Gillian Blair (saxophone) and Elinor Nicholson (harp) formed the Polaris Duo in 2011 whilst studying at the Royal Northern College of Music. They have since been exploring an eclectic range of repertoire and possibilities for this unusual instrumentation.
The duo perform regularly around the UK and recently made their international debut in Croatia at the World Saxophone Congress. They have performed at UK venues including the Bridgewater Hall, Buxton Opera House, Warwick University and the International Anthony Burgess Foundation as well as regularly performing for music societies. They are BBC Introducing Artists, were 2nd prize winners in the British Harp Chamber Music Competition and have been featured in the Lake District Summer Music ‘New Generation Artists’ Concert Series.
The Polaris Duo is dedicated to presenting new music and expanding the repertoire for this uncommon pairing of instruments. The duo enjoy arranging existing works and commissioning new music from composers which has led to them giving UK, European and World premieres of numerous works. Their most recent commissions include compositions by Melissa Douglas and Paul Mitchell-Davidson.
They released their debut album; ‘illuminate’ in April 2018. The music featured includes original works by Manchester based composers Andy Scott, Rob Buckland and Melissa Douglas alongside arrangements of works by well known composers including C.P.E. Bach and Camille Saint-Saëns.
In addition to their work as performers, the Polaris Duo is passionate about education and outreach and has delivered workshops for the ‘Classical Kids’ Concert Series and Piccadilly Symphony Orchestra’s Outreach Programme. They are proud to be artists for Yehudi Menuhin’s ‘Live Music Now’ Scheme where they perform to people who may not normally have the opportunity to experience live music.
Gillian Blair - Saxophone
Praised for her ‘flawless and accomplished’ performances (Peterborough Telegraph) and ‘honest and genuine music-making’ (D’Addario Competition), Gillian Blair enjoys a varied career as a classical saxophonist, chamber musician and educator. She has won first prize in competitions including the International Young Musician Competition at the Llangollen Eisteddfod, the D'addario Single Reed Competition, the RNCM Woodwind Competition, the Charles Scarratt Award for Young Musicians and the RNCM's Sir John Manduell Prize.
As a soloist, she has performed around Europe, North America and Asia at festivals and concert series' including the BBC Proms, EurSax, Koganei Miyajigakki Hall (Tokyo), PepsiCo Recital Hall (Texas), University of Arkansas, World Saxophone Congress, Oklahoma State University, North American Saxophone Alliance Conference, the Palaver Festival and several broadcasts on BBC Radio 3. She has appeared as a guest soloist with ensembles including the Band of the Coldstream Guards, Commonwealth String Orchestra, Piccadilly Symphony Orchestra, University of Arkansas Saxophone Ensemble, City of Peterborough Symphony Orchestra, Wirral Symphony Orchestra, Bolton Chamber Orchestra, the RNCM Percussion Ensemble and the RNCM Saxophone Orchestra. Future concerto appearances include the premieres of new concertos by Natasha Senanayake and Paul Carroll which have been commissioned for her and the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra, as well as a new commission from Lucy Armstrong which will be premiered in 2020.
As a keen advocate of new music, Gillian has commissioned numerous works as a soloist and for her various chamber ensembles from emerging and established composers including Gary Carpenter, Zack Browning, Andrew Boss, Lucy Armstrong, Tom Harrold, Lucy Pankhurst, Paul Mitchell-Davidson, Grace Evangeline Mason, Rob Buckland and Melissa Douglas.
Gillian is passionate about chamber music and performs regularly with the Polaris Duo (saxophone and harp) and the Borealis Saxophone Quartet. Both of these ensembles have enjoyed competition success and have performed in some of the UK's most prestigious venues as well as performances overseas in Croatia and Serbia. A recent collaboration with American Saxophonist Nathan Mertens has led to joint commissions of music for 2 saxophones and piano from composers Lucy Armstrong, Zack Browning, Rob Buckland and Andrew Boss. They have given performances and masterclasses in Japan, the UK, the USA and Croatia and are looking forward to releasing their debut album in 2020.
Gillian has worked with larger ensembles including the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestra of Opera North, the Royal Northern Sinfonia, European Union Youth Wind Orchestra, the Piccadilly Symphony Orchestra, the Soundscape Chamber Orchestra, the Tenor Saxophone Collective and she has performed, recorded and given workshops with the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra and the Band of the Coldstream Guards.
Gillian holds Bachelors and Masters degrees from the Royal Northern College of Music where she studied with Rob Buckland, Carl Raven and Andy Scott. During her studies she was a finalist in the RNCM’s prestigious Concerto and Gold Medal competitions and received scholarships from the Oglesby Charitable Trust, the Helen Mackaness Award and the Countess of Munster Trust. Upon graduating, Gillian was awarded the Timothy Reynish Award for outstanding contribution to the RNCM. She has received tuition and appeared in masterclasses with acclaimed international artists and studied at the renowned 'l’Université Européenne de Saxophone' in Gap, France.
Gillian is an active educator and is on the faculty at the Junior Royal Northern College of Music and the Universities of Sheffield and Huddersfield. She has presented masterclasses around the UK and USA and enjoys leading workshops for woodwind days and summer schools throughout the UK.
Gillian is a Henri Selmer Paris Artist and a Vandoren UK Artist.
Elinor Nicholson - Harp
Scottish harpist Elinor Nicholson achieved a Bachelor of Music degree with first class honours from the Royal Northern College of Music and is currently working towards a Masters of Music, continuing her studies with renowned harpist Eira Lynn Jones. In 2015, Elinor was a finalist in the RNCM’s Gold Medal Competition, the highest award for solo performance that the college offers, and recently been announced as a finalist again in the 2016 competition. Most recently, Elinor has also been named as a finalist in the RNCM concerto competition, performing Debussy's Danse Sacree et Profane. Last year, Elinor gave the UK premiere of Paul Patterson's work Spider's Web, performing with the Maxwell Quartet.
Recent performances with RNCM ensembles include Elinor’s Wigmore Hall debut performing works by British composer Jonathan Harvey and performing with the symphony orchestra at the Bridegwater Hall in Manchester. In 2013, Elinor was delighted to be accepted on to the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra’s ‘Professional Experience Scheme’, which offered valuable training and performance experience in Media City with the orchestra.
In 2011 Elinor formed the Polaris saxophone and harp duo with saxophonist Gilly Blair and in 2012 they were selected to give the world premiere of Andy Scott’s Sonata for Saxophone and Harp at the World Saxophone Congress in St Andrews. Most recently, the Polaris Duo were awarded the second prize in the inaugural British Harp Chamber Music Competition. Elinor’s flute and harp duo, the Meridiem Duo, works for Yehudi Menuhin’s ground-breaking scheme ‘Live Music Now!’, performing in community settings such as hospitals, schools for disabled children and elderly people.
Elinor is grateful to the Caird Trust, the Albert and Eugenie Frost Trust and the Countess of Munster Musical Trust who generously support Elinor's tuition at the RNCM