Their trip culminated in several recitals at the North American Saxophone Alliance Region 4 Conference at the University of Arkansas where they gave the North American premiere of Andy Scott's double concerto; 'Tjuonavagge'.
Nathan Mertens is currently based Tokyo, Japan, and is a recipient of the prestigious Monbukagakusho Research Student Scholarship. Mertens is the first American saxophonist to study saxophone formally in Japan, and is researching Japanese saxophone performance and pedagogy with Masato Kumoi at the Kunitachi College of Music. Mertens has been featured as a concerto soloist with the Busan Philharmonic Orchestra, Hastings Symphony Orchestra, and The University of Texas Symphony Orchestra. He has also received numerous honors and recognition at regional, national, and international competitions. Mertens recently earned his Doctorate of Musical Arts at The University of Texas at Austin under the instruction of Dr. Stephen Page.
-Graham Marshall, Rochdale Online
honest and genuine
- D'addario Single Reed Competition
- Peter Ruddock, Ribchester Festival
-Joe Conway, Peterborough Telegraph
"A cast-iron rule is to play every piece as if you really, really love it. The Borealis Saxophone Quartet played ball impeccably."
- The Times
Praised for her ‘flawless and accomplished’ performances (Peterborough Telegraph) and ‘honest and genuine music-making’ (D’Addario Competition), Gillian Blair enjoys a varied career as a classical saxophonist, chamber musician and educator. She has won first prize in competitions including the International Young Musician Competition at the Llangollen Eisteddfod, the D'addario Single Reed Competition, the RNCM Woodwind Competition, the Charles Scarratt Award for Young Musicians and the RNCM's Sir John Manduell Prize.
As a soloist, she has performed around Europe, North America and Asia at festivals and concert series' including the BBC Proms, EurSax, Koganei Miyajigakki Hall (Tokyo), PepsiCo Recital Hall (Texas), University of Arkansas, World Saxophone Congress, Oklahoma State University, North American Saxophone Alliance Conference, the Palaver Festival and several broadcasts on BBC Radio 3. She has appeared as a guest soloist with ensembles including the Band of the Coldstream Guards, Commonwealth String Orchestra, Piccadilly Symphony Orchestra, University of Arkansas Saxophone Ensemble, City of Peterborough Symphony Orchestra, Wirral Symphony Orchestra, Bolton Chamber Orchestra, the RNCM Percussion Ensemble and the RNCM Saxophone Orchestra. Future concerto appearances include the premieres of new concertos by Natasha Senanayake and Paul Carroll which have been commissioned for her and the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra, as well as a new commission from Lucy Armstrong which will be premiered in 2023 with the Arch Sinfonia.
Gillian's latest project project focusses on works which have been inspired, commissioned or composed by women. She will be recording these works in July 2022 with pianist Lauryna Sableviciute and a string ensemble and her debut solo album will be released in the Autumn.
Gillian is a keen advocate of new music and has commissioned numerous works as a soloist and for her various chamber ensembles from emerging and established composers including Gary Carpenter, Zack Browning, Andrew Boss, Lucy Armstrong, Tom Harrold, Lucy Pankhurst, Paul Mitchell-Davidson, Grace Evangeline Mason, Rob Buckland and Melissa Douglas.
Gillian is passionate about chamber music and performs regularly with the Polaris Duo (saxophone and harp) and the Borealis Saxophone Quartet. Both of these ensembles have enjoyed competition success and have performed in some of the UK's most prestigious venues as well as performances overseas in Croatia and Serbia. A recent collaboration with American Saxophonist Nathan Mertens has led to joint commissions of music for 2 saxophones and piano from composers Lucy Armstrong, Zack Browning, Rob Buckland and Andrew Boss. They have given performances and masterclasses in Japan, the UK, the USA and Croatia and are looking forward to recording their commissioned works in the coming year. More information about these ensembles can be found below in the 'ensembles' section of this website.
Larger ensembles that Gillian has worked with include the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestra of Opera North, the Royal Northern Sinfonia, Manchester Concert Orchestra, European Union Youth Wind Orchestra, the Piccadilly Symphony Orchestra, the Soundscape Chamber Orchestra, the Tenor Saxophone Collective and she has performed, recorded and given workshops with the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra and the Band of the Coldstream Guards.
Gillian holds Bachelors and Masters degrees from the Royal Northern College of Music where she studied with Rob Buckland, Carl Raven and Andy Scott. During her studies she was a finalist in the RNCM’s prestigious Concerto and Gold Medal competitions and she received scholarships from the Oglesby Charitable Trust, the Helen Mackaness Award and the Countess of Munster Trust. Upon graduating, Gillian was awarded the Timothy Reynish Award for outstanding contribution to the RNCM. She has received tuition and appeared in masterclasses with acclaimed international artists and studied at the renowned 'l’Université Européenne de Saxophone' in Gap, France.
Gillian is an active educator. She is a saxophone and chamber music tutor at the Junior Royal Northern College of Music, Head of Woodwind at Holy Cross College, Woodwind Tutor at Rishworth School and has previously taught at the Universities of Sheffield and Huddersfield. She has presented masterclasses around the UK and USA and enjoys leading workshops for woodwind days and summer schools throughout the UK.
Gillian is a Henri Selmer Paris Artist and a Vandoren UK Artist.