Bienen School of Music alumnus Steven Banks ’17 MMus has been awarded a $25,000 Avery Fisher Career Grant. He is the first saxophonist in history to receive this honor.

Steven Banks and Taimur Sullivan

Awarded by the Avery Fisher Artist Program, the prestigious grant provides professional assistance and recognition to talented instrumentalists who have great potential for major careers. Other winners for 2022 are violinist Randall Goosby, percussionist Ji Su Jung, pianist Mackenzie Melemed, and cellist Jonathan Swensen.

The recipients were celebrated at a special award ceremony and performance at WQXR's Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in New York City on Tuesday, March 22. A recording of the event is available online.

Photo (right): Steven Banks and Northwestern professor of saxophone Taimur Sullivan at the March 22 award ceremony.

Since 1976, 166 Avery Fisher Career Grants have been awarded. Former recipients include pianists Jonathan Biss and Yuja Wang; violinists Augustin Hadelich and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg; flutist Demarre McGill; cellist Alisa Weilerstein; and the Calidore String Quartet. JACK Quartet—with Bienen alumnus Austin Wulliman ’08 MMus—won a grant in 2019. Dover Quartet, the Bienen School’s Quartet-in-Residence, received the award in 2017.

About Steven Banks

Recognized for his “deeply felt lyricism” and “expert shaping of a dramatic arc” (Cleveland Classical), Steven Banks is an ambassador for the classical saxophone. He is establishing himself as both a compelling and charismatic soloist, dedicated to showcasing the vast capabilities of the instrument, and an advocate for expanding its repertoire.

Recent highlights include John Adams' Saxophone Concerto under the direction of Peter Oundjian with the Colorado Symphony and appearing on subscription concerts with the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall, performing Philip Glass’ Façades under the baton of John Adams. In the 2022-23 season, Banks will premiere and perform a new saxophone concerto, written for him by Grammy Award-winning pianist/composer Billy Childs, with the Kansas City Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Chautauqua Institution, and the Aspen Music Festival and School. 

Banks is the first saxophonist to earn a place on the Young Concert Artists roster in its 60-year history, capturing first prize at the 2019 Young Concert Artists International Auditions. Last season, his critically acclaimed recital debut was streamed from Merkin Concert Hall and co-sponsored by Washington Performing Arts, featuring world premieres by Carlos Simon, Saad Haddad, and one of Banks’ own compositions.

Banks is an advocate for diversity and inclusion in music education, performance, and newly commissioned works in the classical realm. He gave a talk at the TEDxNorthwesternU 2017 conference presenting an approach to dismantling institutionalized prejudices against women and people of color. He co-created the Learning to Listen roundtable, a discussion on the nuances of the Black experience in classical music and beyond. In partnership with the Sphinx Organization, he also co-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 is assistant professor of saxophone at Ithaca College and previously served on faculty at the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory. He earned a master’s degree from the Bienen School of Music under the tutelage of Taimur Sullivan. He also holds a bachelor’s degree from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

Programming note: On Friday, May 27, 2022 the Northwestern University Saxophone Ensemble will present the world premiere of a work by Banks. Learn more

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