By Michael Meadowcroft
Last week prize winning saxophonist, Jess Gilliam, brought her BBC Radio Three show “This Classical Life: Live” to the Old Woollen performance space at Sunny Bank Mills in Farsley.
No mention of “Farsley” for the Radio Three audience however – it was just “Leeds” every time the venue was mentioned! The atmosphere was informal, not least with the bar remaining open throughout the evening.
Quite apart from being a virtuoso saxophone performer, and the only such instrumentalist to reach the final of the BBC Young Musician contest, she has a very attractive and typically northern personality which certainly came over to the Farsley audience in her introductions to the different pieces and guests.
Jess was performing with a slimmed-down BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, which just managed to squeeze itself into the Old Woollen. The musicians performed a great deal of challenging modern music under the baton of Manchester-trained Ellie Slorach.
The programme was dominated by new music and young composers, which is the main purpose of Jess Gillam’s BBC Radio Three series.
However she opened the concert on alto sax with Darious Milhaud’s popular Brazileira from his Scaramouche suite, before we were plunged into a series of contemporary pieces, one of which rather wasted what was clearly a fine soprano voice by requiring squeaks and strangulated cries.
Jess returned to the classical repertoire with the last movement of Alessandsro’s Oboe concerto but played on the soprano sax – the two instruments having almost exactly the same range.
The second half began with a warm gentle Orcadian, Erland Cooper, whose music echoed his personality and included a rather idiosyncratic arrangement of Peter Maxwell Davies’ Farewell to Stromness.
The orchestra was given a chance to do its own thing with a splendid performance of the first movement of Bartok’s Divertimento for Strings.
The concert ended with two pieces composed by a young Australian-Taiwanese pianist, Belle Chen, who combined the concert grand piano with eerie sounds from an electronic piano.
The general audience view was that it had been a very pleasant experience, even if some of the pieces did not exactly lend themselves to being whistled!