Sunday, 14 August 2022

Proms last night comes to our very own town

THERE’s something about The Last Night Of The Proms that brings a tear to most eyes. Even if you are

THERE’s something about The Last Night Of The Proms that brings a tear to most eyes. Even if you are not particularly patriotic, or moved by classical music, not many can resist the combination of feelgood flag-waving and the chance to sing your heart out to Rule Britannia at the annual end-of-summer spectacular.

This year, for the first time, Henley is staging its very own extravaganza to coincide with the national event. St Mary’s Church will open its doors for a Proms night Henley-style on Saturday, September 7.

The first half will feature music by Henley Symphony Orchestra, and during a brief interval a screen will be erected at the front of the church to provide a live satellite link to the show being broadcast from the Royal Albert Hall. There will also be a few “surprises” in the form of local sopranos singing live at the church.

The idea is the brainchild of Henley mayor Stefan Gawrysiak, who ran it past his neighbour, Mandy Beard, a first violin in the orchestra, and then town clerk Mike Kennedy. Both thought it was an excellent idea.

He said: “I would hope it will just be an enormous amount of fun, and the atmosphere happy, like the Royal Albert Hall. There will be bunting and flags for everyone, and we’re hoping that the crowd will bring along cow horns and cow bells to join in with the last bit of the concert.”

Mr Gawrysiak and his partner, Catherine, are keen classical music fans and usually watch the Proms on the television. But they are also big fans of Henley Symphony Orchestra, attending all their concerts.

He said: “Isn’t it brilliant for a town the size of Henley to have its own full orchestra? The conductor Ian Brown seem to get them to play beautifully. The programmes they put on are challenging, but executed very well.”

Conductor Ian Brown has put together a programme of “accessible” classical music for the first half of the event, including excerpts from Handel’s Water Music and a Gershwin overture.

He said: “We have chosen a programme to appeal to lots of people and to people who don’t normally listen to classical music. They will recognise some of it, and I think they will enjoy all of it.”

Mr Brown is a professional musician who has worked with the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Academy of St Martin-in-the-fields, as well as playing piano with the Nash Ensemble. He has been conductor with the Henley Symphony Orchestra for 18 years.

He said: “I really enjoy my work with them. It’s something very different from the other things I do. They have a great enthusiasm for music and most of them have done a lot of playing over the years. I think they are remarkable, and I think this concert is a very good idea.”

Already, the mayor is planning to make it an annual event.

He said: “I did the Music in the Meadows for young people in July and we are already thinking of carrying that on next year, and I think this could become an annual event, too.

“I was thinking of it being outside, but then I thought of the vagaries of the weather, and moved it into St Mary’s. Next year, we may do something different.”

All monies raised from the concert will go to the mayor’s charities — Sue Ryder, Headway, Riverside counselling, Age UK Oxfordshire and the Chiltern Centre for disabled children. Tickets cost £17.50 for adults, £5 U16s. Contact (01491) 576982 or email

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