Biography

Twice GRAMMY-nominated Amy Dickson made history by becoming the first saxophonist and the first Australian to win a Classic Brit Award, as 2013 MasterCard Breakthrough Artist of the Year. This followed the release of her third album, Dusk and Dawn, which attained the coveted No. 1 position in the UK Classical Album Charts. In January 2016 Amy Dickson was named Young Australian of the Year in the UK. Recognised widely for her remarkable, distinctive tone and exceptional musicality, Gramophone has described her as “a player with a difference who has an individual and unusual tone, luscious, silky-smooth, sultry and voluptuous by turns; her phrasing is beautifully finished, her control of dynamic infinitely subtle.”

As an internationally regarded soloist Amy performs throughout the world with many of the great orchestras and in recent seasons has performed at the Royal Albert Hall, Sydney Opera House and the Konzerthaus, Vienna. As a highly sought-after chamber musician she has performed in prestigious series, in venues including the Berliner Philharmonie, the Wigmore Hall, and at the Enescu Festival. She regularly appears at international chamber music festivals where she has has works with the Chilingirian, Goldner and Mandelring string quartets. Her duo partners include Catherine Milledge, Martin Cousin, Huw Watkins and Danny Driver. As proud ambassador of Australian culture she has performed for heads of state at the Scottish and Australian Parliaments; in various Australian Embassies, High Commissions and Government Houses; at St James’ Palace, London; and at diplomatic meetings including the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings in Malta (2005) and Perth (2011).

2015 saw Amy join the Scottish Ensemble in a UK tour which included concerts in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London, to critical acclaim. The Herald Scotland commented: “Amy Dickson, whose alto and soprano sax playing in, respectively, Glazunov’s Concerto and Kancheli’s Night Prayers, was so warm, so sublimely mellifluous and expressive, it would have melted stone. I have never heard saxophone playing so seductive and alluring. The Australian lass is a magician, whose playing elevated the music in her hands to a stature where one could only be beguiled.”

2015 international appearances have included concerts in Berlin, Tokyo, Sydney, Canberra and Cincinnati. In Summer 2015 Amy gave her Latitude Festival debut, returned to the BBC Prom in the Park stage and received a 5-star review for her performance of Peter Sculthorpe’s Island Songs at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music.

As a Sony Classical recording artist Amy Dickson has released six albums on the label which showcase a diverse repertoire highlighting the versatility of her musicianship and the varied capabilities of the saxophone. Her first album, Smile, was released in 2008. Gramophone remarked that she “played with such sophisticated rapture . . . Amy Dickson is a player with a difference – an artist who may well appeal to listeners who have virtually written off the saxophone as being part of the world of popular dance music and therefore not of great interest . . . She plays very songfully, is often gentle and restrained, at times sounding like the chalumeaux of a clarinet. But she can rise to a passionate climax, as in Danza de la moza donosa, or slinkily respond to Debussy’s La plus que lente. She is very lucky to have an accompanist-partner with the musical affinity of Catherine Milledge who provides a perfectly balanced backcloth, one that the ear picks up as being pleasurable in its own right. How atmospherically she prepares the way for Dickson’s beguiling entry at the beginning of the recital when she seduces the ear with Chaplin’s title number. One of the most fascinating duets here is Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, where the piano plays a series of gentle but pointed triplets, like falling rain, while the soloist ruminates, an unforgettable combination. This is a disc of unusual musical interest: the programme includes Rachmaninov, Fauré, Elgar and even Finzi whose Elegy is particularly effective when played with such sophisticated rapture.”

It was her second recording that attracted international acclaim. Glass, Tavener, Nyman was recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at London’s Cadogan Hall and includes her own transcriptions of Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto No. 1, and John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil, as well as Michael Nyman’s Where the Bee Dances. The recording was selected as Editor’s Choice in Gramophone Magazine, March 2010. Of the recording, BBC Music Magazine noted: “In some ways, Amy Dickson’s arrangement for soprano saxophone actually works better than the original…The fast passages sound crisper; the bubbling arpeggios and long slow notes have new varied textures thanks to the saxophone’s reedy depth; the insistent solo interjections in the finale now pierce the orchestra; and the occasional violin-specific techniques, such as multiple stopping, are translated with no musical loss.” Gramophone wrote: “Tavener’s work provides the centrepiece, however. Dickson’s sustained saxophone soars high above the orchestra for extended periods – maintained by impressively controlled circular breathing – illuminating the carpet of string sound lying below… Dickson’s impressive playing bears witness to the instrument’s hidden depth, breadth and versatility. Highly recommended.”

This recording was followed by the Brit-award-winning and GRAMMY-nominated Dusk and Dawn, of which The Telegraph wrote: “She has the technical finesse to play just about anything.” In 2013 the AIR award-winning Catch Me If You Can was released, and featured the saxophone concerti of John Williams, Michael Kamen and material from Mark Knopfler’s score to the film Local Hero, arranged by Jessica Wells, and recorded with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. In a 5-star review by The Australian, it was written: “drawn from Williams’s score for the film Catch Me If You Can, Escapades is a finely crafted concert work of retro cool jazz style that welds the saxophone closely to the orchestra. Dickson plays its snaky solos and infectious Joy Ride finale with exuberant authority. More cinematic in sweep, Kamen’s Concerto is a bold, rugged and melodically inspired work that Dickson interprets with uplifting strength and impressive improvisatory flourish. With Knopfler’s Local Hero concerto, she branches out into rock-style playing with conspicuous success.” This was followed by the 2014 film-inspired album A Summer Place, on which Chris Walden’s arrangement of Moon River was nominated for a GRAMMY award.

Amy Dickson’s latest recording with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Island Songs, will be released in the United Kingdom in January 2016. It showcases her passion for commissioning new repertoire and has already met with international critical acclaim. An all-Australian disc of new music, it comprises Peter Sculthorpe’s concerto of the same title, which was written for Amy; Ross Edwards’ concerto Full Moon Dances, which was also written for Amy and recorded live at the Sydney Opera House; and Brett Dean’s Siduri Dances, which was arranged in collaboration with Amy. Limelight have written, “Dickson’s dazzling artistry is on display throughout…Island Songs is one of Peter Sculthorpe’s last compositions, drawing on a mix of wartime popular song and Aboriginal chant. The first half, Song of Home, features brooding strings, shimmers of recession and a sea of oscillating violin melodies, over which Dickson’s pure saxophone soars with a plaintive elegance. The second part, Lament and Yearning, blends Sculthorpe’s love of ancient lands with his sadness for modern climatic dangers. After the long, smooth gliding of Island Songs, Dickson harnesses an entirely different energy for Brett Dean’s Siduri Dances, managing the brutally jagged and dissonant melodic language with a vibrant ferocity. The Sydney Symphony’s strings conjure an effectively disturbing sonic environment led by Benjamin Northey (who also conducts the Sculthorpe). The multi-movement Full Moon Dances is a concerto for alto saxophone and orchestra exploring Ross Edwards’ ‘Maninya’ style with echoes of ritual music from both Western and South-East Asian cultures. Dickson’s dazzling artistry is on display throughout, in particular in the second movement which jets forward with some unashamedly raucous and ‘ecstatic’ orchestral jiving. Here the SSO plays under the baton of Miguel Harth-Bedoya.”

Additional recordings include Cecilia McDowall’s concerto Dancing Fish, Larsson’s Konzert, Loeffler’s Divertissement Espagnole and Dubois’ Divertissement. In 2010, with Carl Davis, Melvyn Tan and the Philharmonia Orchestra, Amy recorded Davis’ suite from the film score for Hotel du Lac, which he had especially arranged for saxophone, piano and orchestra. In 2011 she joined the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and George Vass to make world premiere recordings of Holbrooke’s saxophone concerto, and Seven Country Dances by Richard Rodney Bennett. International Record Review wrote: “Amy Dickson, a player of distinction and strong musical intelligence”, and BBC Music Magazine wrote: “Amy Dickson’s creamy-smooth tonal palette is impressive particularly in the short, mellifluous cadenza…Richard Rodney Bennett’s arrangement for saxophone of his Seven Country Dances for a warmly entertaining coupling.”

Amy thrives on the diverse repertoire possibilities the saxophone can straddle and continually seeks to explore new genres. Whilst proving to be a brilliant interpreter of contemporary music, she is equally devoted as a champion of established saxophone repertoire, regularly performing the concerti of Glazunov, Debussy, Villa Lobos, Ibert, Larsson, Dubois and Milhaud, as well as those of Turnage, Higdon, Birtwistle, Williams, Glass, Sculthorpe, Torke and Kancheli.

Amy’s repertoire is strongly influenced by her passion for new music. She is deeply committed to the development of new repertoire for the saxophone and has made a substantial contribution to the concerto, chamber and solo repertoire. She has premiered new works for saxophone and orchestra or chamber ensemble and is a regular collaborator with today’s leading composers. Amy has worked with composers including Peter Sculthorpe, Huw Watkins, Steve Martland, Graham Fitkin, Graham Koehne, Martin Butler, Brett Dean, Cecilia McDowall and Timothy Salter. She has formed a particularly close musical relationship with Ross Edwards and their collaboration has led to the creation of a number of important works for the saxophone. His concerto Full Moon Dances was premiered in 2012 and since then has been toured extensively. His arrangement for Amy of his oboe concerto, Bird Spirit Dreaming, was given it’s first performance in 2011. A new double concerto for saxophone and percussion will be premiered in 2016 with percussionist Colin Currie and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Now based in London, Amy Dickson was born in Sydney, Australia and began musical studies at the age of two, taking her first saxophone lesson aged six. She made her concerto debut at 16, and on her 18th birthday made her first recording as soloist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. That year she moved to London to study at the Royal College of Music, and then at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam. She was recipient of the James Fairfax Australian Young Artist of the Year award, and has won a string of major competitions including the Gold Medal at the Royal Overseas League Competition, the Symphony Australia Young Performer of the Year Competition and the Prince’s Prize. No saxophonist had ever won any of these titles before.

Amy Dickson has been featured on BBC Breakfast, the Alan Titchmarsh Show, and the 7:30 report in Australia. She is proud to be an ambassador of the Australian Children’s Music Foundation and the Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts.