Tommy Smith plays Rachmanninoff’s ‘Vocalise’ with the BBC/SSO
Tommy Smith’s long association with classical music began in 1989 when he was asked to perform William Sweeney’s concerto for saxophone, An rathad ùr, with the BBC/SSO for the television series Jazz Types, which Smith also presented.
Smith was immediately prompted by Roger Pollen of the Scottish Ensemble (SE) to spend six months studying orchestration, with a new commission for saxophone and strings very much in mind. The result was his first piece of classical music, Unirsi In Matrimonio, for saxophone and strings, which was completed in 1990.
The movements work as mood pictures, full of atmosphere and outbursts of drama.
This was quickly followed by another work for strings and saxophone, Un Ecossais A Paris in 1991, and he later collaborated very closely with eclectic classical pianist Murray McLaughlan for Sonata No.1 – Hall of Mirrors and Sonata No.2 Dreaming with Open Eyes, both for saxophone and piano.
Smith’s saxophone concerto Hiroshima (1998) was premiered with the Orchestra of St. John Smith’s Square at Chelmsford Cathedral and included strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion, piano and saxophone.
Tommy Smith later appeared as solo saxophonist for Sally Beamish’s The Knotgrass Elegy, commissioned for the 2001 BBC Proms, and performed with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
The saxophonist Tommy Smith, holding all together with his eloquent wizardry, brought the piece to a wistful close with a forlorn meditation.
The Glasgow Herald remarked at the time that…
“it transcends technical and stylistic barriers between written and improvised music, resulting in a composition that preserves absolutely the character of the originals”.
Other classical music endeavours have included a massive undertaking for the Edinburgh Youth Orchestra’s 40th anniversary in 2003. A very special suite, entitled Edinburgh, was specially written for the occasion and featured saxophone, bass and drums, accompanied by a one hundred-strong symphony orchestra. The work toured Scotland, Estonia, Russia, and Finland.
Smith also featured as a soloist with the BBC/SSO for the 2012 BBC Proms Last Night Celebrations in Scotland at Glasgow’s City Halls. His contribution alongside pianist Joanna MacGregor and soprano Carolyn Sampson, under the baton of conductor Stephen Bell, marked a memorable final night at the world’s most celebrated classical music festival.
In January 2015, Tommy Smith joined with the BBC/Scottish Symphony Orchestra for a remarkable collaboration, which resulted in the recording of Smith’s symphonic work Modern Jacobite. This remarkable recording also includes Smith’s very special reading of Rachmanninoff’s Vocalise and a blistering interpretation of Chick Corea’s Children’s Songs.
Smith’s most recent classical composition, Spirit of Light, was premiered just before Christmas 2018 in a series of extraordinary concerts set in some of Scotland’s most stunning cathedrals. The performances featured the Grammy® award-winning singer Kurt Elling, the acclaimed Scots vocal consort Cappella Nova, and included poetry from, among others, Liz Lochhead, Norman MacCaig and Robert Frost.