Biography

Brief Biography

Robert Saxton was born in London in 1953 and started composing at the age of six. Guidance in early years from Benjamin Britten and lessons with Elisabeth Lutyens was followed by periods of study at both Cambridge (undergraduate) and Oxford (postgraduate) Universities with Robin Holloway and Robert Sherlaw Johnson respectively, and also with Luciano Berio. He won the Gaudeamus International Composers Prize in Holland at the age of twenty-one. In 1986 he was awarded the Fulbright Arts Fellowship to the USA, where he was in residence at Princeton. He became a DMus (Oxon) in 1992 and was elected an Hon Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge in 2015. 

He has written works for the BBC (TV, Proms and Radio), LSO, LPO, ECO, London Sinfonietta, Nash Ensemble, Northern Sinfonia and David Blake (conductor), Antara, Arditti and Chilingirian String Quartets, St Paul Chamber Orchestra (USA), Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival/Opera North, Aldeburgh, Cheltenham, City of London, Three Choirs and Lichfield festivals, Stephen Darlington and the choir of Christ Church Cathedral Oxford, the choir of Merton College Oxford, Susan Milan, Susan Bradshaw and Richard Rodney Bennett, Simon Desbruslais, Clare Hammond. Edward Wickham and The Clerks’ Group, Teresa Cahill, Leon Fleisher, Tasmin Little, Steven Isserlis, Mstislav Rostropovich, John Wallace and the Raphael Wallfisch and John York duo. 

He was Professor of Composition at Oxford University and tutorial fellow in music at Worcester College from 1999 until his retirement in 2021. He has been Composer-in Association at the Purcell School for Young Musicians since 2013 and was appointed Hon Research Fellow at the Royal Academy of Music in 2021. His music from 1972 until 1998 was published by Chester/Music Sales and, since then, by the University of York Music Press and Ricordi (Berlin). Recordings have appeared on the Sony Classical, Hyperion, Metier, EMI , NMC, Divine Art and Signum labels. 

Recent works include the opera The Wandering Jew; a song cycle for baritone Roderick Williams, Time and the Seasons for the Oxford Lieder Festival in 2013; Hortus Musicae books 1 and 2, a piano cycle for pianist Clare Hammond; The Resurrection of the Soldiers, commissioned jointly by George Vass for the 2016 Presteigne Festival and the English Symphony Orchestra and Kenneth Woods; Shakespeare Scenes, commissioned by the Orchestra of the Swan and trumpeter Simon Desbruslais; his fourth string quartet, for the Kreutzer Quartet; Suite for violinist Madeleine Mitchell and pianist Clare Hammond; A Hymn to the Thames for oboist James Turnbull and the St Paul’s Sinfonia; and Fantasy Pieces for the Fidelio Trio. Jonathan Clinch premiered Tombeau for HB for organ in autumn 2022 and has commissioned a major organ cycle as part of a project with the Royal Academy of Music; the English Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Woods will premiere Scenes from the Epic of Gilgamesh in Oxford in March 2023. 

Recent recordings include a CD of piano music on Toccata Classics, Shakespeare Scenes on Signum; a portrait CD on Metier released in September 2022 and a CD of organ works performed by Jonathan Clinch released in October 2022. 

Robert Saxton is married to the soprano Teresa Cahill.

Detailed Biography

Robert Louis Alfred Saxton was born into an immigrant Jewish family in London on October 8th 1953. His mother was a gynaecologist and his father (whose own father was Jewish, and whose Protestant Yorkshire mother was a fine amateur pianist), having been a tank captain in World War II, followed by two decades running a small family business, re-trained as a lawyer and became a barrister in his early fifties. His sister Vivienne studied at the Royal Ballet School and is a teacher and examiner of Dance for the ISTD.

His maternal grandfather, Louis Infield OBE, who came from came from Krakow (Poland), took a First in Mathematics at Queen’s College, Cambridge in 1908, and was subsequently a senior civil servant. Louis’ cousin, Leopold Infeld was a physicist who worked as Einstein’s assistant at Princeton. Robert’s great uncle Vivien Vandamm, ran The Windmill Theatre (‘we never closed’) during World War 2 and Vivien’s sister, Florence Vandamm, was one of Broadway’s leading theatre photographers in New York, her collection now being housed in the Lincoln Center.

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l-r Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld, Louis Infield, Vivien Vandamm and Kenneth More

Robert Saxton started composing at the age of six, and received early advice and encouragement from Benjamin Britten which is well documented in John Bridcut’s book “Britten’s Children”

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l-r Robert as a boy, with sister Vivienne
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1963 Robert with his sister and parents

He studied privately as a teenager with Elisabeth Lutyens, at Cambridge as an undergraduate with Robin Holloway, as a post-graduate at Oxford with Robert Sherlaw Johnson and later with Luciano Berio. He is married to the soprano, Teresa Cahill.

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Caricatures by John Minnion of Robert, centre, with two of his mentors – Benjamin Britten, left, and Elisabeth Lutyens, right

Having taught at Bristol university, he subsequently became Head of Composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and then became Head of Composition and Contemporary Music at London’s Royal Academy of Music.

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Robert with his wife Teresa Cahill at the DMus degree ceremony, in the Sheldonian, Oxford, 1992

He was awarded the DMus by Oxford in 1992 where he is now Professor of Composition and Tutorial Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford. He was awarded First Prize for Composition at the 1975 Gaudeamus Music Week in Holland and a Fulbright Arts Award to USA in 1985-86, where he was a visiting fellow at Princeton University. He was Artistic Director of Opera Lab from 1992 to 1998 and a Governor of the South Bank Centre from 1998 to 2007. He is a patron of Opera UK and is president of the Association of English Singers & Speakers. He has recently been appointed a trustee of the Mendelssohn Scholarship. Commissions include works for the BBC (Radio, TV and Proms), LSO, LPO, ECO, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, London International String Quartet Competition (test piece), Nash Ensemble, Opera North, St Paul Chamber Orchestra (USA), Chilingirian Quartet, The Clerks’ Group, Aldeburgh, Cheltenham, City of London, Huddersfield, and Lichfield festivals, Richard Rodney Bennett and Susan Bradshaw, Leon Fleisher, Stephen Isserlis, Mstislav Rostropovich, Paul Silverthorne, John Wallace, Raphael Wallfisch, John York and the soprano Teresa Cahill.

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Top: Robert with Mstislav Rostropovich, and in concert after the premiere of RS’ Cello Concerto by Rostropovich at London’s Barbican Centre} {Bottom left: Robert with the playwright Sir Arnold Wesker, librettist of his own play, ‘Caritas‘} {Bottom right: Robert with concert poster, outside Symphony Hall, Boston, after USA premiere of ‘In The Beginning’ with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jeffrey Tate

He has recently completed a radio opera, ‘The Wandering Jew’ (to his own libretto) commissioned by BBC Radio 3; and current projects include a work for the Arditti String Quartet commissioned by the South Bank Centre; and a Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis for Dr Stephen Darlington and the choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.

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l-r Robert directing educational workshops
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