The environment for the arts may always be changing but ambitious groups such as Harrogate Choral Society are changing, too. GRAHAM CHALMERS spoke to Bruce Noble, chairman of Harrogate Choral Society, about the future of the HCS and its exciting new venture - the Halycon Youth Choir.
Graham: How healthy do you think the classical music scene in general is right now in the Harrogate district?
Bruce: Very healthy – and we’re proud to be part of it! In Harrogate we’ve got several venues which all attract classical music performances of the highest order - the Wesley Centre, the Royal Hall and Harrogate International Centre.
And what better way to spend a Sunday morning than at one of Harrogate Festival’s Sunday Series concerts at the Old Swan Hotel?
Graham: What is the biggest challenge facing classical music in Britain today, particularly as it pertains to local musical groups?
Bruce: Growing the audience in the face of more and more events to choose from and, at the same time, meeting the increasingly expensive venue, orchestra and soloist costs.
All local music groups face the same challenges but the value that local orchestras and choral societies bring to a town doesn’t always seem to be recognised by councils or venue organisers.
Graham: Tell me about the Halcyon Youth Choir?
Bruce: We’ve always invited local children to perform with us in works scored for young voices but we’re taking this to a whole new level with the launch of the Halcyon Youth Choir in September.
Experienced young conductors will introduce young singers to the choral repertoire. Youngsters will get an otherwise-impossible opportunity to sing in big venues and to work with professional orchestras as well as with Harrogate Choral Society.
In addition, we want to ensure the future of high-quality choral singing. We’re aiming to create a choir of national stature centred in Harrogate at the heart of the northern cultural scene.
Graham: What has been the biggest change in Harrogate Choral Society over the years?
Bruce: I think it’s probably an increasingly professional approach. Since its foundation in 1948, the choir has always been driven by high standards. But this has developed into a real commitment to be the local voice of musical excellence.
Everyone in the choir is regularly re-auditioned and an increasingly broad repertoire has seen us tackling everything from the Mozart Requiem to Fanshawe’s African Sanctus and the Bach B Minor Mass.
Graham: What has been the HCS’s biggest achievement over the years?
Bruce: Growing the repertoire and, under the musical directorship of Andrew Padmore, attracting orchestras like Manchester Camerata and soloists of the highest calibre - such as the tenor Alfie Boe and the violinist Nicola Benedetti. In addition, the international soprano soloist Sarah Fox, known to many as a judge on the BBC’s The Choir: Sing While You Work, recently became an ambassador for Harrogate Choral Society.
The other area where we’re very proud of our work is our engagement with the community, especially with the region’s young people.
We join the Harrogate Symphony Orchestra and hundreds of primary school children for the Harrogate Christmas Concert, we sponsor the annual Solo Singers Platform in Harrogate, and run an internship scheme for youngsters.
Graham: In terms of the HCS, what events coming up are you most excited by?
Bruce: The launch of the Halcyon Youth Choir in September is our most exciting upcoming event and we’re thrilled that John Rutter has offered to be guest conductor.
Before that we’ve got our summer concert in which young people will be participating, and in the autumn Harrogate’s own William Dutton, winner of the string section in the last BBC Young Musician of the Year, is playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with us.
We’re always trying to reach out to new audiences. For example, in November we’ll be performing our annual Messiah concert in the magnificent St Aidan’s Church in Harehills, Leeds.