Saxophonist and broadcaster Jess Gillam has been touring John Harle’s concerto for saxophone Briggflatts, along with other works by the composer. Gillam premiered Briggflatts in 2019. On 10 and 11 June this year she gave performances of the 21-minute piece at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham and Salisbury, with the Hallé Orchestra and Bath Philharmonia respectively. In April she performed Briggflatts at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall and the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland conducted by Kerem Hasan.
Briggflatts is inspired by an epic autobiographical poem by Basil Bunting (1900-1985). The title comes from the name of the Brigflatts Quaker meeting house near Sedbergh in Cumbria, which Bunting attended regularly; its Cumbrian locale is also a tribute to Gillam, the piece’s dedicatee, who is from the area.
Briggflatts is the title of an epic autobiographical poem by Basil Bunting and is the inspiration for this work for Jess Gillam. The final section of the three-part concerto, ‘RANT!’, uses a trumpet tune called the ‘The Ulverston Volunteers’ – Ulverston is Gillam’s hometown.
“On re-reading the poem”, Harle writes of the piece, “I was attracted to the idea of a ‘suite’ for Jess Gillam as it allows for independent movements to parallel the episodic, disparate and seasonal sections of the poetry…I wrote 'Flare' and 'Garsdale' after long sessions of piano improvisation in direct response to the poetry, whereas 'Rant!' was written as a fantasy on Cumbrian folk music directly.” RANT! draws on Cumbrian folk tunes sourced from Ed Heslam’s unique folk music resource 'Music of Cumberland and Westmorland', as well as several tunes composed by Heslam himself.
Gillam and her group the Jess Gillam Ensemble have also toured Harle’s Flare in recent months, a 10-minute arrangement of the opening movement of Briggflatts for saxophone and mixed ensemble. May saw them play venues in Bath, Augsburg, and St. David’s; June saw Flare performed at Wigmore Hall, at Benenden in Kent, and in Hannover. In July Flare was performed in Southwold and at the Buxton Festival.
Harle has been teacher and mentor to Gillam since the burgeoning days of her career as a soloist, something reflected in her longstanding interest in performing Harle’s music. Recently she has also been touring Harle’s RANT!, the final movement of Briggflatts, in the versions for string orchestra with the Manchester Camerata and in recital with piano. Performances have taken place in Perth, Oxford, Nottingham, and London’s Barbican. On 18 October Gillam will play RANT! as part of her Carnegie Hall debut.