Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert

1 March 2017

As I wrote here in May 2016, from his first appearance in the BBC Young Musician 2016 strings final it was clear that 'cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason was going to win the whole competition. But, in the end, he was run very close by the first saxophone player ever to reach the final. 17-year-old Jess Gillam, from Ulverston in Cumbria, gave a remarkably charismatic performance of 'Where the Bee Dances' by Michael Nyman in the concerto final at The Barbican in London. She was a fascinating performer to watch and the TV coverage gave a good impression of her infectiously enthusiastic personality – on and off the stage. So the prospect of Jess Gillam joining us to play a concerto with the Northampton Symphony Orchestra last Saturday at Christ Church in Northampton was really exciting. Even our first rehearsal with Jess last Wednesday was a joy – you could have heard a pin drop as we listened to her mesmerising solo opening of the slow movement. ‘Escapades’ by John Williams is a three movement concerto for saxophone and orchestra, based on his music for the 2002 Steven Spielberg film ‘Catch Me If You Can’. Its 1960s jazz feel gave an opportunity for excellent solos by Matt Jackson on double-bass and Liam Halloran on vibraphone, but there was no doubting who the star was. Jess Gillam was amazing – she made the virtuoso demands of the piece appear easy and was completely compelling to watch. It was a thrilling performance. In fact the whole concert was really interesting and enjoyable. NSO conductor John Gibbons had constructed an unusual and intriguing programme. We opened with ‘Pines of Rome’ by Respighi – a fiendishly challenging piece which featured a beautiful off-stage trumpet solo by Nick Bunker, an incredibly assured clarinet solo in the slow, third movement by Naomi Muller and a brilliant ending to the finale with impressive off-stage brass from the six-player ‘buccini’. The second half of the concert started with the lovely ‘Pavane in F-sharp minor’ by Faure with a gorgeous flute solo from Graham Tear. And, continuing our season of fifth symphonies, we finished the concert with ‘Symphony No 5 (The Heroic)’ by Alexander Glazunov. Like most of the orchestra (and our audience) I had never heard this symphony before we started rehearsing it but I really enjoyed it. It’s a lively, tuneful work with similarities to the symphonies of Tchaikovsky and the furious finale was a thrilling conclusion to a great concert. To cap a wonderful evening, John Gibbons announced that Jess Gillam is to return to Northampton in July to play with the NSO again in our summer concert for the Friends of the Orchestra – a very good reason to become a Friend!

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