What’s in store at the 2017 Darley Park Concert

A dramatic view of the stage

A dramatic view of the stage - Credit: Archant

Nigel Powlson talks to conductor James Holmes about what’s in store for us on 3rd September at Darley Park

James Holmes conducting in style

James Holmes conducting in style - Credit: Archant

NO-ONE is more happy to see the return of the much-loved Darley Park Concert than James Holmes.

The conductor has become just as much a part of the night as the fireworks and, after fears for the event’s future, he is delighted that it’s again secure.

He will be returning to take up the baton and to join Derby-based orchestra Sinfonia Viva, whose appearance at the event is again supported by Rolls-Royce, for another night of classical favourites and a champagne atmosphere on 3rd September.

James says: ‘I think everyone missed it last year. It’s a truly unique event and there’s something really special about combining that space, the enormous crowd and the spirit they bring with Sinfonia Viva, who are simply a great band. I have done this concert so many times I have lost count but it must be at least 10 and I have grown to love it and it’s such a joy being able to put it in the diary again.’

Thousands of people enjoying the music

Thousands of people enjoying the music - Credit: Archant

The financial burden of putting on the biggest free outdoor classical concert in the UK eventually became too high in these times of cost cutting and pressures on the public purse. But this jewel in Derby’s social calendar was too precious to lose and a new model has been created.

A charge has been introduced but a sponsorship arrangement has ensured that the charge will be modest – just £2.50 for over 16s if bought in advance.

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James hopes that the Derby public will see that as no barrier to supporting the event as they have always done in the past in their many thousands.

He says: ‘One has always thought “How can they carry on doing this for free” because the financial constraints are so severe that inevitably something would have to give. I’m hopeful that a small charge won’t put people off.

‘It always amazes me how many people come, even when the weather looks doubtful, although over the years we have done pretty well and never had to do it in torrential rain.

‘It’s a big community event and I believe that people have become invested in that over the years. It’s all done with the most amazing spirit and when you see all the people leaving for the car parks afterwards you get that buzz that comes from a whole community having come together and everyone having enjoyed themselves.

‘It’s something now, more than ever, that should be cherished.’

This year the audience has even helped to programme the concert, selecting three of the pieces that will be played on the night through an online vote.

James says: ‘I thought that was a brilliant idea.

‘I’m not sure I should say what the pieces are, as it would be nice to keep it a surprise.

‘What I can say is that one is a very familiar bit of classical music, one is a really romantic piece from the world of cinema and one is a good old fashioned British piece.’

Peter Helps, Viva’s Chief Executive, plays the key role in programming the concert, working with James.

‘Peter has his finger right on the pulse of Derby itself,’ says James. ‘He has a good ear for what people would like to hear.

‘This year the programme concentrates mainly on things that have gone down well in recent years with one or two exceptions. It’s a kind of welcome back package.

‘There is of course the 40th anniversary of Derby becoming a city and we will celebrate that and it’s also 40 years since the release of the first Star Wars movie and the firework finale I believe will have a nod to the Empire.’

There is precious little rehearsal time for the concert so having a familiar hand like James at the helm also helps make things go smoothly.

He says: ‘It’s pretty much put together on the day. It’s always been done that way.

‘I obviously consult with Peter a lot in terms of getting the material together. I’m a firm believer that when you are doing something with a very finite amount of rehearsal time you have to be thoroughly prepared and make sure you foresee any potential problems.

‘The material varies a lot from things that are old and maybe handwritten to state of the art computer-generated pieces so it all has to be checked and be in good shape before it gets to the stand and the players. It’s enough for them to worry about the music staying on the stand in the wind let alone having to cope with mistakes or things that are unclear.

‘Viva’s musicians are incredibly quick at picking things up and are so totally committed to the project that they are incredibly helpful to me.

‘It’s always a pleasure to work with Viva – they are incredibly professional and patient with the conditions. They are so versatile that it widens the net in terms of what we can play on the night as well.

‘In the end we are all in it together – being outside with all those acoustical and meteorological problems. But it’s never been less than a treat to do.’

The Darley Park Concert is unlike virtually anything else that James ever does.

He says: ‘I’m always excited about it. I remember the first time I did it, I wasn’t quite prepared for that. I went onto the stage and just went “wow”.

‘Even though I have done it so often I still get that buzz because it’s such an occasion.

‘I also love the contrast between parts one and two. You set out on the first half and it’s still full daylight and then after the break when the lights are coming on it’s kind of magic.’

The concert will end in traditional fashion with the firework finale accompanying the music.

James says: ‘We on the stage never see the fireworks of course but boy do we hear them. And, of course, the crowd reacting to that is all part of it – it’s joyous. It’s a completely different atmosphere to the veneration of the music if you were in a concert hall.

‘I really don’t do many other things like this and I think in a way that has helped keep it special for me. I can’t imagine that any other event of this kind could be more enjoyable than Darley Park is.’