The opening concert, in which Brabbins conducted the Hallé, featured a new, 25-minute concerto by Beamish for an unlikely star, the accordion. If James Crabb, clutching his squeeze-box, looked a trifle out of place threading his way through the orchestra, he sometimes sounded it too. But that is part of the work's charm. Called The Singing, the three-movement work exploits the accordion's characteristics and colour. Inspired by that terrible blot on Scotland's history, the Highland Clearances, and the gap they left in the fabric of communities, The Singing is, at times, more a wailing, a gnashing of teeth and a sobbing lament. Beamish creates a vivid musical landscape, making use of Gaelic song and psalm, the insistent rhythms of the looms and the lamenting pibroch, as well as dance. Brilliantly resourceful in her use of "vocal" effects to portray emotional upheaval and frozen stillness with luminous colour, her evocative piece found a hugely sympathetic interpreter in Crabb, who relished the chance to explore his instrument's sonorities.
Mendelssohn's Hebrides overture has seldom sounded so inspired, while Mahler's Fourth Symphony, conducted with conviction and affection, drew eloquent strength of purpose from the Hallé, despite the Town Hall's acoustics.
But the Hallé, whose director Mark Elder has sounded off often enough about orchestra dress, could surely have shed its white tie and tails and dusted down its cream linen jackets on one of the hottest evenings of the summer.
Festival continues until 15 July (01242 227979) and on BBC Radio 3