Young Artist Interview: Winning Opens Doors for Jonathan Radford

At the time of writing I’m in Edinburgh, following an invitation from the Royal Over-Seas League to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s been a great experience – despite having to navigate my way onto trains and across cities with three saxophones – and a chance to work with some true talents. Yesterday I performed a Debussy recital with former Yeoman pianist William Vann at The Royal Scots Club, the day before some Gershwin with another former Yeoman Ashley Fripp.

It’s great to win competitions, which is how I ended up at the Fringe. It came off the back of being a ROSL AMC prize winner, and later, Gold Medalist, in which I performed works by Mark-Anthony Turnage, Takashi Yoshimatsu and Karen Khachaturian. I performed at Wigmore Hall, with the competition held at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre. But entering a competition simply to win is probably the least important reason I enter. Win or lose, I find they help me learn new repertoire and push me to the limits. Plus you never know whose attention you may attract.

Taking a pragmatic approach to competing definitely helps me feel more chilled, and ultimately, perform my best. At the Paris Conservatoire I took classes on dealing with stress, anxiety and nerves but my sporty parents (my granddad was the only musical influence in the family) also instilled a positive mindset in me from an early age. My mum was a world champion slalom canoeist and Olympian, despite living in an area devoid of any white water, who encouraged me to enter mountain bike races and swimming galas for fun. However, entering a race is very different to a music competition – there’s no finishing line that defines the winner, and you never know who you’re up against. Or what the judges are looking for. So I always just try to prepare well and show myself in the best light. Public competitions also help – when you play only in front of judges, the fact it’s a competition is always magnified.

Expressing my own style rather than fitting a mould is important to me. To get into the Paris Conservatoire – renowned for classical saxophone playing – I very much had to fit a certain style and sound. Preparing for that exam meant working hard on elements such as tone, homogenous sound, and technique but getting accepted – I’ve always been fascinated by French saxophone – was a childhood dream. After winning one of two places – there are only ever 12 people in a class, I went on to study with the master of the French saxophone, Claude Delangle, with whom I was able to explore who I was as a musician. Moving back to the UK to study on the RCM’s Artist Diploma course with Kyle Horch has helped me further develop my personality and develop a more natural sound.

While it might be a little harder to rehearse these days with my group, Yendo Quartet, which formed at the Paris Conservatoire, being back in London also means I can get involved in Company outreach work. I recently helped Yeoman Hans Vercauteren create a small show for seven learners with severe autism at Swiss Cottage School, which was great fun, and I plan to do more. That, coupled with a varied calendar of solo recitals and concerts in the coming months should keep me busy. I also have quite a few things in the pipeline thanks to the ROSL Gold Medal – winning a competition like that really does help open doors.

You can find out more about Jonathan’s upcoming performances at and on his Yeoman webpage.

Interview by Suzy Willmott @suzywillmott