Jess Photo Shoot 117

Who or what inspired you to take up the saxophone and pursue a career in music? 

When I was 7 years old, I went to the Barracudas Carnival Arts Centre with my Dad as he was teaching drums and percussion. In the room next door to him, there happened to be a saxophone workshop and I decided to try it. I picked it up, made a sound and immediately fell in love with the instrument. I haven’t looked back since!

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career? 

I take inspiration from many different saxophonists (and musicians) from hugely different genres. My saxophone role models are Barbara Thompson, Rob Buckland, John Harle and I love the music of King Curtis and Snake Davis’ solos. A family friend first introduced me to the music of Barbara Thompson when I was about 12 and ever since then I have really looked up to Barbara. As well as being such a fantastic musician, she is also such a determined and creative person and this has had a influenced me very much.   

Whenever I am in need of musical inspiration, I listen to Pee Wee Ellis’ solo on the live version Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey. The way he combines rhythm, melody, harmony and feeling is something I greatly aspire to.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

It has taken me a long time to realise that I am never going to be able to give a performance that I am completely happy with and that this is part of the beauty of exploring music. 

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my performance of Michael Nyman’s ‘Where the Bee Dances’ in the BBC Young Musician Final 2016. I had never before been quite as focussed and immersed in the music and that feeling is unforgettable.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season? 

I love the versatility and dynamism of the saxophone. It can convey so many different emotions, just like the voice can, and one minute you can be making a hugely powerful, aggressive sound and the next you can be floating the sound and singing out a beautiful, delicate melody, and I try to reflect this as much as possible when choosing repertoire. I try and include repertoire that I can really connect with so that hopefully audiences can enjoy it as much as I do.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? 

I don’t have a particular favourite concert venue; I love performing and would perform anywhere! However, the first stage I ever performed on was the Coronation Hall in Ulverston when I was 9 years old. Since then, I have had so many unforgettable performance experiences on that stage and it always feels like home.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

One of my favourite pieces to perform just has to be ‘Where the Bee Dances’, the concerto I performed in the BBC Young Musician Final.  The piece begins with the most beautiful chords and the perfectly paced build to the very last note is something that requires my whole being to concentrate and be completely consumed by the music.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Creative musicians who manage to convey intense emotion to an audience hugely inspire me. David Bowie is one of my all time favourite musicians as is John Harle. They are both such artistic people who have written music that resonates with so many people.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

One of my most memorable concert experiences is making a guest appearance with Jools Holland and his R+B Orchestra. I had absolutely no idea what we were going to play until 5minutes before stepping on stage. This made me quite anxious but once we had started playing, I couldn’t have been happier.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

I think to enjoy music is the most important piece of advice I have been given. It makes the hours of practice an absolute joy if you are enjoying being inquisitive, determined and passionate about attempting to master an instrument! Aiming to convey a personal interpretation of a piece of music is also important I think. Music is one of the most powerful forms of communication and can be used to say an incredible amount.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

I would love to be regularly performing across the world!

What is your most treasured possession?

Most definitely my saxophones – I don’t know what I would do without them!

18 year old saxophonist Jess Gillam from Ulverston, Cumbria, began playing saxophone 11 years ago, aged 7.

Jess made history as the first ever saxophonist to win the Woodwind Final of BBC Young Musician of the Year and after competing in the Semi Final, she reached the Grand Final where she performed a concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at London’s Barbican to critical acclaim.

Jess was also recently awarded Musician of the Year at the Cumbria Culture Awards presented by Melvyn Bragg. She has a busy performance schedule and has made a guest appearance with Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra and has performed as a concerto soloist with the Worthing Symphony Orchestra (in the same series as Nicola Benedetti, Emma Johnson and Julian Bliss). Upcoming concerto highlights include performances with the Southbank Sinfonia and the Northern Chamber Orchestra.

Recently, Jess was the youngest of 2,600 delegates to perform at the World Saxophone Congress in Strasbourg. She performed a recital consisting entirely of world premieres by some of the world’s leading saxophonists: Barbara Thompson, John Harle and Rob Buckland as well as one of her own compositions.

Read more about Jess on her website

Who or what inspired you to take up the horn and pursue a career in music?

I started to play the cello at five years old as both my parents were professional string players and it seemed like the right thing to do. When I was six years old, I was diagnosed with the lung condition Bronchiectasis and this led to the decision that maybe taking up a brass instrument (with the added element of deep breathing!) would be a great way to strengthen my lungs. From there it was a case of playing in various orchestras, ensembles and listening to famous horn players which made me realise that pursuing a career in music was definitely the way forward for me.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My teacher at the Royal College of Music Junior Department, Sue Dent, was absolutely incredible for me in terms of developing as a musician both with and without the instrument. I studied with her for almost eight years before my idol, Radek Baborak, of whom I had listened to almost every recording and watched every YouTube video of, invited me to study with him in Berlin at the Barenboim-Said Academy. Aside from horn players, I was always very interested in the artistry of Rostropovich and listening to recordings made at a time before it was possible to edit them to perfection. This raw energy is something I really admire.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I think an on-going challenge and a challenge I will have for the rest of my career is to convince first the management and organisational side to music, then the wonderful audiences that the horn should be held in high regard as a solo instrument!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Performing in the Brass Category Final of the BBC Young Musician Competition for me was the single most enjoyable musical experience of my life. I had dreamt about being on that stage for years and had really prepared every single note of my programme as well as physically possible. To be rewarded with such an incredible response from both the live audience and then the people watching at home was just amazing.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I think when it comes to very technically difficult and abstract contemporary music, I really enjoy taking the time to figure out the puzzle and think that it is an area of music where I feel most at ease performing.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

As a young soloist, I tend to accept any invitation I get to play and more often than not, promoters already have a piece or programme in mind. Now and then it is possible to make requests and here I try and add concertos that people very rarely play and are most likely unknown to the audience.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I recently played in the KKL Concert Hall in Lucerne, Switzerland and before even stepping foot inside the unbelievable hall, had fallen in love with the town.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

One of my favourite pieces to perform is the Franz Strauss Nocturne for Horn and Piano. It is really quite cheesy but so satisfying to play and allows you to really express yourself to the audience. To listen to…will always be the Goldberg Variations by J.S Bach.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have many favourite musicians both dead and alive! I think my teacher, Radek Baborak, is quite an extraordinary musician as is Daniel Barenboim and I am also fascinated by the wonderful percussionist Martin Grubinger.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My debut at the Royal Albert Hall with the English Festival Orchestra was by far, for me, the most special concert I have ever been involved with. To walk out to a completely sold out RAH, with sound coming from all sides was just incredible. And then to see the audience’s faces light up with the Rondo of the third movement from Mozart’s 4th Horn Concerto was really special.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I think that something that is quite seriously overlooked in aspiring musicians and certainly something I overlooked is the simple fact that people should be in music and study music to enjoy it. The profession is too difficult anyway so at least enjoy making the music!

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Easier said than done but I would love to be in a position where I was performing concertos with orchestras all over the world!

Nominated by the Barbican as an ECHO Rising Star, during the 2021/22 season Ben gives recitals at major concert halls including the Concertgebouw, Musikverein, Elbphilharmonie and Köln Philharmonie, including an especially commissioned new work by Mark Simpson. 

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The BBC’s biennial Young Musician competition reached its thrilling climax in an absorbing, nail-biting and inspirational final concert at London’s Barbican on Sunday 15th May and I was privileged to be a member of the audience for this wonderful celebration of shared music making.

In the nearly 40 years since it was founded, the prestigious competition to find the nation’s top young classical talent has become something of a national treasure. It has “discovered” many fine musicians, including Nicholas Daniel (oboe), Emma Johnson (clarinet), Freddy Kempf (piano), Guy Johnston (cello), Jennifer Pike (violin) and Benjamin Grosvenor  (piano), to name but a very few, and continues to inspire and support aspiring young musicians. The programme also regularly poses important questions about child prodigies, the hot-housing of talented children, private education, specialist music schools and music education in the UK, but fundamentally the competition emphasises the joy and pleasure that music brings to those who play it, engage with it and listen to it. This was particularly evident at the Barbican on the afternoon of the final where there were activities for eager young musicians of all ages and abilities ahead of the final concert and during the intervals.

In the old days, when I watched the programme avidly as a teenage piano student (frustrated that I was never quite good enough to enter the competition), it was all rather wooden, cringeworthy, and geeky. In recent years, the programme has had a glitzy makeover and now bears more than a passing resemblance to shows like Britain’s Got Talent and The Voice, though the format remains the same with talented young people competing in instrumental categories (keyboard, woodwind, brass, strings and percussion) to be selected for the semi-final and then the grand final. In a neat piece of continuity, Clemency Burton-Hill, daughter of the competition’s co-creator Humphrey Burton, was presenter of this year’s television coverage and final concert.

This year’s finalists were French horn player Ben Goldscheider (18), saxophonist Jess Gillam (17) and cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason (17). All the category finals revealed some incredibly talented and dedicated young musicians, and what I found most reassuring was that all the young people involved in the competition expressed a real passion for their music. I am a firm believer that if one does not love it – whether one is a professional or amateur musician – there is little point in doing it! The range of instruments played and repertoire performed begs the question of how one chooses between one young musician and another because each instrument and its repertories presents its own unique technical, artistic and emotional challenges. In the final stages of the competition, technical mastery of one’s instrument is a given, and in the end the judgement comes down to aspects such as communication, stage presence and musicality. All three young finalists displayed these qualities in spades in their individual and very distinctive performances.

It is very hard to go first, and I felt Ben Goldscheider  was quite nervous. The French horn does not lend imageitself to much physical movement or gestures on stage., but his performance of Richard Strauss’s Horn Concerto no. 2 displayed concentration, fine intonation and a clear purpose.

cge-pcrwcaeji00Jess Gillam, a finalist in the 2014 competition, bounded onto the stage and mesmerized us in silver sequined leggings and Michael Nyman’s Where the Bee Dances. Her stage presence is charismatic, infectiously extrovert, and highly expressive – as is her sound which ranged from vibrant and imaginative to haunting and delicate. She was assured and very comfortable on stage, interacting enthusiastically with the orchestra and lifting the sound out of her instrument and into the audience. At just 17 she has already had a good deal of performing experience and this came across very clearly in her confident, colourful and technically assured playing

From his first notes of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto no. 1 Sheku Kanneh-Mason was authoritative, thoughtful and totally committed. This music is a sophisticated choice for a teenager and Sheku rose to the technical and emotional challenges presented by Shostakovich’s music with an impressive maturity and musical insight. His modesty, evident throughout the competition, allowed him to stand back from the music and the resulting performance was intense and highly-charged.

While the jury were deliberating we were treated to a lively and witty performance of the first movement of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto no. 3 by the 2014 winner, pianist Martin James Bartlett.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason (photo: BBC)

Sheku Kanneh-Mason was awarded the top prize, but ultimately all three finalists are winners: to have reached the final of this competition is a credit to their dedication, passion and commitment to their music, and through this experience they all have the potential to be huge role models for a younger generation. Ben, Jess and Sheku are enormously talented, down-to-earth and likeable (all three attend state schools), and one hopes that they are given the opportunity to inspire young people from all walks of life to engage with and explore the wonders of classical music.


(This is a longer version of an article first published on I am grateful to my friend and piano teaching colleague Rebecca Singerman-Knight for her input, and her company at the final).


pianist Lucy Parham (© Sven Arnstein)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career? 

Originally, my Mum inspired me to play. She was a keen amateur pianist and there was always music in the house. One of my earliest memories is of her practising for her diplomas and strains of beautiful Chopin and Beethoven sending me off to sleep at night.

I always wanted to be a musician, or, more to the point, I could never have imagined not having music in my life. When I was 18 I was the Piano Winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year and things just progressed gradually from there. I was at the Guildhall but I began to do a lot of professional engagements.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing? 

Since I was a child I had a profound love for the music of Robert Schumann. Looking back, he seems an unlikely candidate for an eight year old but I felt something spoke to me. As if it was a voice I understood. And I still feel that – although who knows whether my instincts are right, of course! It’s not just the piano music – it is his entire output. I only have to hear the opening of the 4th Symphony and I’m off! Brahms has a pretty similar effect on me.

Pianistically, I have always been inspired by Richard Goode and Mitsuko Uchida. I heard Richard Goode at the Wigmore Hall in June playing the last three Beethoven sonatas. It was a revelatory concert and something I shall always remember.

 What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

I think everything is a challenge. Performing in itself is the greatest challenge. But all the organising of concerts, learning repertoire, writing scripts, practising, travelling. It all takes it out of you, emotionally.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?  

My recent performance of Rêverie (with actor Henry Goodman) at the Wigmore Hall was a very happy occasion, as was touring the USA with the Schumann Concerto, conductor Barry Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra. And last year, playing the Clara Schumann Concerto at the RFH with Jane Glover was rather special evening for me. Generally though, I’m pretty self critical and rarely feel that happy with myself. It’s the same with CDs, I think. All my recordings were the best I could do on that day. I don’t like listening back to them – I think they are snapshots of how you were in a particular moment. You always want to re-record them a year later!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

London’s Wigmore Hall

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Brahms’ First Piano Concerto is a particular favourite to perform. But I think these things chop and change depending on your mood and what is happening in your life. There are far too many favourites to name. And I have obsessions about Jerome Kern, all Tchaikovsky’s ballet music and about many jazz musicians like Stacey Kent, Jim Tomlinson and Miles Davis. The John Wilson Orchestra is extraordinary. I have been to all their Proms, which are my idea of heaven. John and I have worked together too (with the Philharmonia) and he is a really exceptional musician.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Where to start..?!

Dinu Lipatti, Daniel Barenboim, Richard Goode, Andras Schiff, Bryn Terfel, Yo Yo Ma, Itzak Perlman, Mitsuko Uchida, Sarah Connolly, Paul Lewis, Natalie Clein, Sir Colin Davis. I could go on and on, but…..

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

There are too many to list – but playing the Ravel Concerto in Moscow with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, with a formidable female conductor called Veronica Dudarova, must rank among them! Being on stage with the most extraordinary actors in my words and music evenings makes my feel very lucky, too. Performing “Nocturne” at the Almeida with Juliet Stevenson and Henry Goodman on the very same stage I had seen them perform “Duet For One” was memorable for me. I learn a lot from them too and it has opened up a whole new world for me.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

My own highly inspirational teacher was Joan Havill. She was (and is) quite extraordinary in so many ways and I owe so much of what I do now to her original belief in me and her dedication. I try to pass that on to my pupils but whether I succeed with that who knows?!

I feel that humility as a performer, and as a teacher, is crucial. We really are just the servant of the music. Trying to get to the heart of what the composer wanted and not about you as the performer should always come first.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I am learning the Schumann Humoreske Op.20. It has taken me a long time to tackle this piece – and I’m not sure why I never learnt it before. It is a masterpiece and hugely underrated. I am also learning Brahms’ Op.116 which is pure heaven for me.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Perfect happiness is being at peace with yourself and being good and kind to those around you. It would also be owning my own private swimming pool – but sadly that isn’t ever going to happen!

Launched in December 2013, Lucy Parham’s King’s Place Sunday Coffee Concerts (Word/Play) continues throughout 2014. All details can be found here: 

2014 sees the launch of her new Sheaffer Sunday Matinee Series at St John’s Smith Square, featuring all four of her words and music concerts. Actors will be: Henry Goodman, Martin Jarvis, Joanna David, Alex Jennings, Juliet Stevenson, Harriet Walter and Simon Russell Beale. There will be a Q and A session after each performance. The first concert ‘Beloved Clara’ is on Sunday 19th January 2014. Further details can be found here: 

Lucy Parham first came to public attention as the Piano Winner of the 1984 BBC TV Young Musician of the Year. Having made her Royal Festival Hall concerto debut at 16, she has since appeared regularly at all the major concert venues in London and around the UK. Conductors with whom she collaborated include Barry Wordsworth, Sir Charles Groves, Bryden Thompson, Jane Glover, En Shao, Richard Hickox, Antoni Wit, Owain Arwel Hughes, Yoav Talmi, Veronika Dudarova, Martyn Brabbins, Sian Edwards, John Wilson and Jean-Claude Cassadesus. Festival appearances include, in the UK, Brighton, City of London, Perth, Leeds Castle, Rye, Bury St Edmunds, Three Choirs, Newbury, Victor Hugo, Guernsey, Canterbury, Cambridge, Winchester, Harrogate, BBC Proms, Welsh and Scottish Proms, Chelsea, Cardiff, North Norfolk and Oxford, and abroad, Bergen, Istanbul and Mexico City.

Full biography and more on Lucy’s website 

This post marks the first birthday of the ‘Meet the Artist’ series, and to celebrate this, I am delighted to present an interview with pianist Lara Melda, winner of the 2010 BBC Young Musician of the Year.

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career?

I originally started playing the piano after my sister began taking lessons. I was always trying to learn as she was practising! And from the moment I began lessons myself, I knew that I wanted to be a pianist.

Who or what are the most important influences on your playing?

My teacher, Ian Jones is a great influence to me; I am so grateful for his guidance and wisdom! And secondly my mother, who has stood behind me every step of the way – I would not have got to where I am without her constant support.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Sometimes it can be hard to balance school, a social life and the hours of practise required, especially when I was at the beginning of my journey, but now I have found ways to make it all work!

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?

It is always such a pleasure to work with orchestras, as pianists can get quite lonely on stage! Playing with others is always extremely inspiring, especially when I have been lucky enough to work with some wonderful orchestras such as the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the Aurora Orchestra, Borusan Philharmonic, Northern Sinfonia, Sinfonia of Leeds, English Chamber Orchestra, the Maidstone, Aylesbury, Royal Tunbridge Wells and Worthing Symphony Orchestras.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

At the moment I haven’t made any recordings, as I am waiting for the right time and, to try and think of an extraordinary program to make my first CD, as I want it to be really special.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

I am a huge fan of the Wigmore Hall – I have had the pleasure of performing there once. The acoustic is wonderful, and I especially love the intimacy of the hall.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Martha Argerich is my favourite pianist; her passionate playing has always been one of my biggest inspirations.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The finals of the BBC Young Musician has to date been the most exciting performance of my life, coupled with the fact that it was the performance to change my life forever, it was a night that I will never forget!

What is your favourite music to play? To listen to?

I love playing music from the Romantic era, especially Chopin and Rachmaninov. They are both composers who really stir something in my soul; I feel so at one with their music that it feels completely natural to play.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?

Practise makes perfect! There are always periods of difficulty, and times when you may feel like you are not getting anywhere, but with persistence and determination, anything can be achieved.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on a programme consisting of the following, for my next recitals in April:

BACH Prelude and Fugue in C sharp minor, Prelude and Fugue in D major from Well Tempered Clavier Part 1

CHOPIN Étude in C minor Op. 10 No. 12, Étude in F major Op. 10 No. 8 Nocturne in B major Op. 32 No. 1, Nocturne in G major Op. 37 No. 2, Scherzo No.1 in B minor

DEBUSSY Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir Les collines d’Anacapri Des pas sur le neige La cathédrale engloutie, Minstrels from ‘Préludes, Livre 1’

LISZT ‘Les Cloches de Genève’ from Années de pèlerinage, Book 2; Concert Paraphrase on Rigoletto (after Verdi)

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I would really like to have launched my international career, and have made some recordings that I can be proud of!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To be with the people I love most, and doing the thing that I love most – playing the piano.

Lara Melda performs at St James’s, Piccadilly, London W1 on 10th July in a charity concert for Street Child World Cup Rio 2014. Further information here

At the age of sixteen Lara Melda won the BBC Young Musician 2010 competition, performing Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No.2 in the final round, with Vasily Petrenko and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in Cardiff. The competition had an international following via television and radio broadcasts on the BBC. Since then she has also performed Mozart Concerto K466 with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and next season will return to Cardiff to play Beethoven Piano Concerto No 3.

Lara’s concerto performances last season included the Northern Sinfonia with Kirill Karabits, Sinfonia of Leeds, Watford Philharmonic, and the Maidstone, Aylesbury, Royal Tunbridge Wells and Worthing Symphony Orchestras. Previous London concerto engagements have included Mozart with the Aurora Orchestra and Nicholas Collon (Kings Place) and English Chamber Orchestra (Cadogan Hall) and the Grieg Concerto with English Sinfonia (St John’s Smith Square).

Lara Melda performs regularly in Turkey and made her debut at the International Music Festival in Istanbul in June 2011, playing the Grieg Concerto with the Borusan Philharmonic. She has also been presented by the ‘Istanbul Recitals’ piano series and performed at the Antalya Piano Festival and Bogazici University. In 2012 she received the prestigious ‘Promising Young Artist’ award from Kadir Has University.

Recital appearances have included Les Sommets Musicaux in Gstaad (Switzerland), Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festival (Germany) and the Wigmore Hall. During this season Lara will perform at the Wiltshire Music Centre and many other venues in the UK.

Lara is a student at the Royal College of Music where she is a Queen Elizabeth Queen Mother Scholar supported by a Musicians’ Company Lambert Studentship. She began piano lessons with Emily Jeffrey at the age of six and currently studies with Ian Jones. Lara is also an accomplished viola player and enjoys playing chamber music on both piano and viola. In 2009 she was a finalist in the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition in Weimar, Germany.

Lara Melda is very grateful for support from Non Worrall and Richard Williams.

Lara’s biography courtesy of Askonas Holt