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Review: North East Last Night of the Proms at Newcastle City Hall

The popular North East Last Night of the Proms concert might run and run as Northumbrian Water taps into its success

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It was billed as the 25th and last George Walker Last Night of the Proms... but talk of the demise of a much-loved musical institution appears to have been premature.

This might, instead, merely be the end of one Proms era as it slips seamlessly into the next with Northumbrian Water at the helm.

George and Rosalynde Walker, from Westerhope, organised the first concert to raise money for the medical team which had treated George for blood cancer non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

A bone marrow transplant gave him an extra 13 years of life following an initial gloomy prognosis and he threw his energy into turning what had been intended as a one-off concert into an annual fund-raiser to aid cancer care and research.

When George died in 2001, Rosalynde took up the reins. As a banner above the stage at the City Hall proclaimed on Saturday, £1.5m has been raised since the first note was sung.

Rosalynde announced her retirement from the stage with a tear in her eye and an “Ahhh” from the audience.

She recalled the words of Benjamin Luxon, the great Cornish baritone who was the big attraction at the first Proms concert in 1990.

“He said he’d sung all over the world but he had never come across any people as generous as those in the North East. And that’s true.”

She remarked on the strides in medical research at Newcastle University which the Proms money has helped to fund, initially under the guidance of Professor Steve Proctor.

“We thought that if we could help someone get more than the 13 years that he (George) did then that would be wonderful. In the past 25 years Professor Proctor and the researchers have come up with some wonderful results.”

Prof Proctor, a Proms regular but now retired from the university, was on stage on Saturday to offer his thanks.

Then David Hall, of Northumbrian Water, announced: “One thing about Geordies is we don’t give up and let things come to an end too early.”

The plan, he said, was for his company to “take the Proms forward” and split future proceeds between Northumbrian Water’s own WaterAid charity, which works to provide clean water across the world, and the Proms charity, Nepac (North East Promenaders Against Cancer).

“We hope we go from strength to strength,” he said.

From the floor of a packed Newcastle City Hall no dissenting voices could be heard.

The audience enjoyed another lively night of classical arias, songs from the shows and some instrumental and choral works.

Sopranos Janice Cairns, fighting laryngitis, and Suzanne Manuell were back for their 23rd North East Proms performances.

They were joined by baritone James Cleverton and tenor Stephen Aviss, who have both performed at the Proms before, and keen singer Bob Hanlon, from Coldstream, who in 2002 made a donation in return for the chance to take part – and on Saturday proved the voice is still in fine fettle.

David Haslam conducted the English Philharmonic Orchestra and the Proms Chorus in a programme which included Northern Rhapsody, his own arrangement of seven popular North East songs.

Audience participation was called for in a cheerfully chaotic performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture using ‘Geordie cannons’ (paper bags).

But it fell to violinist Bradley Creswick to steal the show, leaping off the stage to serenade Rosalynde Walker with a rose between his teeth and his fingers flying in a virtuoso rendition of some Hungarian Gypsy music.

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