This week, we are delighted to be joined by the hugely talented saxophonist Jess Gillam for an online performance of Gavin Bryars' The Green Ray. We caught up with Jess to ask a few questions about the piece and how it feels to be working with the Orchestra for the first time.
This concert will mark your debut with the SCO. Is there anything about working with a chamber orchestra that you're particularly excited about?
I'm so excited to meet and work with the SCO! Their passion and vivacity combined with their generous spirit and boldness is extremely inspiring.
When working with a chamber orchestra, I love the heightened sense of dialogue and connection to all of the players.
Bryars uses the soprano saxophone rather like a voice and he optimises the expressive, soulful potential of the soprano saxophone and it soars over the most beautifully rich orchestral textures.
Gavin Bryars' The Green Ray is a new piece for the Orchestra and maybe to some of our audiences. Can you tell us a little bit about why you chose this piece and how you first connected with it?
The first piece I heard by Gavin Bryars was his most famous – Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet – and I became fascinated by his music. Bryars uses the soprano saxophone rather like a voice and he optimises the expressive, soulful potential of the soprano saxophone and it soars over the most beautifully rich orchestral textures.
I discovered The Green Ray when I was about 12 years old. The piece is inspired by The Green Ray, by Jules Verne – a novel named after the optical phenomenon and is set in the Outer Hebrides. A young couple vow to experience the magical effects of the Green Ray (doing so will supposedly seal their love) but their attempts are constantly interrupted by nature!
Your music crosses over many different genres. Does this then inform your approach to classical repertoire?
I first started playing saxophone at the Barracudas Carnival Arts Centre when I was seven. We played samba inspired music and some pop music and everything was about joy and about communication. I came to classical music much later and I've always been influenced by many different styles. Ultimately, I think that great music is great music, whatever the genre, and the most important thing is that we have a reaction to it emotionally and maybe also intellectually, physically and mentally.
Ultimately, I think that great music is great music, whatever the genre, and the most important thing is that we have a reaction to it emotionally and maybe also intellectually, physically and mentally.
At the end of last year you released your album, TIME, and created a 'Virtual Scratch Orchestra.' How have these helped you as a solo artist, at a time when you don't have the interaction of an orchestra and live audience?
For me, music is all about people! People uniting, people sharing and people listening. I recorded my album before lockdown and it was one of the best communal music-making experiences of my life. Right now, we all need some hope and light, and music making can bring that in abundance.