The Harrogate Christmas Concert sees the Harrogate Symphony Orchestra and Harrogate Choral Society make their annual foray out of the confines of the Royal Hall and into the vast bowl of the Conference Centre.
This can be a difficult space to fill acoustically, but the massed ranks of primary school children who joined them with a large audience, created an atmosphere and sound which brought this auditorium to life.
The choral society and orchestra, who organise this event, played a masterstroke a couple of years ago: by expanding the number of schools invited, and placing them on a three-year rotation, they created anopportunity for many more local children to take part.
The orchestra got us under way with Leroy Anderson’s rousing A Christmas Festival. This was familiar territory for most players and, as such, the transitions between the various sections worked seamlessly and the piece showed off this large orchestra’s dynamic range.
The orchestra’s musical directir Bryan Western (in green elf headgear) made the introductions, each group greeting us with a loud “Ho Ho Ho” as has become the tradition.
Bryan shared the platform, as usual, with Marilynne Davies of the choral soceity and the two complemented each other well – Bryan the showman and Marilynne the consummate professional, both more than capable of skilfully directing the large number of performers in front of them.
The opening carol, Once in Royal David’s City, featured soloist Rebecca Atkinson from Green Hammerton. With more than 1,600 audience and performers in the huge hall around her, this young girl stepped up to the microphone and sang flawlessly.
Much of the first half featured the schoolchildren. From Knaresborough we had Great Ouseburn, St.John’s, Follifoot, Meadowside, North Stainley and Starbeck. Led by Helen Mills and accompanied by Gill Hart, they gave us strong renditions of Santa Claus is Coming to Town and The Best Christmas of All.
Boroughbridge presented three shorter pieces: Noel – Let Us Sing, Wind Through the Olive Trees and Torches, rehearsed and directed by Jessica Hayne, with Judith Laity at the piano. The schools represented here were Brafferton, Green Hammerton, Kirby Hill, Topcliffe, Kirk Hammerton and Richard Taylor.
Towards the end of the half, the Harrogate primaries took centre stage and gave us Somewhere in my Memory and It’s a Magical Time of the Year.
These were not straightforward pieces and conductor Lizzie Williams, with accompanist Beryl Pankhurst, gave a masterclass in vocal direction.
The schools involved this year were Kettlesing/Fellscliffe, Kirby Overblow, Grove Road, Beckwithshaw and Pannal.
In the ensemble pieces, La Nanita Nana and Christmas Lullaby, the children were skilfully backed by the Beati group from the choral society and gentle arrangements by the orchestra.
Well played cameos, in particular by Andy Williams (horn) and Chris Garbutt (oboe), served to remind us what superb soloists the orchestra can boast.
The first half concluded with Away in a Manger, featuring soloists from all the schools, as well as the full chorus and orchestra, an Silent Night, an appropriately reflective arrangement by Bryan Western.
The second half concentrated on the participating groups. The Harrogate Choral Society sang David Willcocks’ arrangement of Three Kings with Daniel Hutton as the soloist.
We were also treated to a first appearance at this event by their new Halcyon Youth Choir, a group with skills and talent well beyond their years. They sang complex and pleasing arrangements of Coventry Carol and Sussex Carol.
One feature the choral society was perhaps not expecting was to be invited to stand and join the children and orchestra in Reindeer on the Roof.
This was at the behest of Helen Mills and Lizzie Williams, who conducted the two sides of the room in this favourite Christmas romp.
The orchestra’s final solo contribution was a new arrangement of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by flautist Nick Salmon. This featured a full range of dynamics and, at times, rhythms that had the brass and wind on the edge of their seats. The new piece was well received.
The concert built towards a festive climax with Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas, but there was just time for a surprise visitor in a red coat and white beard.
The evening ended with everyone joining in O Come All Ye Faithful, with trumpets and sopranos in fine form for the final descant.
This was a great community event to kick off the festive season and, with high quality performances and obvious enjoyment for performers and audience alike
The raffle for Maggies, a Leeds based cancer support group, raised almost £600.