Phoenix Tour blog – Aberdeenshire, June 2023


On 1 June, Phoenix Saxophone Orchestra gathered at Peterborough Station to take a leap into the unknown – our first ever concert tour. The omens were good though, when our LNER Azuma train arrived in Phoenix team colours (!), and we set out on the 480-mile trip north to meet and perform with our friends and hosts Aberdeenshire Saxophone Orchestra (ASO), who we had previously only met online.

Our two orchestras had found each other during the Covid lockdown and, spurred on when our first collaboration – a socially and physically distanced joint recording of Julius Fučík’s ‘Entry of the Gladiators’ – was nominated for a prestigious national Royal Philharmonic Society Inspiration Award, decided to do it live!

To make the most of our time in Scotland, we spent our first day on a whistlestop sightseeing tour around beautiful Aberdeenshire, organised by ASO’s Foss Foster and ably led by ASO member and volunteer tour guide Derek Jennings, who arrived to collect us decked out in his kilt! En route, Derek told us all about the areas we were visiting and even treated us to some verse and song in the local Doric dialect.

After a visit to Dunnottar Castle (pictured above) and a bracing walk along the coastal path into Stonehaven, we travelled up through Royal Deeside to the village of Braemar, at the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. Here, we found that social media had provided us with a happy crowd sitting in the sunshine at The Bothy, waiting to be entertained, and we performed our first pop-up mini concert. This and a similar open air concert at Crathes Castle were a lovely start to the weekend.

First performance at The Bothy, Braemar
At Crathes Castle with Foss and Derek

Acorn Centre Concert

On the afternoon of Saturday 3 June, we met ASO members face to face for the very first time, when we gathered together at the Acorn Centre in Inverurie to rehearse three joint pieces for a gala concert that evening.

The 38 saxophonists – including two sopraninos, five baritones, a bass and a contrabass (tubax) sax – made a truly rousing sound, and we were thrilled to have Scottish musician and arranger Catriona Melville-Mason in the audience for the premiere performance of her arrangement of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave), that had been specially commissioned by the orchestras for this momentous event. Check out our video recording below.

Catriona Melville-Mason
Two Ninos! Helen and Juliette

Music at Aden

Making the most of this collaboration, the likes of which had never before been seen in the North East of Scotland, Music at Aden booked the two orchestras to perform a second concert at Aden Country Park on Sunday morning.

At both events, each orchestra also played a set of their own music, with PSO led by our MD Tony Rifugiato, and ASO by their joint MDs Cat Evison and Mike Brogan (pictured together above).

Cat and Mike also ran a couple of workshops on Sunday afternoon, which were enjoyed by members of both orchestras, and we ended our visit by attending a concert from the Inverurie Concert Band, in which some of our ASO friends were performing.

More than 1,000 miles covered, 4 trains, 2 castles, 5 concerts, 3 MDs, 38 saxophonists, 40+ instruments and lots of new friends! Phoenix would like to thank everyone involved in making this tour a tremendous success and we very much look forward to more collaborations with ASO.

With huge thanks to Nicola Bashforth for being our official photographer for the weekend.