John Harle

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John Harle
John Harle colour portrait.jpg
John Harle
Background information
Born (1956-09-20)20 September 1956
Origin Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Genres Classical, hybrid
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Saxophone
Years active 1973–present
Labels Universal
EMI Classics
Decca Records
Argo Records
Hannibal Records

John Harle (born 20 September 1956, Newcastle upon Tyne, England) is an English saxophonist, composer, conductor and record producer.


John Harle, FGSM ARCM Hons, is a British saxophonist, composer, conductor and record producer. He is a prolific artist in many genres including classical, jazz and opera.

Early career[edit]

Harle began his musical career as a clarinetist and served as solo clarinetist in the Band of the Coldstream Guards, winning the Cousins Memorial Medal at Kneller Hall (Royal Military School of Music) in 1975 as Best Army Musician. In 1978 he won a Foundation Scholarship to the Royal College of Music, London, where he studied saxophone, clarinet and composition, winning the Dannreuther Prize and obtaining a final graduation mark of 100%. He won a French Government Scholarship for postgraduate study in Paris with Daniel Deffayet, Professor of Saxophone at the Paris Conservatoire (CNSM) the following year. In Paris, Harle worked with Luciano Berio on 'extended techniques' for alto saxophone, which culminated in Berio's Sequenza 1Xb for Alto Saxophone, which he premiered at Hans Werner Henze's Montepulciano Summer School in Italy the following year.

He subsequently won music competitions at the Royal Overseas League, Greater London Arts Association, the Maisie Lewis Trust, the Worshipful Company of Musicians and The Park Lane Group.

In 1984 he won the AMCON Award at the Concert Artists Guild of New York, and has since developed a distinctive sound for the saxophone based on breathing and resonating techniques more commonly used in singing. Michael Nyman describes Harle's sound as "hard edged, vocal romanticism". Between 1979 and 1985 he was also an actor/musician at the Royal National Theatre, London, working under the tutelage of Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Dominic Muldowney, in productions of Brecht, Edward Bond (with Hans Werner Henze) and Aeschylus, with one-man shows at the RNT, New End Theatre Hampstead, Kings Head Islington and The Arts Theatre Great Newport Street. Harle was a founder member of the Michael Nyman Band, and with violinist Alexander Balanescu created the distinctive sound for Nymans music in the iconic Peter Greenaway film scores including The Draughtsman's Contract and The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover. In 1986 Harle formed the avant-garde cabaret ensemble, The Berliner Band, which featured free-jazz bassist Barry Guy, which combined performances of early cabaret works by Eisler and Weill with his own compositions and improvised music. The Berliner Band performed contemporary scores to silent avant-garde films of the 1920s by Man Ray, Léger, Clair and Moholy-Nagy.

Harle was principal saxophonist in the London Sinfonietta and the London Symphony Orchestra for many years, and also worked frequently in The Nash Ensemble and Peter Maxwell Davies's The Fires of London. He was the subject of a BBC2 one-hour documentary in 1988 called 'One Man and his Sax' produced by Tony Staveacre.


After the commission of a saxophone concerto for him for the BBC Proms in 1985 from composer Dominic Muldowney, his career as a solo classical saxophonist began, and his contribution to this field since then is seen as central to the instruments development as a 'concert-hall' instrument. Further concerto commissions for Harle since then include works by composers Mark-Anthony Turnage, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, Harrison Birtwistle, John Tavener, Michael Torke, Gavin Bryars, Sally Beamish, Stanley Myers, Christopher Gunning, Dave Heath, Michael Nyman, Mike Westbrook and Joby Talbot. These works form the basis for much of the contemporary popularity of the saxophone in the concert hall.

A concerto by Graham Fitkin is planned for 2013, and a second concerto by Sir Harrison Birtwistle for 2014. He has worked with conductors such as Riccardo Chailly, Michael Tilson Thomas, Leonard Bernstein, Sir Andrew Davis, Sir Neville Marriner, David Atherton, Oliver Knussen, Lothar Zagrosek, Sir Simon Rattle, Diego Masson, Sir Mark Elder and Franz Welser-Möst.

In 1995 Harle performed the premiere of "Panic" by Birtwistle at the Last Night of the Proms, and went on in 1996 to perform his own work, "Terror and Magnificence", in a sell out performance at the Royal Festival Hall with Elvis Costello and Sarah Leonard.

Harle has had over half a million solo record sales to date, and has performed with hundreds of international orchestras.

Harle performs regularly in recital with Pianist Steve Lodder and Composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett.


In 1989 Harle was appointed Professor of Saxophone at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where he tutored and mentored most of the current leading saxophonists in the UK, many themselves now teaching at conservatoires,: for example Simon Haram, Tim Garland, Christian Forshaw, Rob Buckland and Gerard McChrystal.

From 2012 his teaching continues with an MMus in Saxophone Performance at Canterbury Christ Church University which is the first Masters program in the UK to expand the areas of study for saxophonists to include history and analysis of the saxophone, saxophone iconography and stage skills.

He has been a guest lecturer at the Royal College of Music, Royal Academy of Music, Royal Northern College of Music, Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Rotterdams Conservatorium, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, New World Symphony Academy (Miami), Canterbury Christ Church University, Nottingham University, The Menuhin School, Chethams, Eton College, Marlborough College, and St. Pauls School London, amongst others.

In masterclasses and lectures Harle's curriculum is broad, and includes the science of performance, physiology of wind playing, performance confidence and stress control, audience communication, the role of the performer and teaching methodology.

Composer, producer, conductor, media[edit]

As a composer, Harle's concert music encompasses Opera, Choral, Symphonic and chamber music. His music is dramatic and often otherworldly, gaining inspiration from history, folklore and mythic stories.

He has had four commissions from the BBC Proms, including his first Opera, 'Angel Magick', based on the life of Elizabethan alchemist John Dee, which was performed in a season at the salisbury Playhouse and then at the Royal Albert Hall, London, in fully staged performances. Angel Magick is currently being revised by Harle for CD release in 2012 on Sospiro Records. His second opera, 'The Ballad of Jamie Allan' was commissioned by the Sage, Gateshead, and was the story of a rogue Northumbrian piper, horse-thief and army deserter, featuring Kathryn Tickell (Northumbrian Pipes) Sarah-Jane Morris (Vocal) and Omar Ebrahim (Vocal) in a series of performances for the opening of the Sage Gateshead.

'Terror and Magnificence' brought many of these historical influences together with vocalist Elvis Costello in a Grammy-nominated album that reached No.1 in the US Billboard charts, and culminated in sell-out concert at the Royal Festival Hall, London.

Recent works include his saxophone concerto 'The Little Death Machine' (BBC Proms), City Solstice (for Kings College Cambridge Choir) and Earthlight (for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra).

In music for film and television, he has composed over 100 scores including major feature films, television drama and documentaries. He won the Royal Television Society award for Best TV Theme Music for his theme for BBC1's Silent Witness, and his first film score 'Prick Up Your Ears', composed with Stanley Myers, won Best Artistic Achievement in a Feature Film at the Cannes Film Festival. He was composer of the entire score for Simon Schama's epic 15-hour 'History of Britain' for BBC1, which featured Dame Emma Kirkby, Sir Willard White, Elvis Costello, Sarah Leonard, the BBC Singers and the BBC Concert Orchestra.

He was creative consultant to Paul McCartney between 1997 and 2003, assisting in the composition of works such as 'Standing Stone', 'Ecce Cor Meum', 'Shadow Cycle', 'A Garland for Linda', orchestrating much of McCartney's output in that period, and was also record producer and conductor of works by McCartney. He was producer and soloist on 'Moondog Big Band' and performed live with Moondog and Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson several times, including performances at Elvis Costello's 'Meltdown' at the South Bank, London. With Ute Lemper he collaborated on several projects, including his own show for the LSO and Lemper 'Berlin Nights' at the Barbican, and was producer and saxophone soloist on much of her late work in the late 1990s, including his own 'Cradle Song' and the score to Volker Sclhondorff's film 'Homo Faber'. With Elvis Costello, he was the composer, producer and soloist on 'O Mistress Mine', a song cycle from Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night' which appeared on Harle's album 'Terror and Magnificence' in 1996 and on live performances that included Costello singing other works by Harle and Costello's own 'Shipbuilding'. Costello continued to perform 'O Mistress Mine' song cycle in duo form with pianist Steve Nieve on tours between 1997 and 2002. Harle was soloist on Costello's ballet music 'Il Sogno' for Deutsche Grammophon with drummer Peter Erskine, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the LSO. In 2001 Harle was conductor of 'Maiden Voyage', an extended work for Herbie Hancock as soloist with the LPO at the Royal Festival Hall, London.

He was artistic director at the Green Hall, Tokyo, from 1986 to 1988, Artist in Residence at Musikkollegium Winterthur in 2000, Artist in Residence at Chester Summer Music Festival 2008 and Curator of 'Sustain!' at the City of London Festival in 2009. In 2011–2012, Harle has been Producer for EMI Classics in Tokyo, and is currently artistic director of Sospiro Records, a new hybrid-genre label based in the UK.

As a conductor, he has performed with the LSO, LPO, BBCSO, BBCPO, RPO, RLPO, RTÉ, Ulster Orchestra, Northern Sinfonia, the Winterthur, Lahti, and Norrshirping Symphonies, the New Zealand Chamber Orchestra and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. Harle's 'Polar', a multi-media performance including IMAX HD footage of the polar regions with music by Harle, Stravinsky, Rautavvara and Sibelius has toured throughout 2011, and continues in 2012 and 2013, with performances in China and the USA.

In 1998 he was a castaway on Desert Island Discs on Radio 4, has been a presenter on BBC Radios 3 and 4 and LBC Radio, and was the subject of a BBC2 one-hour documentary in 1988 called One Man and his Sax, produced by Tony Staveacre.

In 2007 he taught Lord Robert Winston to play the saxophone on the BBC1 programme 'Play it again', and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4 'Front Row' and BBC 3 'In Tune'.

"John served his apprenticeship in the late 20th Century context of expanding horizons and a growing willingness for musicians of all backgrounds to share knowledge. But he is also one of its most innovative contributors". John Fordham – The Guardian


  • Royal Television Society

RTS Award for best theme for a television programme – 2001 – Silent Witness (BBC1)
RTS Nomination for best music for a television programme – 2009 – The Commander (LaPlante)
RTS Nomination for best music for a television programme – 2005 – Summer in the Suburbs (BBC2)
RTS Nomination for best music for a television programme – 2002 – Defence of the Realm (BBC1)

  • Grammy

Nomination – 1999 – Terror and Magnificence

  • Mercury Music Awards

Nomination – 1999 – Terror and Magnificence

  • Billboard USA

No.1 Crossover Album in the USA – 1999 – Terror and Magnificence

  • Cannes Film Festival

Best Artistic Achievement in a Feature Film – 1988 – Prick Up Your Ears (Zenith) – with Stanley Myers

  • UK Advertising Awards

Nomination for best original music – 1999 – Flying (TBWA/Trevor Beattie/Nissan)

  • UK Dance Charts

No. 1 Position – 1996 – Flying (Remix)

Selected compositions[edit]

Concert works[edit]

  • Foursquare (1980: Saxophone quartet)
  • The Bell Jar (1980: Oboe Quartet or 4 soprano saxophones)
  • Miles and Miles (1984: Brass Quintet, Percussion)
  • Two Timer (1986: 2 saxophones, string quartet, Bass, Drums)
  • St George and the Dragon (1988: Soprano, baritone, saxophone, piano – text by Adrian Henri)
  • The Secret Life of Madame Sauvage (1993: Saxophone, brass ensemble, 2 harps, percussion)
  • The Golden Demon (1995; saxophone, brass ensemble)
  • The Shadow of the Duke Composed and arranged music for (1992)
  • Terror and Magnificence (1996)
  • The Three Ravens (1996: Song cycle)
  • Angel Magick (1997; opera—libretto by David Pountney)
  • Silencium Suite (1998; two sopranos, saxophone, orchestra)
  • The Little Death Machine (2002; saxophone, orchestra)
  • The Ballad of Jamie Allan (2004; chamber opera – libretto by Tom Pickard)
  • Royal Ring Road (2005: Male vocal ensemble (Kings Singers) – text by Iain Sinclair)
  • Three Secrets from the Abyss (2006: Saxophone, string quintet, piano)
  • Earthlight (2008: Choir and symphony orchestra – text by Matthew Harle)
  • Bluebird (2009: Saxophone and wind orchestra)
  • City Solstice (2009; choir, soprano saxophone, organ – text by Tom Pickard)
  • The Leviathan (2009: for 600-player saxophone ensemble)
  • Polar (2011: Symphony Orchestra)

Film and television scores[edit]

Feature films

  • The Curious (Dakota Films) Produced by Luc Roeg and Directed by Steve Brown
  • Capone's Boys aka Al's Lads (Alchemy Pictures Films) Produced by Luc Roeg and Directed by Richard Standeven
  • The Tale of Sweeney Todd (World 2000 Entertainment) Produced by Ted Swanson and Directed by John Schlesinger
  • Butterfly Kiss (Dan Films) Produced by Julie Baines and Directed by Michael Winterbottom
  • Mothertime (BBC Films) Produced by Josh Golding and Directed by Matthew Jacobs
  • Digital Reaper (Lucky UKFS/Bauer Martinez) Directed by John Irwin
  • Defense of the Realm (BBC) Produced by Richard Bradley
  • Prick up your Ears (Zenith Entertainment) Produced by Andrew Brown and Directed by Stephen Frears
  • Comrade Lady (Black and White Films Production) Produced by John Paul Chappel and Directed by Nobby Clark
  • London Blues (Black and White Films Production) Produced by John Paul Chappel and Directed by Nobby Clark


  • Lucien Freud – A Painted Life (BBC 'Imagine') Directed by Randall Wright
  • A Short Stay in Switzerland (BBC Films) Produced by Liz Trubridge and Directed by Simon Curtis
  • The Commander (La Plante Prods/ITV) Produced by Linda La Plate and Directed by various
  • Silent Witness (BBC) Produced by George Ormond and Directed by various
  • Dalziel and Pascoe (BBC) Produced by Annie Tricklebank
  • Trial and Tribulation (La Plante Prods) Produced by Chris Hall
  • Messiah (BBC/Paramount) Produced by Peter Norris and Directed by Paul Unwin
  • Behind Closed Doors (BBC) Produced by Diana Kyle and Directed by Louis Caulfield
  • Family (BBC) Produced by Andrew Eaton and Directed by Michael Winterbottom
  • Take Me (Coastal Prods) Produced by Bill Boys and Directed by Alex Pillai
  • A History of Britain (BBC)
  • Summer in the Suburbs (BBC) Produced by Hiliary Salmon and Directed by David Attwood
  • The Echo (BBC) Produced by Kate Harewood and Directed by Diarmuid Lawrence
  • Deep Secrets (BBC) Produced by Gillian McNeil and Directed by Diarmuid Lawrence
  • The Golden Collar (Initial Ent/BBC) Produced by Stuart Mackinnon and Directed by Gill Wilkinson
  • A Breed of Heroes (Wall to Wall/Channel 4) Produced by David Hickman and Directed by Leanne Klein
  • The Score (BBC) Directed by Bob Bentley
  • Love Lies Bleeding (BBC) Produced by Robert Cooper and Directed by Michael Winterbottom
  • The Longest Days (Cicada Films) Produced and Directed by Liz Clarke
  • The Ship (BBC) Produced and Directed by Christopher Terrill
  • Doctors Orders (BBC) Produced by Jeremy Mills

Selected discography[edit]


  • Silencium (Harle 001)

With the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.

  • Terror and Magnificence (Harle 002)

With Elvis Costello and Andy Sheppard.

  • Spirit Walk (Harle 003)

With Will Gregory, Guy Barker, Sarah-Jane Morris and Adrian Utely

  • The Shadow of the Duke (Harle 004)

With Stan Tracey, Paul Jones, Derek Watkins and Richard Rodney Bennett.

  • The Ballad of Jamie Allan (Harle 006)

With Kathryn Tickell, Omar Ebrahim, Sarah-Jane Morris and the Northern Sinfonia

  • Songs from A History of Britain (BBC Music WMSF60402)

With Willard White, Emma Kirkby, Elvis Costello and the BBC Concert Orchestra.

  • Shaolin Wheel of Life (SWOL 2004/1)

With Phil Robson (Guitar) and the RTE Orchestra and Choir.

  • The Ship (WMFF 6058-2)

With Will Gregory, Guy Barker, Sarah-Jane Morris and Adrian Utely

  • Flying (Zomba KGB D 004)

With Sarah Leonard and Operahouse.

  • I Will Wait for you (BBC BBC75605 51354 2)

With Lesley Garrett

  • All that Jazz (Decca 458931)

With Ute Lemper

  • Prick Up Your Ears (FILMC 014)

With Stanley Myers, Guy Barker, Jack Emblow and Ray Warleigh.

  • Homo Faber (Voyager) (Milan CD CH 804)

With Stanley Myers and Ute Lemper.

  • Moondog Big Band (Trimba Music 01001-8)

With Moondog.

  • First and Foremost (Decca/Argo CD 443 903)

With the Apollo Saxophone Quartet.

  • Bow Out (CD ASQ 1)

With the Apollo Saxophone Quartet.

  • Saxophobia (Saxpak Music Men MMP CD 1006)

With London Saxophonic.

  • Angelic House – Ambient Love Collection (Newsic 28CD-NO16)

With Operahouse.

  • Utopia (Chilled Classics Phillips 472 064-2)

With Operahouse.

  • Short Cuts – Breaking the Sound Barrier (Decca/Argo CD 443 396)

With Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

  • TV Classicals Vol 3

With Academy St Martin's in the Fields.

  • Illuminare (Zomba KGB D 004)

With the BBC Singers.

With Paul McCartney.

  • A Garland for Linda – Paul McCartney (EMI 7243 5 56961 2 0)

With Paul McCartney.

With Richard Rodney Bennett

  • Ty Vole, Na Zakladni Skole (Sony 505069 2)

With Sto zvířat.


  • Saxophone Concertos (EMI Classics CDC 7 54301)

With Academy of St Martin's in the Fields.

  • Panic (Decca /Argo 452 104)

With Harrisson Birtwistle.

  • Concertos (Decca/Argo 433 847)

With the Bournemouth Sinfonietta.

  • Sax Drive (Decca/Argo 443 529)

With the Albany Symphony Orchestra and BBC Concert Orchestra.

  • Ballade (Decca Classics 444 455)

With Frank Martin.

  • Ingolf Dahl Saxophone Concerto (Decca/Argo 444 459)

With New World Symphony Orchestra.

  • Dominic Muldowney Saxophone Concerto (EMI 7243 5 66528 2 8)

With the London Sinfonietta.

  • Michael Nyman – Double Concerto (EMI 7243 5 56487 2 3)

With Julian Lloyd Webber and The Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Michael Nyman.

  • Total Eclipse (Harmonia Mundi HMU 907271)

With John Tavener.

  • The Imagined Sound of Sun on Stone (Bis-cd-1161)

With Sally Beamish.

  • Hard Fairy (Decca/Argo 444 112)

With Graham Fitkin.

  • Hook (Decca/Argo 440 216)

With Graham Fitkin.

  • Get Happy (EMI Classics CDC 7 54190)

With George Shearing and the Kings Singers.

  • Il Sogno (CD 471 577–2)

With Elvis Costello.

  • A Portrait (Philips 473 296–2)

With Gavin Bryars.

  • Habanera (Hannibal / Rykodisc HNCD1331)

With John Lenehan.

  • John Harle Plays (Clarinet Classics CC0048)

With John Lenehan.

  • John Harles Saxophone

With John Lenehan.

  • John Harles Saxophone Songbook (Unicorn Kanchana DKP (CD) 9160)

With John Lenehan and Sarah Leonard.

  • When I'm Gone (Delphian DCD34026)

With Richard Allain.

  • A Finer Truth (Son of God Mass – Etcetera KTC 1248)

With James Whitbourn.

  • Songs for Alexander (ASV CD WHL 2135)

With the Orchestra of St John's Smiths Square and conductor John Lubbock.

  • Façades – Philip Glass

With London Chamber Orchestra, and conductor Christopher Warren-Green.

  • Lost in the Stars

With Sting.

  • Little Threepenny Music – Kurt Weill (CBS MK 44529)

With the London Symphony Brass and Woodwinds.

  • The Piano (Virgin 7243 8 39560 2 9)

With Michael Nyman.

  • The Essential Michael Nyman Band (Decca/Argo CD 436 820)

With Michael Nyman.

  • The Suit and the Photograph (Virgin 7243 5 56574 2 8)

With Michael Nyman.

With Dagmar Krause.

  • Wind in the Bamboo Grove (BMG/Catalyst 09026 681 93 2)

With Evelyn Glennie.

  • African Sunrise (Black Box BBM1051)

With Dave Heath and Evelyn Glennie.

  • Steve Lodder – bout time 2 (Sleeve SLV 5010)

With Steve Lodder.

  • Fair Oak Fusions (Sepia records RRT 1007)

With John Dankworth.

  • Piéce en forme de Habanera – Ravel (CBS MK 44800)

With the London Symphony Orchestra.

  • London Landmarks (White Line CD WHL 2138)

With Christopher Gunning.

  • Classical Jazz (EMI CDC 7 54301)

With Ute Lemper.


Universal Saxophone Edition 1982 – 88 Produced standard works of scales and arpeggios, studies, classical transcriptions and contemporary works from beginner to advanced standards.

Boosey and Hawkes John Harle Saxophone Album, John Harles Sax Album, Rachmaninov Vocalise (new edition).

Durand New Orchestration of Debussy Saxophone Rhapsodie

Chester Music See list of published works on

In preparation: The Complete Saxophone Soloist (2012–13)

External links[edit]