THERE could have been no more fitting retirement from the rostrum for Alton Concert Orchestra conductor David Budd as he led his fellow musicians to rapturous applause during Alton’s annual ‘Last Night of the Proms’ event last Saturday.
With the park gates opening to record numbers, every blade of grass was covered in picnic blankets and chairs as the Public Gardens played host once again to a memorable night of entertainment.
Run by Alton Town Council, in partnership with Alton Concert Orchestra, the open-air concert is a long-established summer event which this year basked in glorious sunshine before the sun set to make way for a balmy evening.
Described by Alton mayor Dean Phillips in his opening speech as “the jewel in the crown” of the town’s calendar, the event was made special this year as it marked Mr Budd’s last official performance as the orchestra’s principal conductor – although he will continue to play the trumpet in the orchestra and promised that he would step back into the conductor’s shoes from time to time.
Also featuring the Alton Choral Society, a highlight from the first half of the concert was the polished performance of a medley of James Bond film themes, led by new associate conductor Mike Glover.
The second half of the programme was equally spellbinding and concluded with an arrangement of traditional Proms Night classics, including Elgar’s Nimrod from Enigma Variations and Fantasia on British Sea Songs, before soprano Sam Kirk performed a rapturous rendition of Britannia.
By now the happy audience was in full voice, waving Union flags and joining in with Jerusalem, God Save the Queen and Auld Lang Syne.
Now in its 12th year, the concert was the culmination of months of careful planning and rehearsals by the orchestra, the choral society and not one but four soloists – Jane Gray (below), Rebekah Abbott, Patricia Casement and Sam Kirk, who delighted the crowds throughout the performance.
Mr Budd said: “It was another great prom concert last night, the culmination of a huge amount of organisation, hard work and amazingly spirited playing.
“I cannot thank the orchestra enough for their support, not only last night but over all the years that I have been waving my arms. Of course, it was especially thrilling to perform in front of such an enthusiastic and large audience.
“Last night proved again how brilliant music is for bringing people together and lifting spirits.”
He continued: “It is heart-warming to think that I hand over to Chris Gardner, who I know will lift the orchestra to even greater heights, backed up by maestro Mike Glover, now a seasoned associate conductor.”
And he added: “My hope is that the thousands who attended donated generously to the retiring collection so that we can plan an even greater extravaganza for next year.”
Alton’s Last Night of the Proms aims to be a self-funding event and relies largely on donations to the retiring collection on the night.
And town mayor Mr Phillips said: “This is certainly an event that just keeps on giving!”
* Alton Concert Orchestra is always keen to attract more musicians. Mr Gardner said: “I would urge anyone who plays an instrument and who would like to give the orchestra a try to get in touch through the orchestra’s website at altonchoral.org.uk and come to one of our rehearsals.”