Kenneth Wilkinson trained as a classical clarinettist at the Leeds College of Music
in the 1980s, at the same time pursuing his love of jazz as a jazz saxophonist. After graduation he embarked on what might now be called a 'portfolio' career.
The classical side of his playing career involved giving solo recitals, performing with wind quintets and touring with opera companies; the well trodden route of most classical musicians. He joined the National Festival Orchestra
, staying with that ensemble for twenty-seven years, playing regularly at major venues in the UK (including the Royal Albert Hall, Birmingham Symphony Hall, Manchester Bridgewater Hall, Philharmonic Hall, The Sage and Sheffield Arena). He has performed numerous times at the Edinburgh Festival
, the Bromsgrove Festival
, the Buxton International G&S Festival
, and the Opera in the Park
His fascination with jazz led to the pursuit of various projects alongside his classical performance work: leading a jazz quartet based on the work of the jazz clarinettist Buddy De Franco, travelling across Europe as the alto saxophone player in the Without Words big band, and numerous performances collaborating with various jazz ensembles.
The commercial side to his career involved many hours sitting in studios playing whatever was placed in front of him, usually involving the entire saxophone family, clarinets, flutes and piccolo. Kenneth recorded performances on the BBC, ITV and German (Nordrhein-Westfalen) TV networks, and also on BBC Radio.
He spent more time than he should have working in theatre orchestras around the UK (including 'The Good Old Days' theatre the City Varieties, and the London Palladium), also working with dance and drama companies including the Northern Dance Company.
He has recorded nine CDs of various genres, and worked with luminaries such as Lesley Garrett CBE and Sir Tim Rice. His recordings range from small jazz ensembles, to orchestral recordings, a production of Bellas
: a new musical theatre show, and being the saxophonist on Authority
(2017) by the band Mothlights
. His most recent recording is Nine Pieces for Five Players
(2019) by saxophonist and composer Richard Ingham
In 2012 Kenneth decided upon a complete change of direction with a view to focusing on classical saxophone. He joined the University of Huddersfield
to undertake a degree in performance. It was there he met the classical saxophone teacher Sarah Markham
. He graduated with a First Class honours degree in Music Performance and Composition, also being awarded the Chancellor’s Prize
for outstanding achievement, and the William’s Prize for Woodwind. During his time at the University of Huddersfield Kenneth began composing for saxophone, encouraged and inspired by Dr Richard Glover
and Dr Bryn Harrison
He went on to complete a Masters by Research (music), investigating the 'shared imaginings' of composers and performers. This included discussions of notational prescription, culture, and the expectations placed upon the performer, with a focus on French classical saxophone.
In his new musical life he has performed numerous times in the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival
(HMCF), working with James Weekes (EXAUDI), Antoine Beuger (Wandelweiser group), Philip Corner (composer), and the Edges ensemble.
His renaissance continues as he focuses on saxophone performance and composition. He performs regularly, including recent recitals at the World Saxophone Congress
in 2015 (Strasbourg), 2018 (Croatia), the Swindon Recital Series
, and at the Greek International Festival
(2018). Kenneth’s compositions are performed internationally, including performances at the World Saxophone Congress, University Purdue Fort Wayne USA, University of Huddersfield and the Royal College of Music (London).
He is a founder member, alongside his partner Sarah Markham, of Quirk
: an ensemble that explores French classical saxophone, contemporary music, jazz, and the fusion of those genres. Quirk consists of a duo (Sarah and Kenneth), a quartet (adding Sarah Hind on baritone and Chris Jolly on tenor), and a quintet (featuring a guest soloist).
The Quirk Duo
performs regularly including recent performances at the International Saxophone Festival (Greece), Hull City of Culture celebration, Leeds College of Music and the University of Huddersfield.
The Quirk Saxophone Quartet
performs internationally, often with guest soloists, recently including Jérôme Laran
(France), Lynn Klock
(USA), Philippe Geiss
(France), Richard Ingham
(UK), Claude Delangle
(France) and Stathis Mavrommatis