30th Festival for Christmas – Preston Guild Hall

A Festival for Christmas 2012 - programme

Preston Orpheus Choir presented the 30th Festival for Christmas in the city’s Guild Hall last night. From the beginning of the festival in 1983, Harry Duckworth, the veteran Musical Director of the choir brought together performers from the Preston area to to produce a spectacular of drama, dance and music. Harry retired last year and handed over the baton to new maestro Roselise Gentile, so the 2012 concert marked the beginning of a new era.

Pipe Major Stewart Lyell began the concert with the Scottish melody Highland Cathedral and would, about three hours later, close the spectacular with a medley of marches.

Mike Fowles, guest conductor of the Freckleton Band for the evening got the show on the road with Irving Berlin’s There’s No Business Like Show Business. The traditional O Come, All Ye Faithful brought together the band, choir and audience before St. Pius X School children presented the Nativity scenes accompanied by a much revitalized choir with new Musical Director, Roselise Gentile.

The Orpheus Choir then gave sensitive performance of Marta Keen’s Light a Candle before joining with the band in the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

Audience favourites, the Shamrock Dancers with their curls and fancy footwork danced to two episodes from Cry of the Celts with plenty of fast finger-work from the band’s cornet and euphonium sections

Next, two lovely songs from Kirkham Grammar Junior School Choir, Candle in the Window and It’s Snow Wonder with a cameo drum part from our very own AJ (Arron O’Neill).

The band solo spot began with Rodney Newton’s upbeat take on the medieval Gaudate which shows off all sections of the band and even has the tune played on timpani! Patrick Howard gave us a truly virtuoso performance of Peter Graham’s aptly named Brillante, and finished with a lively rendition of Leroy Anderson’s classic Christmas Festival Overture.

Choir accompanist Paul Greehnalgh provided a short respite from Christmas revelry with an assured performance of Chopin’s Polonaise in A flat. I don’t think there can be any greater contrast to Chopin than the music of Michael Jackson, but that’s what we got to round off the first half with the ever brilliant Sandham Fitchett Performing Arts dancers in a montage from Thriller with band accompaniment! Fantastic!

Published in 1976, Gordon Langford’s Christmas Fantasy has become one of the classic arrangements of our favourite carols. Brilliantly conceived and scored, it is a pleasure for the band to play and for the audience to sing along to.

Christmas without a John Rutter setting? Unthinkable. The Orpheus Choir gave us the Shepherd’s Pipe Carol in the first half, and the Kirkham Grammar Junior School Vocal Ensemble sang The Colours of Christmas in the second half. With Reindeer Boogie, the choir donned antlers with young Thomas Shuttleworth and AJ providing the brushwork on drums.

A piano accompanist’s role is to be a solid foundation for the soloist, but not to steal the limelight, however Paul Greenhalgh and KGS accompanist Peter Morrison had their chance to show-off in Johann Strauss’ Trisch Tratsch Polka as arranged for four hands by Henry Geehl, who, incidentally wrote some highly original works for brass band.

Yet more flying fingers from the band and fancy footwork from the Shamrock Dancers in Peter Graham’s Gaelforce. I’m not sure whether playing it or dancing to it is the more difficult!

The Orpheus Choir took me right back to my junior school days with a lovely setting of A Maiden Most Gentle. Roselise’s beautiful interpretation of the simple French traditional melody was for me a real highlight of the concert. They also gave us the dark and poignant Coventry Carol and the brightly syncopated John Rutter Star Carol.

To celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the Coronation of the Queen Elizabeth II, the band played Crown Imperial, written for the occasion by Sir William Walton one of the great British composers of the 20th century.

The choir and the Sandham Fitchett dancers came together to give us a snowy finale to the concert with the popular Christmas standards, White Christmas, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Winter Wonderland with the Snow Waltz to finish.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing and a medley of marches from Pipe Major Lyell brought to an end the 30th Festival for Christmas. The capacity audience at the Guild Hall in Preston can be extremely proud of the performing talent in the Preston area spanning all ages from the tiniest Sandham Fitchett dancers right through to the more senior members of the band and choir, all led with the dedication of their inspirational teachers and directors.

A Festival for Christmas 2012 programme details

Here’s some YouTube footage of the band in concert:

Thanks to Ali Roocroft for the videos.

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