Live music is making its cautious return to Courier Country with a series of BBC-broadcast recitals in Perth.
The Fair City’s Concert Hall is staging four days of classical performances in Radio 3’s one-off Scotland Week series — the first events with audiences at the Horsecross venue since its pandemic-enforced closure in March last year.
Saxophone prodigy Jess Gillam, piano talents Zeynep Özsuca and Alasdair Beatson, percussionist Colin Currie, composer Huw Watkins and mezzo-soprano Jess Dandy with accompanist Malcolm Martineau all feature.
For Cumbria-born Gillam, it’s a chance both to play in the same room as more than a handful of people again, while dazzling listeners who’ve taken her to their hearts since she was named the BBC’s young musician of 2016.
It’ll be her second Perth visit in weeks, after playing a streamed Scottish Chamber Orchestra concert last month.
“That was my first time there and I can’t wait to go back,” says Jess, who turns 23 on Monday.
“I went for a beautiful walk up onto the hill with the big viewpoints. I’d never been to Perth, and now two trips in the space of a couple of months. I’m going to stay over and spend some time there.”
During lockdown last year Jess recorded her latest album Time — the follow-up to her 2019 big-selling debut Rise — and also welcomed fans into her online Virtual Scratch Orchestra to perform various instrumental parts on massively popular renditions of work by David Bowie and The Beatles, plus perennial festive favourite Sleigh Ride.
“Releasing the album was quite strange because I’ve not been able to connect in person with the audience on a tour, but to turn something out during the pandemic and hopefully give people some joy was great,” she says.
“I was really shocked at the response to the virtual orchestras. I launched the project expecting maybe 50 people to fancy taking part, and on the first night I could just see hundreds of people were downloading the parts. I didn’t expect it to take off but everybody was just so hungry for that connection that music can give you, being part of something bigger and a community.
“I wanted to make it as enjoyable and accessible to as many different levels as possible, but also to reflect the times we found ourselves in at the different stages and what we were going through. It was quite an emotional thing to do and it definitely kept me busy in the first lockdown.”
Recent months have also seen ever-busy Jess — who hosts Radio 3’s This Classical Life — complete a master’s degree at London’s Guildhall School of Music.
“I was doing it before we had any of the lockdown and it was quite difficult to fit everything in,” she explains.
“I was travelling and playing so much, then the lockdown actually meant I was able to spend a bit of time on it as well as other projects. The main reason I wanted to do it was to study with John Harle, who is my saxophone teacher, because I just wanted to learn as much about the instrument as possible and improve my sound and experience as much as I could through studying as well as through performing.”
To actually be in front of an audience again and to have that live connection with people will be very emotional
Jess plays Perth after giving a recital in Barcelona last week — the first in a series of overseas concerts — and she has put together a diverse programme for Thursday’s 100-seat turn, including works by Paul Creston, Kurt Weill and Astor Piazzolla.
“To actually be in front of an audience again and to have that live connection with people will be very emotional and very special, because that’s what music is all about really,” she declares. “It’s about the sharing of it, so to be able to do that again in real life is going to be such a privilege.”
She’s excited to be travelling abroad again, albeit also slightly apprehensive given lingering safety concerns.
“I think there’s an extra level of added pressure in a way,” adds Jess. “It feels like music’s even more of a gift, so you want to leave the audience feeling moved more than ever.”
- Tickets for next week’s concerts (Tuesday to Friday, 1pm) are on sale at horsecross.co.uk