The Kirklees Concert Season and the Orchestra of Opera North are certainly giving full value this festive season, writes Ron Simpson.
On December 14 the orchestra’s ever-popular Christmas Concert takes place at Dewsbury Town Hall, then on the afternoon of December 30 Huddersfield Town Hall is the venue for a Viennese-style New Year’s concert, this in addition to Gordon Stewart’s Christmas celebration with the choristers of Wakefield Cathedral at lunchtime on December 21.
First up was this “family friendly” concert last night (Tues, Dec 12). It’s clearly a good thing to introduce children to classical music at an early age but I’m not sure the toddlers (and, even, babes in arms) in Huddersfield Town Hall were quite ready for Prokofiev whose music to Cinderella provided the first of two 30-minute halves. However, with the screening of The Snowman – Howard Blake’s delightfully inventive score played live – attention picked up and the enthusiasm of the young audience took off like the snowman.
Dianne Jackson’s television film of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman dates from as far back as 1982 but it remains as fresh, charming and witty as ever. Briggs and Jackson’s visual humour keeps the emotion of the story just sentimental enough, never over the top, and the two journeys are brilliantly contrasted: the crazy motor-bike ride, scattering local fauna wholesale and the beauty of the snowman’s flight with James.
As a film without words (except for one famous song) The Snowman is ideal for a live performance of the music and in Hugh Brunt the Orchestra of Opera North had a conductor with wide experience of soundtrack music. His meticulous approach synchronised everything perfectly while allowing the orchestra its head in the more dramatic or daredevil passages.
The most striking performance came from 13-year-old Ben Hayes from Leeds. The song Walking in the Air was not, as widely believed, originally sung by Aled Jones, but by Peter Auty, then a chorister at St Paul’s, now a successful operatic tenor who, coincidentally, has just completed a tour with Opera North. Ben Hayes, not at all over-awed by the occasion and his distinguished predecessors, sang it with poise, precise phrasing and beauty of tone.
Before the interval Claire Pascoe delivered a rhyming narrative of Cinderella with plenty of drama and vocal characterisation (really horrid Ugly Sisters) and projections illustrated the story (the sisters suffered again – those deformed feet!) while the orchestra expertly performed movements from Prokofiev’s ballet music.