Jess Gillam is something of a phenomenon: at the age of 21 she has brought the saxophone to new prominence through concerts and media appearances; putting huge energy into support for other young musicians (and a vast array of music) through her Radio3 programmes; and working determinedly to bring talent to festivals at her hometown of Ulverston.
James Baillieu on piano is a superb, attentive accompanist as we heard this evening, as well as a deeply accomplished soloist, as witnessed by his own serial-prizewinning career. The two of them appeared on the musical stage with extraordinary assurance, determined to share and explore rather than simply perform.
Like just about everything either of these musicians does, this was a tremendously varied recital that explored everything from scintillating, startling shows of technique, to soulful and meditative passages that enhanced the perception of what the pairing of piano and sax could achieve.
We were treated to Poulenc, Weill and Marcello, as well as works by Jess’ tutor John Harle and others - but spanning the sixteenth to twenty-first centuries. A Dowland piece, which she has recorded and recreated in other forms, sounded as though it must have been written for the sax and piano - it was extraordinary how it fit the context.
Before the Piazzolla ‘Tango’ pieces, Jess suggested that if we were overcome by the instinct to dance we should do so - though nobody gave in on this occasion! She meant it though - the invitation was an eloquent expression of her approach to music performance - enthusiasm and engagement rather than just a presentation of something separate and venerable.
In all of this she was enabled and supported expertly and sensitively by James Baillieu who not infrequently performed the role of a full orchestral accompaniment with his piano.
A telling aspect of this evening’s concert was the number of young people - 9 year olds and up - who attended, engaged with the performance, and came to see Jess Gillam after the concert, having photos taken with her and having real conversations about their own explorations in music. That surely counts for a great deal.