Glitzy gala opener promises to sweep audiences off feet

Gary Williams
Gary Williams

Opening the 2011 Harrogate Summer Festival is the magnificent City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

The orchestra won over audiences at the BBC Proms, and in this Gala Festival opener, conductor John Wilson will be joined by the mesmerising Broadway vocalist Kim Criswell.

Also sharing the limelight is Grimsby born-and-bred singer Gary Williams, who started out as a regular singer with the BBC Big Band before landing a starring role in the West End show Rat Pack.

Below John Wilson gives a tantalising glimpse on what Harrogate audiences can expect from his glittering programme: Putting On the Ritz: a celebration of Fred Astaire and his leading ladies.

Q) You’ve decided to launch the festival in true style with a Fred Astaire tribute – can you tell me a little bit more about the programme and why you decided on the MGM theme?

It’s not so much an MGM theme as a tribute to the songwriting talents who served Fred Astaire and the brilliant arrangers and orchestrators who worked with him.  It’s not so widely known that Fred gave had more ‘hit’ popular songs written for him than any other singer of the last century.  Astaire considered himself a dancer who sang a little; in point of fact he was the favourite singer of several major songwriters - Berlin, Gershwin and Harry Warren amongst them.

Q) What would you say to convince new audiences – perhaps those new to that era – to come and check out the orchestra?

Come and hear the concert; once you’re there you’ll be riveted, I promise!

Q) You have a Broadway vocalist, Kim Criswell and Rat Pack singer Gary Williams – can we expect the West End in Harrogate?  

You can expect very stylish singing from two very distinguished performers.  Good singers for this repertoire are extremely hard to come by; we are very lucky to have two of the best for this concert.

Q) What do you hope Harrogate audiences will leave with after attending the night?

An appreciation of the greatness of this music.  The absolute best songwriting teams of the whole of the 20th century.

Q) Will you be throwing in the odd Fred Astaire move when you’re conducting?


l City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra | Putting On the Ritz: a celebration of Fred Astaire and his leading ladies | Conductor: John Wilson | Soloists: Kim Criswell and Gary Williams | Royal Hall | 7.30pm | Thursday June 30

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