Jess Gillam delighted to perform at Petworth Festival

If the pandemic has brought one thing into focus for classical saxophonist Jess Gillam, it’s the sheer power of music in our communities.

Jess Gillam by Robin Clewley
Jess Gillam by Robin Clewley

Jess is delighted to be back on the concert stage with two dates at this year’s Petworth Festival with concerts at 5pm and 8pm on Thursday, July 15 in St Mary’s Church, marking the first-ever tour of her youthful seven-piece Jess Gillam Ensemble.

“This past year has been very difficult for everybody across the world, but for performers not to be able to be in front of a live audience, to feed off that vibe, to enjoy that spontaneous exchange of ideas really has been very very tough. I have tried in different ways to do things digitally, and the technology is brilliant, but it can never replace actually being there in the room with the audience. Nothing can beat that actual live experience.”

But Jess kept busy nonetheless, with a series of highly successful scratch orchestra projects which attracted more than 2,000 people.

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    “It was about finding something to bring people together and I didn’t expect so many people to take part. It was great. I think there was a real need, especially from young people, to have music in their lives and to feel part of something bigger. You think back to those musical experiences you had at school, playing together. They are the best experiences.”

    As for performances now, Jess counts herself as one of the lucky ones: “I had have quite a few live concerts now in front of an audience. I have got a really busy season coming up, but it has been a bitter-sweet experience as well when I think of my colleagues and friends who still can’t work and of the fact that some have actually left the profession.

    “I do think there is still a nervousness because of everything that has happened, but there is also an overriding palpable sense of gratitude and relief… a huge relief.

    “I think the pandemic has made me much more aware of the role of music in society and of the good that music does in society, of the power to inspire people and to bring them together. Music can be solace for people in difficult times. It can also inspire them and uplift them. I think I am much more aware of the way that music can amplify our emotions. It can be a very powerful tool… and not being able stand in front of people to perform and to share music was very hard.”

    It’s with her ensemble that Jess will be playing in Petworth (saxophones – Jess Gillam; violin – Roberts Balanas; violin – Michael Jones; viola – Eoin Schmidt-Martin; cello – Gabriella Swallow; bass – Sam Becker; percussion – Elsa Bradley; and piano – Leif Kaner-Lidstrom).

    “And this is our first live tour. We recorded an album just a few weeks before the first lockdown last year. It was at that stage in February where we didn’t think that it was all going to hit the UK and we were a bit oblivious to it all. We were in the studio recording the album and it was one of the most exciting experiences I have ever had. It was great. They are a mixture of friends and musical colleagues. The album came out in October last year. It was strange to put an album out and not to be able to play it live!”