In spite of all that’s been written and said about the horrors of the Industrial Revolution, Bradford and Manchester in the mid-19th century must have been exciting places.

The two towns dominated the textile trade in the North. Bradford was famous principally for wool, worsted and mixed fabrics; Manchester for cotton products.

The riches from the mass production of spinning, weaving and dyeing, as well as mining and engineering, resulted in magnificent public buildings – they built for posterity in those days – and the foundation of choral societies and orchestras.

Three significant examples of this occurred in the middle of the century: the Bradford Festival Choral Society in 1853, the Halle Orchestra in 1857, and eight years later the Bradford International Orchestral Concert Season. All three are still going.

In a couple of weeks, the 145th Bradford International Orchestral Concert season begins with a programme of Bizet, Richard Strauss and Dvorak at St George’s Hall. It’s a tradition older by 30 years than the BBC’s summer season of Promenade Concerts founded by Sir Henry Wood in 1895.

Conducting the Halle on Friday, October 1, will be its director of music since 1999, Sir Mark Elder. He’s scheduled to return with the orchestra on Friday, May 13, next year, when the season ends with a concert of Handel, Sibelius and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony.

Next year is also the 155th Bradford Festival Choral Society season – an achievement of interest to Sir Mark, a choral scholar at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

A musician for nearly 40 years, to what does he attribute the flourishing tradition of music in the North for more than 150 years?

He says: “The temperament of the people. One of the ways of expressing communal sharing is to sing together.

“My grandmother was from Sowerby Bridge; her brother was organist and choirmaster at Manchester Cathedral – my only musical antecedent. I have been aware all my life as a musician of the idea of a community singing together, and of course Yorkshire choirs are famous.”

The influx of people from Central Europe, especially German Jews, was also key to the organisation and development of music, especially orchestral music, as Sir Mark explained.

“It was not just chance that Charles Halle was German. He was invited to Manchester in 1850, by German industrialists, to organise music making.

“The idea of having public music-making on a big scale in one’s life was not at all strange in France, Austria and the dukedoms and principalities of Germany; they were used to having large orchestras at the centre of the community.

“Even now, if you are invited to be the director of the orchestra in Cologne, say, you are known as the director of music for the city of Cologne.”

So Charles Halle went to Manchester and the father of Frederick Delius came to Bradford. No surprise, then, that organised music-making became part of the warp and weft of Cottonopolis and Woolopolis.

This part of the cultural fabric of the two cities remains intact, in spite of cutbacks, recessions, at least one Depression and two world wars. Like our Victorian predecessors, we believe in the life-giving property of live music: it’s central to what we think of as civilised living.

“One of the things that drew me to this job was the belief that live music is a vital part of a healthy society. The work we are doing in the whole of the North West in education is laying down seeds for the future. There is a hunger for large-scale musical performance.

“I love coming to St George’s Hall. I first came with the BBC Philharmonic about 30 years ago. It’s not quite right for large-scale 20th century pieces, but it is wonderful for Mozart, Haydn, Mendelssohn and Dvorak.

“There’s a naturalness to the sound. Because St George’s has a traditional shoebox design, the sound bounces off the walls and comes back quickly to the orchestra and the audience.”

But how does Sir Mark know the difference between a good performance and an exceptional one?

“When the piece of music we are doing is right for the hall, it’s been well-rehearsed, the public knows – not necessarily consciously; you can tell by the way they respond, the stillness with which they listen.

“It’s also to do with how musicians listen to each other and how they respond to each other – quite apart from what they do for me.

“I show them the speeds and when it should be softer and louder, but I don’t play the music,” he adds.

- The Halle Orchestra, conducted by Sir Mark Elder, is at St George’s Hall on Friday, October 1. For tickets, ring (01274) 432000.