Star Musician - Oh yes she is

IT has been a busy Christmas time for Jill Kemp, at 25 a young woman originally from Honley and with seemingly all the ingredients for artistic success.

She’s played in Shakespeare, she’s just finished a season as Maid Marion in the pantomime Babes In The Wood at the Leeds Civic but most of all she is an internationally recognised recorder virtuoso who has just brought out her CD titled simply Jill Kemp — Recorders. Oh, yes, and she sings, dances a bit, plays the piano and the flute…

So multi-talented is the word we’re searching for. Add the fact that she is undeniably good-looking with her long blonde hair and we’re also looking at a potent combination in today’s world. And who else can you name who repeatedly swaps the rather sedate concert platform for the “he’s behind you” atmosphere of panto?

The panto appearance in Leeds has given Jill — London-based since she qualified for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1998 — the chance to move back for a time to her parents’ home, now just down the road at Oldfield.
But the run in the Chris Fox production — December 4 to January 8— meant that there was little chance for Jill to go see the relatives. They had to go see her at the show!
Always the theatrical talents came second to the music but by the time she had moved from Honley High to Greenhead Jill was playing the part of singing Salvation Army girl Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls. For four consecutive summers she performed with Manchester-based Feelgood Theatre Company in their award-winning promenade productions. In December 2000 she played Toto the dog in The Wizard of Oz at the Lowry Theatre, Manchester, in their first ever Christmas production, and in September 2001 she played Ricky Tomlinson’s daughter in a new film for cinematic release. She spent a summer playing Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Miranda in The Tempest with The Cambridge Shakespeare Festival and for the last three years she has played principal girl in Aladdin, Dick Whittington and Jack and the Beanstalk at Leeds Civic Theatre.

But, as we have said, the recorder was the main career. Jill says: “I’m really a recorder player and plan the year around that.”
She has been playing since the age of four and made her professional debut by the time she was 10. Jill’s the first to acknowledge she had a flying start. Mum Hazel was a piano teacher and Jill’s older sister Erica was also a talented musician. It was mum who gave her the first recorder lessons - Jill says self-deprecatingly that it might have been to save the piano - and then she studied with Mrs Sylvia Richmond, of Beaumont Park. But there it might have all ended for Jill, as it does for millions of other young recorder players, if she had not heard a performance by Michala Petri which opened her ears to the potential of the instrument.

As a youngster she went on to win prizes at the Mrs Sunderland and the Wharfedale Festival with a regularity that must have made the others wonder if it was worth turning up. She reached the semi-finals of the Audi Junior Musician and was a BBC Young Musician of the Year semi-finalist. In 1996 she won the Kirklees Young Musician of the Year competition and two years later she won a scholarship to the Guildhall where she received an award from the Sir John Barbirolli Memorial Foundation. In 2001 she graduated from Goldsmiths College, University of London, with a first-class honours degree. Her principal teachers were none other than Michala Petri and Piers Adams and she studied performance practise with Cohn Lawson.

A dynamic performing style, added to undoubted virtuosity, have brought rave press notices for an “incredible talent”, “a joy”, “a musician of depth” and “the Jewel in the Crown” and made her a highly sought solo performer.
In the introduction to her CD Jill expounds on her “crusade” to get proper recognition for the recorder. “All too often the recorder is seen either as a stepping stone to a ‘proper’ instrument or an historic relic and I wanted to show it as a modern instrument in its own right, equal to any other.” Jill loves the rich warm sound of piano and recorder and teamed up with Dutch pianist Rianka Bouwmeester for her latest recordings. It seems a good choice, for flautist Sir James Galway also turned to the talents of Rianka, who Jill says is a former recorder player herself and proved a sympathetic partner. (In her earlier days Jill was often accompanied by Huddersfield’s Keith Swallow.)
The CD aims to challenge the relatively limited repertoire of the recorder, mainly from Renaissance music and the Baroque period. Yes, there are works by Bach and Handel and Jill starts and finishes with the Monti Czardas and the Sarasate Introduction and Tarantella, Op 43, that have traditionally been dazzling showpieces in the hands of violinists. But there are also 19th and 20th century works by Krähmer and Bowen written specifically for recorder, plus a 1996 piece, Moon Dances by Mays, about the North American Mandan Indians.

Jill is committed to working with young people and her Recorder Revolution is an interactive concert experience which has already inspired thousands of young players. In March last year, for example, she performed the world premiere of a new commission Out of Time written for her by Alan Simmons, of Scissett, with children from schools in Salford.

Do the concerts and the stage work intertwine? Jill says she is being herself when she appears in recital. “But I enjoy letting my hair down and being part of a bigger team effort in pantomime.” And she admits that being on stage has given her more “presence” during musical performances.
But this coming year looks to be busy enough on the music front to rule out any Shakespeare in summer. And as for panto 2005, she giggles and says mysteriously: “We will just have to see.”

Tony Pogson, Huddersfield Examiner, January 2005