REVIEW: Scarborough Symphony Orchestra, Queen Street Methodist Hall

Jess Gillam and Shaun Matthew
Jess Gillam and Shaun Matthew

A record audience attended Queen Street Methodist Hall for the concert given by Scarborough Symphony Orchestra. The programme opened with Haydn’s Symphony No.104, his last, written and first performed on his visit to London in 1795; the composer’s quirky touches were underlined by the orchestra, who gave a spirited performance of the symphony.

The second half of the concert was devoted to Beethoven’s lesser-known 2nd Symphony, premiered only seven years after Haydn’s 104th, at the time when Beethoven was struggling to come to terms with his increasing deafness.

It is a hugely impressive work, full of Beethoven’s sudden changes of dynamics and unexpected harmonies. The symphony was poorly received when first performed, being compared by one critic to the death agonies of a ‘hideously writhing wounded dragon’. (One can only wonder what the first performance sounded like) All credit is due to the orchestra for tackling this challenging work so enthusiastically, and for Shaun Matthew their conductor for steering them through it so convincingly.

The bouquet of the evening, though, went (literally) to young Jess Gillam, who played Heath’s Celtic Concerto on soprano saxophone so brilliantly. The work was conceived during Heath’s time with the Scottish Ensemble during the 1990’s, and much of the music reflects the folk music of the country.

Having last year became the first saxophonist ever to win the Woodwind Final of the Young Musician of the Year, Jess, accompanied ably by the strings only, gave a compellingly dramatic performance of this unusual but very approachable work; Shaun ensured that the orchestra stayed with her sympathetically throughout.

Jess, now 18, and a student at the Royal Northern College of Music, has already been very widely acclaimed; we hope she will return to Scarborough before long.