Review: Sax and Sopranos with the Hallé

Words: Ian Douglas
Sunday 12 June 2022
reading time: min, words

The Hallé Orchestra at the Royal Concert Hall


The Hallé orchestra is practically review proof. Everything they do is peerless. And
tonight’s residency was no exception, with the spotlight falling on saxophonist superstar
Jess Gillam. You may recall her triumphs on Young Musician of the Year and Last Night
at the Proms. Indeed, she won so many awards and achievements, she has an MBE and
not even twenty-five years of age yet!

Jess’ first piece was Briggflatts by John Harle, written specially for Jess and showcasing
her soprano saxophone. Inspired by the Cumbrian landscape, the music was both
experimental and evocative. The second piece with Jess was none other than everyone’s
favourite film composer, John Williams (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indian Jones).
However, tonight it was Escapades, a compression of his score for Catch Me if You Can
(the film with Leonardo Di Caprio and Tom Hanks). The melodies suggested fleeing the
law, chases and manhunts. Once again, Jess Gillam shone.

There were three other non-saxophone compositions tonight. The show kicked off with
Aaron Copland’s Billy the Kid Suite. Listening to the work, it was easy to visualise the
wide-open prairies of North America, frontier towns and gunfights. In the second act,
and perhaps the treat of the evening, was a medley from West Side Story, Leonard
Bernstein’s evergreen musical. Many in the auditorium could recall the premier of the
West Side Story movie back in 1961, and the love for that foot-tapping score was
palpable. And the orchestra even did some finger-clicking in the spirit of those
choreographed fight scenes, so iconic in the movie. Excellent performances all round.

By the way, Conductor Stephen Bell was on the rostrum tonight, an old boy at the Hallé
but equally known for his many appearances among the cream of the classical world. As
ever he was warm and welcoming, and the concertgoers knew they were in safe hands.

The evening concluded with a short fanfare from John Adams, a minimalist American
composer, entitled Short Ride in a Fast Machine. Described in the programme as
‘punchy’ and ‘exhilarating’ with ‘bright gleaming trumpet phrases riding the crest of the
wave’. Or as the composer himself put it, ‘You know how it is when someone asks you
to ride in a terrific sports car, and then you wish you hadn’t?’ In any case, it served as
palate cleanser, to fire us up before leaving the concert hall. Thanks to two hours of
superb performance, we exited reinvigorated and ready to seize the world outside with
a lust for life.

The Hallé Orchestra’s concert took place at the Royal Concert Hall on Fri June 10 2022.

For information about concerts at the Royal Concert Hall in 2022 visit

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