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 in 2018 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 Leeds International Concert Season 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, Esther Swift and Paul Mitchell-Davidson. In Summer 2019 they collaborated with composer Gavin Wayte on an Arts Council England funded project working with pupils from a local sixth form college to create music around the theme of borders. This project also saw the duo give the premiere of Gavin’s work ‘Crossing’ for Soprano Saxophone, Harp and Electronics at the Uppermill Summer Music Festival. The duo have continued to work with Gavin on a further expansion of the piece, ‘Crossing 2’, which was premiered by the duo and the RNCM New Ensemble at the 2019 ‘New Music Manchester’ Festival.
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
Award-winning Scottish harpist Elinor Nicholson graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music with a first class honours degree in 2014. She then went on to complete a Masters in Music with distinction in 2016. During her studies, Elinor won the prestigious RNCM Concerto Competition which resulted in a performance of Debussy’s ‘Danses’ for harp and string orchestra at the RNCM 2017 String Festival. Elinor was twice a finalist in the RNCM Gold Medal competition- the highest accolade for performance that the college offers.
Professionally, Elinor regularly performs with ensembles such as the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Northern Ballet Sinfonia. She has also performed alongside well known names including Nicola Benedetti, Katherine Jenkins, Russel Watson and the rock band Evanescence. This has led her to perform in some of the country’s most notable concert halls, including; Royal Albert Hall, Birmingham's Symphony Hall, Sage Gateshead, Royal Glasgow Concert Hall and the Bridgewater Hall.
Elinor is a member of the Polaris Duo (saxophone and harp), who recorded their debut album ‘illuminate’ in 2018. In the same year they were selected as ‘BBC Introducing Artists’ and have subsequently had their music broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Elinor’s flute and harp duo, Meridiem, regularly perform for music societies across the UK; a highlight of 2019 was performing Mozart’s ‘Flute and Harp Concerto’ with the Sale Chamber Orchestra. Elinor also performs extensively with the genre-defying harp quartet CLOUDS. The ensemble performs folk-inspired original compositions by Esther Swift and have recorded a new album 'Up She Rises' which was released alongside a UK tour in May 2019.
Elinor is passionate about performing music in outreach settings and regularly works for Yehudi Menuhin’s ground-breaking scheme ‘Live Music Now!’. This programme sends musicians to perform and run workshops in schools, care homes, hospitals and day centres. Elinor is a fellowship musician on the Live Music Now! scheme and has spent a year in a special educational needs school, supporting children’s musical and personal development.