As a performer and composer, saxophonist Steven Banks is striving to bring his instrument to the heart of the classical music world. He is driven to program and write music that directly addresses aspects of the human experience and is an active and intentional supporter of diverse voices in the future of concert music. Rick Perdian of Seen and Heard International has said “one senses that Banks has the potential to be one of the transformational musicians of the twenty-first century.”
Banks is establishing himself as a compelling and charismatic soloist and in 2022, he was awarded the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant and was a chosen artist for WQXR’s Artist Propulsion Lab. He was the first saxophonist to be awarded First Prize at the Young Concert Artists Susan Wadsworth International Auditions. Critics have consistently recognized Banks for his warm yet glowing tone, well-crafted and communicative musical expression and deft technical abilities.
Banks has appeared with The Cleveland Orchestra, Montreal Symphony, Utah Symphony, Colorado Symphony, Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and Aspen Festival Orchestra and has enjoyed working with such conductors as Franz Welser-Most, Xian Zhang, Nicholas McGegan, Rafael Payare, John Adams, Peter Oundjian, Jahja Ling, Matthias Pintscher, Alain Altinoglu and Roderick Cox.Read more
In recital, he has appeared across the USA at the San Francisco Symphony’s Spotlight Series at Davies Hall, Merkin Hall, The Kennedy Center, The Kravis Center and Festival Napa Valley with his collaborative partner, pianist Xak Bjerken. A keen chamber musician, Banks has appeared at Spoleto Festival USA, Chamber Music Chicago and the Aspen Music Festival, and will be the first artist-in-residence of the Skaneateles Festival in the 2023-2024 season. He has collaborated with the Borromeo and St. Lawrence string quartets and will work with the Dover and Verona quartets in the coming seasons. He is a founding member of the Kenari Quartet, an all-saxophone ensemble that performs regularly together offering inspiring and uplifting compositions and arrangements. As baritone saxophonist of Kenari, Steven won First Prize at the inaugural M-Prize Chamber Arts Competition and has garnered two silver medals from the Fischoff Chamber Music Competition. Their album, French Saxophone Quartets, was released in 2016 on the Naxos label.
In 2023 and 2024 Banks will premiere and tour with a commissioned concerto from Grammy-winning composer Billy Childs. The nine co-commissioning orchestras are the Kansas City Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Aspen Music Festival, Chautauqua Institution, New World Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra and San Diego Symphony with Young Concert Artists being the tenth partner in the consortium. The three movement, 20 minute concerto will explore aspects of the African American experience in America and takes inspiration from such poets as Nayyirah Waheed, Claude McKay and Maya Angelou.
As a composer, Banks has been commissioned by such organizations as Young Concert Artists, WQXR’s Artist Propulsion Lab, Latitude 49, Yale University’s Project 14 Initiative and Northwestern University’s Saxophone Ensemble. Jarrett Hoffman of Cleveland Classical has said that his music showcases “a unique and ambitious blend of feelings and sounds” and portrays “a deep intimacy” and “a sense of vulnerability.” His work for alto saxophone and string quartet, Cries, Sighs and Dreams, was premiered in May 2022 at Carnegie Hall with the Borromeo Quartet. His work for solo piano, Fantasy on Recurring Daydreams, will be premiered by Zhu Wang in April 2023. Banks’ works are published by Murphy Music Press.
An advocate for diversity and inclusion in music education and performance, Banks was part of the TEDx NorthwesternU 2017 conference presenting his dynamic approach to overcoming institutionalised prejudices against women and people of colour. In addition, he has written about and given lectures on the history of black classical composers. In collaboration with Anthony Trionfo and Randall Goosby, the Learning to Listen roundtable was created to discuss the nuances of the Black experience in classical music and beyond. In partnership with the Sphinx Organisation, they also created the Illuminate! series, which opened three essential conversations on the subject of music education, artist activism and the LGBTQIA+ community in classical music.
Banks serves as a visiting faculty member at the Cleveland Institute of Music and holds the Jackie McLean Fellowship at the University of Hartford. He was previously Assistant Professor of Saxophone at both Ithaca College and the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory. His own primary saxophone teachers have been Taimur Sullivan, Otis Murphy Jr. and Galvin Crisp. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, as well as a Master of Music degree from the Northwestern University Bienen School of Music.
Banks is an endorsing artist for Conn-Selmer instruments, D’Addario Woodwinds, lefreQue Sound Solutions and Key Leaves.
“Banks’ tone is difficult to describe, easy to enjoy, and at all times pleasing — unusually mellifluous for the saxophone, which, when handled carelessly, tends to sound like an enraged goose. But, with the tone he extracts so consistently from this instrument, Banks could play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and people would be rapt.”
“Steven Banks all but stole the show…He proved to be a remarkably nimble saxophonist who not only played his instrument with pristine clarity and enviable precision but knew how to add emotional heat to his interpretation.”
“The Concerto for Alto Saxophone, written in 1944, enabled Banks to exude plenty of energy in the first movement, labeled “Energetic,” and to show off in a demanding cadenza. In the second movement, marked “Meditative,” his music-making turned mellow and dreamy. And when the “Rhythmic” final movement came along, Banks let the fingers flutter and flash in bravura fashion. He dazzled, and those who came to listen cheered.”
“Of the many recitals that I have attended, a few have left indelible memories. Makoto Nakura’s electrifying New York debut recital in 1995 is one of them. He was the first marimbist to win the Young Concert Artists International Auditions. Another is now on that list, also courtesy of YCA: Steven Banks, the first saxophonist to win the prestigious competition.”
“ The larger point is that Steven Banks’ tremendous facility on all four varieties of the saxophone — the soprano and baritone saxophone as well as the more common alto sax and tenor sax — is matched by his incisive curiosity about expanding the classical field via his own compositions, collaborations, and verbal communication skills.”
“The suavest offering was by Steven Banks. Out of the few notes that comprise Philip Glass’s “Facades,” the saxophonist wove a spellbinding aria. The mellow, mournful line of his soprano sax soared over a gently throbbing orchestra, changing colors with every harmonic shift and bewitching listeners like the flute of a snake charmer.”
“The impressive saxophonist Steven Banks created miracles again thanks to a breathtaking technique, poetic musicality and a soft and seductive instrumental sound.”
“The concert was mainly an opportunity to discover a very talented performer, the American saxophonist Steven Banks. What an elegant artist! A beautiful and soft sound, ease in all registers and an impeccable, sharp, and finely chiseled technique.”
PAN 360 (Montréal)