A Record Talent

Ed Ewing meets Jill Kemp, Blackheath’s answer to the Opera Babes.

Oh the temptation is too much! Let me introduce you to Blackheath’s answer to Vanessa Mae. Mixing blonde youth with a smart understanding of marketing and an incredible musical talent The Guide is proud, pleased and happy to be supporting classical musician Jill Kemp in her year as a resident musician at Blackheath Halls.
Each year Blackheath Halls runs a Young Artist Series, supporting young classical artists from across London for a year, helping them put on recitals and involving them with the community through workshops and school concerts. This year there are five groups: two string quartets, two pianists and Jill, who plays the recorder.

Yes, the recorder. That cheap plastic thing you used to abuse at school before moving onto a “proper” instrument. Jill is 22 and recently graduated from Goldsmiths with a first class honours degree in music. She knows how the recorder is seen by many — “The recorder has a lot of negative connotations,” she says diplomatically — but she says, “I plan to change all that.”

Jill never actually played the recorder at school; instead her mum, a music teacher, introduced her to it when she was only four. When she was eight she saw a recital by the world’s best recorder player, Michala Petri, and said, “That’s what I want to be”. Jill went on to be trained by Michala and gave her first professional recital at 12.
Since then she has racked up over 60 solo recitals and numerous concerto performances. She won the north west regional finals of BBC Young Musician of the Year in 1993, 1995 and 1997 and in 1999-2000 was awarded Goldsmiths College Student of the Year. As well as her first love, the recorder, she has acted, sung and performed in everything from Shakespeare to The Wizard of Oz and has recently completed a film playing Ricky Tomlinson’s daughter (he from The Royle Family).
She is looking forward to her residency, which she won after an interview, audition and written application. “It’s nice because you get to work with the people here,” she says, meaning the hardworking and dedicated crew at the Halls.

She has three recitals planned. The first on 29 October will be a relaxed affair: with the audience seated at tables, drinks in hand, Jill will come into the audience, accompanied by a pianist on stage.

The October recital will be mainly 19th century pieces, many of which are original arrangements. “I’ve taken the original violin piece and have arranged it for the recorder” she says about Tartini’s Sonata in G Major The Devil’s Trill. This piece, she explains with an obvious passion, was originally dreamt by the composer. Tartini had a dream that the devil was at the end of his bed. He handed the devil his violin and he played like a demon, dancing in the darkness with his bow. When Tartini awoke he rushed to write it down, the music fading from his mind as the dream dissipated.

“I really like that time, I really love the 19th century,” says Jill, whose passion and depth of knowledge for the music and her instruments is clear. She plays three recorders, the treble (large), descant (‘school’ recorder) and sopranino (small); “You can get them bigger than me!” she laughs.

She will finish her recital with Czardas by Monti, again a violin piece arranged for the recorder by herself. This is a “gypsy violin piece”, she says, passionate and exuberant it’s a favourite of onetime bad boy classical music media star Nigel Kennedy. “It’s great fun,” she says, “a real audience pleaser that one, I just go mad at the end of it!”
Jill is not afraid of pleasing the audience too much, she’s not scared of the current trend for classical music to be ‘popified’, “I think people separate classical and pop music too much in their minds,” she say, “At the end of the day it’s all music”.
For her second recital in February she will be collaborating with a video artist in the recital room at Blackheath Halls to bring an explosion of colour and light to the room to match her music. A fusion about which she says, “It certainly won’t be your general classical night!” But then, Jill Kemp is not your normal classical player. Ladies and gentlemen, before Sony gets their hands on her for the next World Cup, The Guide presents Jill Kemp.

The Guide, October 2002