HSO conductor’s scooter entrance at Royal Hall!

The Harrogate Symphony Orchestra's musical director and conductor, Bryan Western.
The Harrogate Symphony Orchestra's musical director and conductor, Bryan Western.

Review by Graham Chalmers

Harrogate Symphony Orchestra, Summer Proms, Royal Hall, Harrogate.

The Royal Hall was made for nights like this awash in bunting and good cheer.

There’s a buzz about this stunning Edwardian hall, Frank Matcham’s golden creation festooned in the red, white and blue of British and, occasionally, French flags.

But what’s the trundling sound coming down the stairs from the grand circle?

It’s Harrogate Symphony Orchestra conductor and director Bryan Western on a scooter.

The HSO’s perennial talisman is zooming his way to the crowded floor where he’s awaited by his orchestra, his podium and a yellow Le Tour bicycle called Walter.

The charismatic Western had promised something different for this year’s Summer Proms concert in light of the forthcoming arrival of the Tour de France.

But even those who know what to expect from the HSO’s long-serving leader could have not expected this.

After the energetic Western’s usual spot of informal MC-ing, he finally picks up his conductor’s baton and it’s straight on with the programme.

The programme will feature everything that is “fast, French and Proms,” Bryan announces to the packed audience.

Even by the HSO’s habitually ambitious standards it’s eclectic and fun, a barmy jukebox of the populist, the traditional and the mildly avant garde.

Part of the thrill of watching this unusually large and gifted non-professional orchestra is wondering whether they can possibly pull it all off.

The string section are never a worry and neither are the woodwind.

As for the brass, well, I think I’ll gloss over tonight’s renditions of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries and Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.

As for the rest, well all I can say is wow.

The Can Can is breezy and fun, ET stirring and romantic and the ‘world premiere’ of local composer Nick Salmon’s Le Tour tribute - Tour de France Baht’ At - is a minor triumph, charming and well-worked.

Elgar’s string-driven Nimrod a controlled piece of delicate beauty and the HSO even manage to make an impressive fist of a very modern piece, the thrillingly minmalist A Short Ride in a Fast Machine by John Adams - a feat achieved, perhaps, because they were unsure they could.

Soon it’s onto the home stretch and the traditional Proms party favourites of Parry, Elgar, Wood and Sargent.

Ultimately, what really makes the HSO something to cherish is the wonderful atmosphere this marvellous orchestra and their larger-than-life miracle worker Bryan Western manage to create.

It’s worth the price of admission to watch how Western teases and tugs the audience into hearty vocal participation at several points in the evening like a 70s stand-up comic.

The Proms was made for this man.

As a result, the evening ends up being truly special, so much so that that this Scotsman finds himself on his feet amid the flag waving and silly hats singing along to stunning soprano Gillian Nield’s lusty renditions of Land of Hope & Glory, Rule Jerusalem and Jerusalem – but don’t tell anyone north of the border.