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Sunderland Symphony Orchestra held a relaxed, informal concert played at Saint Mary Magdalenes Church, Sunderland.

The first piece played was Gounod’s “Petite Symphonie”. Charles Gounod was a French composer born in Paris, his father was an artist and his mother a very good pianist, she was his first tutor. He attended the conservatoire in Paris and studied under Anton Reicha. 

Gounod’s most famous works are his opera, “Faust” and his setting of the “Ave Maria”

In the early 1850’s he wrote two symphonies and after that he chose to concentrate on religious music and songs. He was a very religious person and at one point almost went into the priesthood.

In the mid 1850’s a virtuoso flautist called Paul Taffanel commissioned Gounod to write a piece for his wind ensemble. This is were Reicha’s influence came in and he wrote a nonet for the group, comprising of flute, pairs of oboes, horns, bassoons and clarinets.


The piece is in the classical style of four movements, with the first being a short, slow introduction then moving into a allegretto. The second movement is marked andante, (quasi adagio), a slow movement with a beautiful flute solo obviously intended for Monsieur Taffanel . The third movement is a scherzo and finishing with the finale that goes back to the allegretto style.

Petite Symphonie - Charles GounodSunderland Symphony Orchestra
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Sunderland Symphony Orchestra Features

World Premiere At Free Festive Return Concert

Sunderland’s own Symphony Orchestra returned to acclaimed live and public performance on Saturday afternoon at West Park Church with their first Christmas concert for two years. Featuring the world première of Phil Jackson’s ‘Celebration March 21’, the composition was made possible with the support of Sunderland City Council’s Community Chest Fund, and marks the Orchestra’s 21st Birthday while celebrating the city’s ‘twinning’ relationship with European cities Saint-Nazaire in France and Essen in Germany. The Covid-19 pandemic ruled out rehearsal and public performance for over eighteen months, during which the orchestra has kept itself ‘alive’ through the innovation of multi-talented musicians finding ways to rehearse remotely in ‘virtual’ ways online. “It hasn’t been easy, but now we’re back with a beautiful concert for our loyal family audience, patrons, and sponsors at this most festive time of year”, said Mark Greenfield, Vice President of the Orchestra. Well, you’d never know. Musical Director David Milner opened this very well-attended Christmas concert with a rousing and evocative ‘Christmas Festival’ by Leroy Anderson. Popular carols ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, a beautiful rendition of ‘Silent Night’, and ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ sprinkled a rich festive programme including an excellent performance of the lesser known ‘A Holst Christmas’ by Gustav Holst, arranged by Douglas E. Wagner. Sergei Prokofiev’s ‘Troika’ from ‘Lieutenant Kije’ brought alive in a beautifully delicate evocation a sleigh-ride through the snow behind a team of three horses abreast.


Players and ticket-holders had been asked to test themselves for C-19 infection before attending this year’s concert, as government guidelines suggested. Another precaution was for the audience to hum rather than sing, and to wear masks where possible. As a result, we weren’t treated to the traditional collaboration with a Sunderland school choir. Rather, a stunning orchestral performance of ‘O Holy Night’ all but made up for the loss. This touching carol, also known as ‘Cantique de Noël’, originally based on the 1843 French-language poem ‘Minuit, Chrétiens’ by Placide Cappeau, and brilliantly set to music by Adolphe Adam in the same year, celebrates the birth of Christ and was popular in the North of the United States in its English version by Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight for a resonance in the third verse with the abolitionist cause:

“His law is love and His Gospel is Peace

Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother

And in His name, all oppression shall cease”

Thanks goes to all the musicians of SSO in overcoming so much to mount this wonderful concert, and in particular to Musical Director David Milner for directing orchestral performances of such high quality. Special mention should be made of Brian Naisby, leading on percussion in its myriad festive forms, and lead flautist Sheila Rayson, whose apparent effortless fluency and towering skill never cease to impress. English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, famous for his American tours, and ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast’ (1898), composed ‘Christmas Overture’ in 1910 as incidental music for a “charming poetical fairy drama’ by Alfred Noyes: ‘The Forest of Wild Thyme’. And because you can never have enough festive music at Christmas, the excellent performance of Coleridge-Taylor’s Christmas Overture, arranged by Sydney Baynes, was followed by the entertaining ‘Instant Concert’ of  30 melodies condensed into three minutes and ten seconds in a single tempo!


Two more all-time favourites, Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ and Leroy Anderson’s ‘Sleigh Ride’ received rapturous applause, preceding the World Première of Phil Jackson’s ‘Celebration March 21’. Phil Jackson has led the trumpet section and written compositions for Sunderland Symphony Orchestra over many years, and this year’s performance celebrated his achievements in the presence of Sunderland’s Mayor, Cllr. Henry Trueman. Sunderland Symphony Orchestra is back, and its appreciative, growing audience will be looking forward to many more concerts as enjoyable as this. Merry Christmas!


Concert Review by Matthew Burge 



Celebration March 21 Composition


This new composition was made possible by funding from Sunderland Council Community Chest Fund. The music was commissioned to mark the occasion of the Orchestra’s 21st Birthday and to celebrate the twinning relationship with our European friends in France and Germany (listen for musical references to their National Anthems) Composed by Phil Jackson Performed and recorded by members of SSO during ‘Covid Lockdown’ 2021 Digital Production by Sophia Pearson.

Twin City Project


On May 9th (Europe Day) our twin city Essen invited us to play in a performance of Beethoven's Ode To Joy, to show international solidarity in this time of crisis. Together with Sunderland Youth Community Orchestra we encourage all of our twin cities to continue making music heard.

Throughout Lockdown, the orchestra was ‘kept alive’ by the efforts of a regular group of members meeting and playing together virtually by Zoom link, in small ensembles outside and in short digital collaborations. It proved technically very difficult to produce recordings that successfully blended the individual performances to reflect the skills of participants and balance of sound. We are therefore greatly relieved that we are again meeting weekly as a full orchestra and that the orchestra has grown in strength and quality despite everything. ‘Celebration March 21’ will be premiered at SSO’s first live concert on Saturday 11th. December 2021.

Ave Verum Corpus


Owing to the Covid-19 pandemic we are postponing all our concerts and workshops until public health directives inform us that public gatherings are safe. In the meantime, Sunderland Symphony Orchestra is developing a range of public-facing online initiatives which we hope you will find engaging. Please check this site and our Facebook and Twitter pages for updates.

We hope you are all keeping safe and well at home and look forward to welcoming you to our next live concert.

Turn your speakers on and click below (YouTube settings to 1080p)  to hear Amadeus Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus, recorded at SSO's concert at West Park Church on 14th December, 2019.

A Candlelit Christmas

Members of SSO have recorded a virtual event for your enjoyment this Christmas.

An exceptional performance of magnificent marches and waltzes


Members of SSO have recorded a virtual event for your enjoyment this Christmas. A drum roll following a short introduction by SSO Chairman David Mills and Musical Director David Milner made his entrance, raised his baton, and we were off - straight into a very tightly played and rousing performance of Johann Strauss, Snr’s Radetzky March, complete with audience clap-along throughout! The orchestra made a very carefully considered decision to follow government advice of the hour and “carry on” with its Spring concert - a magnificent selection of classical marches and waltzes - in the face of growing international uncertainty concerning the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic. A substantial audience did likewise and enjoyed a beautiful concert by Sunderland Symphony Orchestra maintaining astonishingly high standards of performance.

Next up was a smooth and sensuous performance of Franz Lehár’s Gold and Silver Waltz, composed for a ‘belle époque' gala ball held in 1902 by the Austrian socialite Princess Pauline Metternich (who famously fought the first recorded "emancipated duel" in which all the participants - the combatants, the seconds and even the doctor - were women. The choice of weapons was swords and the duellists fought topless, both receiving minor wounds!).

Marching and Waltzing, 14th March 2020

Musical Director: David Milner

Orchestra Leader: Judith Thompson


Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘Seventeen Come Sunday’ March, the first movement of his English Folk Song Suite, evokes a mid-C20th mixed sense of touching rural sensitivity and military vigour as the echoes of traditional song underly the varied full orchestral instrumentation expertly conducted with subtly contrasting dynamics by Musical Director David Milner.

The informative programme for the evening, written by departing SSO Chairman David Mills, tells us that The Blue Danube Waltz is not one waltz, but a chain of five interlinked waltz themes. Spectacularly successful in its orchestral performance at the Paris World Exhibition of 1900, the piece is known to modern audiences for its imaginative use in Stanley Kubrick’s production of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to complement the depiction of space ships waltzing in orbit. Well, some of us may have been waltzing through space in our minds, but the whole audience was overwhelmed by the superlative timings and dynamics of SSO’s rendition, inspirationally led by Judith Thompson, of a composition whose universal appeal and success is explained by its complexity and the genius of Johann Strauss II, the ‘Waltz King’.

Taking us to the interval was a pacy performance of Eric Coates’ stirring Dambusters March evoking wartime courage against adversity from the film for which the piece was composed - once again very impressively performed by an orchestra which never disappoints. The second half opened with a stirring rendition of On The Quarterdeck March by Kenneth J. Alford (aka Major Frederick Joseph Ricketts) - written in 1917 to commemorate the Battle of Jutland - and very tightly performed by the brass and woodwind sections of the orchestra.

Musical Director David Milner gave public thanks to cellist Emma Mapplebeck (unfortunately indisposed for this concert) for organising SSO’s orchestral workshops in schools supported by Sunderland Music Hub in the early part of this year, where the music from Swan Lake was played  to coincide with a performance at the Empire by the Birmingham Royal Ballet. 

Next, we were treated to a really beautiful performance of the lilting and swirling Swan Lake Waltz by Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky. Contrasting the delicacy of woodwind, light strings, and bell percussion with the darkly threatening timpani of Brian Naisby and powerful cello section led by Sophia Pearson, this was yet another brilliant performance of dynamic light and shade and, for me, the very best of the evening.

Musical Director David Milner introduced the Florentiner March by Czech composer Julius Fučik, stirringly and lovingly played by Judith Thompson’s fine strings, an excellent brass section led by Phil Jackson on trumpet, and the impressive percussion and drumming of Jack Stead and Sam Burgess. In a reprise from last year’s Spring programme we had another chance to listen to David Milner’s wonderfully lyrical interpretation of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Waltz no. 2 (recently re-named Suite for Variety Orchestra), first performed in the west as late as 1988. 

Thank you to all SSO Members. Marching and Waltzing was a beautiful concert. Thank you all!

This is what Musical Director David Milner had to say:

“Thank you once again for another brilliant concert. The SSO seem to have a great ability to produce the goods during adversity, remember Peter & the Wolf! Prior to the concert we anticipated that audience numbers would be well down, but doesn’t it show what a high regard our audience have for us in turning out in the numbers they did. When I took over as conductor I acknowledged the great work done by Paul and I would like to reiterate that now, I feel very privileged to be building on that work. Lastly two things I would like to share, Ian (viola)  told me during tea what a wonderful group of players we are and how welcomed he felt. Sam (percussion - remember his cymbal crashes) said he had never played with an orchestra before, only wind bands and how much he had enjoyed this first experience. The concert was a special moment in the orchestra’s history with David and Kathleen’s presentation, thank you for letting me be a part of that.”   -  David Milner, 15.3.20

Early Start for Orchestral Workshops in Schools

Sunderland Music Hub Orchestral workshop at Usworth Colliery Primary School, led by Emma Mapplebeck, with Sunderland Symphony Orchestra performing the Swan Lake Waltz, January 2020.


Sunderland Symphony Orchestra -

Musical Director: David Milner;

Leader: Judith Thompson.


With St Anthony’s Senior Choir -

Musical Director: Laura Dudley.


Christmas by Candlelight

West Park Church - Saturday, 14th December 2019 - A Touching Christmas Concert for all the family.  West Park Church in the centre of Sunderland was filled to capacity last Saturday afternoon for a touching orchestral concert for Christmas by Sunderland Symphony Orchestra (SSO), supported by St Anthony’s Senior Choir.

Under the baton of Musical Director David Milner, the orchestra opened the concert with the rousing Christmas Festival by the American light orchestral composer Leroy Anderson, compiling some of our best known popular Christmas themes from the secular and religious celebration of the holiday.

Touching moments of peace and passion followed in the packed, candle-lit and decorated church with Mozart’s exquisite composition for the short C14th Eucharist chant Ave Verum Corpus.  It is sometimes the quieter and more simple orchestral pieces that move an audience the most, and I wasn’t the only witness of this beautiful and delicately stirring sotto voce ensemble performance to find a tear welling up.

We all joined in to sing While Shepherds Watched, before St Anthony’s Senior Choir treated us with Elgar’s The Snow; Martin and Blane’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; and O Holy Night by Placide Cappeau (lyrics) and Adolphe Adams (melody), arranged by Laura Dudley, the Choir’s dedicated Musical Director, and accompanied by Graham Brown. 

St Anthony’s Girl’s Catholic Academy was established as a grammar school by the Sisters of Mercy in 1902. 

Laura Dudley has worked at the Academy over the last eight years as Subject Leader of Music, “leading this fantastic bunch of students and showcasing their talents”.

SSO Conductor David Milner returned to the podium to invite Laura Dudley and her Choir to sing with the orchestral performance of Boswell’s Little Donkey, arranged by SSO 1st trumpet player and composer Phil Jackson. 

O Little Town of Bethlehem preceded Stephen Bulla’s lively Christmas Calypso, before conductor David Milner introduced two delightful Russian folk songs from the collection by Anatoly Lyadov.  We joined in to sing Caswall and Goss’s See, Amid the Winter’s Snow, with Laura Dudley conducting St Anthony’s Choir once more, followed by SSO’s charming orchestral renditions of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, and Anderson’s Sleigh Ride.

Sunderland Symphony Orchestra is close to completing its two-year Arts Council England funded ‘Coming of Age’ project, and Musical Director David Milner really has developed the players’ consistency and scope over the past eighteen months since his appointment. To emphasise this achievement, our evening drew to a close with a passionate and uplifting performance of G.F. Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus from the Messiah oratorio. What a great way for families to start the holiday celebrations leading to Christmas Day! 

Compilation presentation, 12 months from Summer 2018

An abstract pictorial compilation of excerpts from some of the Orchestra's concerts and workshops in schools between the summer of 2018 and the summer of 2019.  

(For highest quality, set "Quality" to 1080p in bottom right hand corner of screen)

Standing Ovation for Choir, Orchestra and Cellists - Proms at The Point - 12.10.19

A capacity audience rose to applaud a spectacular night of both original and traditional orchestral, ensemble, and choral entertainment at The Point in Sunderland on Saturday night. As we took to our seats, the atmosphere was set with a full-wall backdrop of black-and-white film, set to SSO’s own soundtrack, showing extracts of the orchestra’s achievements in performance over the last year. 

With no trepidation, SSO Musical Director David Milner launched the large orchestra - assembled for the first time at The Point - into Giuseppe Verdi’s The Force of Destiny Overture, a challengingly powerful piece, played with the imaginative skill and maturity we are learning to admire and respect from Sunderland Symphony Orchestra’s players, led by Judith Thompson. The stirring mood continued with a passionate yet concise performance of Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5, evoking even the aroma of goulash suspended over a brazier and encircled by whirling dancers.

Sunderland Symphony Orchestra has been celebrating its 18th birthday through its ‘Coming of Age’ project, funded by Arts Council England and supported by Sunderland Music Hub - and has certainly risen to the challenge over the last year, supporting the creativity of local schools in partnership with Sunderland Youth and Community Orchestra, and selling out its performance of Peter and The Wolf at the Empire Theatre in the summer. 

Composers Andreas Poupazis (top right);

Phil Jackson (middle);

and Deputy Mayor of Sunderland, Cllr. Harry Trueman (bottom left)

SSO Cellists John F.G. Stead (foreground, right); and Jane Boyd (background, left)

Emphasising the important role of the orchestra and its partners in providing routes of progression in bringing on new musical talent, SSO Chairman David Mills announced the presence at The Point of new young orchestral players, and introduced Andreas Poupazis, winner of SSO’s orchestral composition competition, held in partnership with Sunderland University. Musical Director David Milner continued the impressive programme with the orchestral première of Wearmouth Stories, Andreas Poupazis’ winning entry. Reflecting the flow of the River Wear through a history of industry and ship building, the orchestra stepped delicately through the excitingly original composition, widening conceptions to the horizon of what it is possible for orchestral music to achieve.

Six cellists, including four from the orchestra, stepped out as Flaming Tutti Celli, a group established to promote cello playing in schools led by Ros Barton-Gray, to perform imaginative arrangements of the popular Bad Romance; Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This; and a wistfully passionate rendition of Oblivion by the late and great nuevo tango composer Astor Piazzolla. Jarrow Choral Society joined the soirée with touching arrangements of traditional North Country Folk Songs, evocative of lost memories of the innocence and ardour of times past.The interval was used to effect with a second short full-wall film of black-and-white seascape images set to Roker Pier by the young flautist and composer Lawrence Chiu who played with the orchestra before graduating from Sunderland University and returning to Malaysia last year.

Beautifully played by SSO with Jarrow Choral Society, the immediately popular themes  received rapturous applause and is likely to prove an important and prestigious work for Sunderland in the future. 

Sunderland’s ‘Proms at The Point’ continued with Aaron Copland’s lively Rodeo Hoe-Down, played with great joy, followed by Sir Henry Wood’s Tom Bowling and Hornpipe, played in unison to an increasing tempo beyond imagining, even for Lynne Dakers’ phenomenal piccolo playing. Bravo! 

The audience came to full voice for a stirring Jerusalem by Charles H. Parry, turning Musical Director David Milner to conduct them, which he continued to do for Sir Malcolm Sargent’s Rule Britannia, the solo part admirably performed by the thirty-plus strong Jarrow Choral Society, as the audience’s Union Jack waving became a mirthful flurry.

The stirring finale was Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, with the audience on its feet, swaying to the powerfully smooth strings theme, flag-waving arms outstretched in passionate joy. The standing ovation continued until Musical Director David Milner returned to the podium for a final bow of thanks to all, and a fantastic night of orchestral and choral entertainment was complete. 

Taking their orchestra to The Point, encouraging new and younger players and a more diverse audience, experimenting with premières of not just one but two important new compositions, and sharing the stage with the Flaming Tutti Celli ensemble and the Jarrow Choral Society demonstrate the self-assured maturity of an orchestra now playing to a standard of consistent excellence.

Sunderland Symphony Orchestra will be joined by St Anthony's Senior Choir, performing traditional Christmas music and carols at its next concert, Christmas by Candlelight, at West Park Church, Sunderland SR2 7AQ, on Saturday, 14th December at 4.00pm. 

Tickets are on sale now via the website at, and can be arranged through participating local schools. 

Sunderland Symphony Orchestra is a voluntary organisation and a registered charity. The orchestra accepts charitable donations, helping to keep ticket prices low.

Remarkably generous gift of orchestral instruments

Sunderland Symphony Orchestra is very grateful to the scientific engineer and orchestral instrument maker and Mr Arthur V. Ridler for his very generous gift of three first class quality instruments of his creation.

On a visit to his small workshop, accompanied by SSO Secretary Joy Lowther and Development Manager Matthew Burge, Orchestra Leader Judith Thompson received on behalf of the orchestra the rare gift of two violas and one violin.

Sunderland Symphony Orchestra is very grateful to the scientific engineer and orchestral instrument maker and Mr Arthur V. Ridler for his very generous gift of three first class quality instruments of his creation.

On a visit to his small workshop, accompanied by SSO Secretary Joy Lowther and Development Manager Matthew Burge, Orchestra Leader Judith Thompson received on behalf of the orchestra the rare gift of two violas and one violin.

Creative Schools join Orchestral Triumph at Sunderland Empire 

SSO Principal Flautist Sheila Rayson performed magnificently the challenging solo flute parts of 'Peter and The Wolf' 
'Peter and the Wolf and Friends' at the Sunderland Empire, Sunday Matinee, 14th July 2019 (see film of complete SSO performance, below)

Fascinatingly, we had a chance to see some of the tools that Arthur makes himself for the manufacture of his instruments, and to learn something of his earlier scientific engineering career with the Admiralty.

Mr Ridler was happy to donate the instruments to the orchestra for use by players needing them. The instruments will be available to members of the orchestra to view and to play.

Hand-crafted instruments carved with tools of his own making

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Sunderland Symphony Orchestra (SSO); Sunderland Youth and Community Orchestra (SYCO); six Sunderland Primary Schools present sell-out programme of creative performance

A truly special ‘sold out’ orchestral music and primary schools performance programme for a family audience of all ages was presented at the Sunderland Empire on Sunday afternoon to rapturous applause and wide acclaim. Promoted for “families and young people of all ages - from 3 to 103!”, the ambitiously creative

Peter and The Wolf performed by SSO at the Sunderland Empire with graphic animation by 1st Cellist Sophia Pearson (set to 1080p for highest quality)

programme celebrating culture and community featured the creative work of six Sunderland primary schools; the Sunderland Youth and Community Orchestra performing ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ from Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg; and Sunderland Symphony Orchestra with a very highly accomplished performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s symphonic fairy tale for children, ‘Peter and The Wolf’.

As a feature of its ‘Coming of Age’ programme, funded by Arts Council England and Sunderland Music Hub, Sunderland Symphony Orchestra (SSO) delivered preparatory orchestral workshops introducing the instruments of the orchestra alongside the story of ‘Peter and The Wolf’ to six Sunderland primary schools in April and May. 

“The idea was to encourage creative participation from the schools, and the opportunity for pupils and their teachers to develop their own creative performances for our concert at the Sunderland Empire”, said SSO Development Manager, Matthew Burge.

The first act of the programme featured creative performance work by the six primary schools.

First on was Southwick Community Primary School narrating the story of Peter and The Wolf with stunning life-size willow puppets made and expertly animated by the pupils themselves under the guidance of their teacher Claire Beresford. 

St Mary’s RC Primary School followed, with a passionate rendition of ‘A Thousand Years’. The choir was accompanied by their teacher Elizabeth Paget on piano, and a small string section of fellow pupils on violins and cello, led by peripatetic music teacher Emma Mapplebeck. 

St Paul’s C. of E. Primary School amazed the audience with their flawless rendition of all choruses of the regional tale of ‘The Lambton Worm’, led by music teacher and SSO cellist Jane Boyd, illustrated in performance with engaging choreographed storytelling of the battle with the giant dragon. 

Wearing masks of their own creation, Grangetown Primary School had composed their own song for their choreographed performance. The small choir, led by teachers Victoria Stell and Sarah Bryant-King, performed their composition with delicacy and imagination to a very appreciative audience. 

Beautifully choreographed and effortlessly performed, East Herrington Primary Academy, supported by Head Teacher Nicola Hair, presented ‘Into the Woods’, their own dance piece narrating and animating the story of a little girl befriending animals in the woods.

The audience was amazed as 40 violinists aged 5-6 years entered the stage to play en-masse. Led by music teachers Jane Boyd and Emma Mapplebeck, the pupils of Hill View Infant Academy wowed the audience with their confident playing and up-beat and inspiring performance of a beautiful musical journey entitled ‘The Yellow Balloon’.

All the schools, SSO, its partners, partnerships, and funders were thanked by Louise Farthing, Sunderland City Councillor and Portfolio Holder for Children, Learning, and Skills.

The second act began with a dramatic and stirring performance of Edvard Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ by the highly accomplished Sunderland Youth and Community Orchestra (SYCO), numbering more than 40 players of mixed age, experience, and level of ability, and led by Musical Director Emma Mapplebeck. 

“The voluntary Sunderland Youth and Community Orchestra is of key importance to the development of orchestral talent, presenting intermediary opportunities and routes of progression for players from varying musical backgrounds and schools. Sunderland Symphony Orchestra is very keen to continue developing our partnership, collaboration, and co-operation with SYCO for the benefit of orchestral music in the region”, said Joy Lowther, Secretary of SSO.

Having compèred the full programme of creative school performances and orchestral music from SYCO, SSO Musical Director David Milner took up the baton to introduce Sergei Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and The Wolf’ with musical introductory notes on the sections and instruments of the orchestra. The lights dimmed and softened to a versatile moon-lit setting by Sophia Pearson for Sunderland Symphony Orchestra’s performance.

 Musical Director David Milner’s lightness of touch captured the engaging detail of Prokofiev’s ‘orchestral fairy tale for children’. The clarity of narration, expertly timed by Diana Bebby; the precise, sing-song ensemble of the string section led by Judith Thompson; and the virtuosity of SSO solo instrumentalists Sheila Rayson (flute), Diana Whaley (oboe), Lucy Beckmann (clarinet), and Paul Judson (bassoon) became immediately apparent as the delicate and engaging story of Peter and The Wolf was brought out from the woods and into the light, Sophia Pearson’s shadow puppets animating the story against her set design featuring a full moon lighting the orchestra. The expert  trumpet of Philip Jackson, ensemble horns of David Tallent, John Harding, and Rebekah Vickers; and the bold timpanis of Brian Naisby were also commendable. 

 Altogether, a fantastic showcase of established and emerging creative talent and skill performed voluntarily, with imagination, clarity, and virtuosity at a free concert.

SSO thanks the primary school pupils and their teachers who put in so much of their time and and passion to their excellent performances; Sunderland Empire Theatre; Northern Productions; Sunderland Music Hub, who co-fund SSO and who did so much to help with organising the school performers; Arts Council England, who fund SSO’s ‘Coming of Age’ project; SSO volunteers who helped out with infrastructure, the prize draw, and front-of-house organisation; the Honorary Parton of the Orchestra, The Right Worshipful, the Mayor of the City of Sunderland, Councillor David Snowdon; and the Patrons and Friends of the orchestra.

We're all looking forward to a great concert next Sunday afternoon at 3.00 pm, involving creative performances from six of Sunderland's primary schools and the Sunderland Youth and Community Orchestra. 

Sunderland Symphony Orchestra will be performing Sergei Prokofiev's symphonic fairy tale 'Peter and The Wolf' to a full house!

Sunderland Empire Sold Out!

Orchestra receives Mayoral charity award

Sunderland Symphony Orchestra Chairman David Mills, and SSO Co-Founder, Vice President, and SSO Relational Lead Mark Greenfield were invited by Councillor Lynda Scanlan to the Mayor's Parlour on Wednesday 3rd July at Sunderland Civic Centre to receive a cheque for £500 to support the work of the Orchestra. Each year the Mayor promotes his or her  own chosen charities and good causes and undertakes fund raising efforts for them by hosting charity events throughout their Mayoral year of Office. Councillor Lynda Scanlan's chosen charities for her year of Office included Hope Spring, who work and provide support for young vulnerable people; Sunderland & North Durham Society for the Blind; and Sunderland NSPCC.

During her Mayoral year Councillor Lynda Scanlan decided to include two other charities in recognition of the valuable contributions they make to the City Sunderland: The Stella Maris Seamans Mission at the Port of Sunderland; and our very own Sunderland Symphony Orchestra.

Creative Workshops at Six Sunderland Schools in April and May

Photograph - Olivia Soulsby, member of Sunderland Youth and Community Orchestra, receiving tuition from SSO 1st Violinist Ged McCormack at the Big Orchestra Day held at Southwick School on Saturday, 9th March, 2019.

Following the success of our orchestral workshops and Big Orchestra Day (see below), Sunderland’s primary schools have been working with the SSO’s outreach team over four weeks in  April and May.

The workshops lead up to a Schools Orchestral Matinée event with SSO and SYCO to be held at The Empire Theatre, Sunderland, on Sunday, 14th July. SSO will perform Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphonic Fairy Tale for Children, ‘Peter and the Wolf’, and participating primary school children will perform their own story telling themes.

Joy Lowther, said: “Our Peter and the Wolf concert will be completely free of charge and we would love to fill the theatre!” SSO’s next concert, 'Peter and the Wolf and Friends' is a 3.00pm matinée performance on Sunday, 14th July at the Empire Theatre, Sunderland, SR1 3EX. Free tickets (Under 16, or General Admission) online via Eventbrite here

Success for Young Musicians at Schools Big Orchestra Day!

Pupils from 13 local primary and secondary schools were given the chance to participate in orchestral workshops leading up to Sunderland's Big Orchestra Day that took place at Southwick School on the 9th March 2019. Altogether, 23 schools participated in the project as a whole over two weeks. 

Around 270 pupils aged 8 to 19 received expert tuition in small instrumental section groups, and the chance to perform as an orchestra, most for the first time, playing works by Edvard Grieg and Modest Mussorgsky.

Big Orchestra Day was the finale of the workshops and saw pupils joined by members of Sunderland Symphony Orchestra (SSO), Sunderland Youth and Community Orchestra (SYCO) and Houghton Area Youth Brass Band.

Photograph - Alice Daly, attending SSO's school workshop at John F. Kennedy Primary Academy, Washington - she said she was so inspired that she wanted to join the Sunderland Youth and Community Orchestra.

Sunderland Symphony Orchestra (SSO) comprises an ensemble of 57 musicians from strings and woodwind to percussion, brass and piano. The rousing performance before an audience of parents and families included Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ and Mussorgsky’s ‘A Night on the Bare Mountain’. Joy Lowther, Secretary of SSO, said: “It’s all about playing in a big orchestra and we want to inspire more young people to progress into orchestral music and to explore their talents by facilitating creative, fun experiences, and sharing orchestral opportunities in and around Sunderland". 

The young musicians performed across a full range of orchestral instruments at workshops hosted by St Anthony’s Academy; John F. Kennedy Primary School; and Southmoor Academy. The Big Orchestra Day itself was hosted by Southwick Primary School. 

Emma Mapplebeck, Musical Director of SYCO and cellist for SSO who devised and led the workshops, said: “I am delighted with the response from schools to this initiative and a big thank you goes to the schools and their music teachers who took up this opportunity for local young players from pre-Grade 1 right up to Grade 8 so they could experience orchestral playing in a supportive environment". 

Rebecca Pedlow, Manager of Sunderland Music Hub, which is managed by Together for Children – the organisation that delivers children’s services in Sunderland, said: “Opportunities like this provide inclusivity and the chance for children to try something they might not ordinarily have had the option to". 

Mark Greenfield, co-founder and Vice President of SSO commented on the joy on children’s faces when praised for their musicality and performance by David Milner, Musical Director of SSO, who conducted the performances at all three workshops and the Big Orchestra Day itself. Matthew Burge, Development Manager of SSO, said: “The players were focused, committed, and had a lot of fun. The attractions of playing in an orchestra were evident to see. Music teachers, tutors and players know the benefits of playing musical instruments in an orchestra for creativity, learning, health and wellbeing, inclusive social skills and a sense of shared achievement. We want to build on the impact of this initiative and learn from its success, developing opportunities for more players and audiences alike.”

All young attendees were given free tickets to SSO’s following concert on Saturday, 23rd March. ‘Spring Into Jazz’, which featured the talents of local flautist, Megan Robinson.

Flautist, Megan Robinson

Born in Stockton and now based in Bournmoor, County Durham, Megan joined SSO when she was 14, playing violin. Megan started playing the flute when she was 11, and went on to pass Grade 8 in 2015. At 16, Megan received a Diploma from the Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music.

As principal flautist with the Tees Valley Youth Orchestra she has performed in prominent venues worldwide, including Vidado Hall in Budapest, Parque Botanico El Majuelo in Granada, Birmingham Symphony Hall, and The Sage, Gateshead. She has also played with Opera North on the Edinburgh Fringe. This July she will be performing with the Tees Valley Youth Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, New York, USA. Aged 18, she is studying for her A Levels and plans to start University this year.


Spring Into Jazz

SSO's Spring concert opened with a little lesson in Swing rhythm from Musical Director David Milner before launching into ‘Salute to the Big Bands’, arranged by Calvin Custer and featuring the the orchestral verbalisation of “Pennsylvania 65000”. Suitably in the mood, the orchestra performed an arrangement of the classic Sing, Sing, Sing (Louis Prima) made famous by Benny Goodman. 

But in this unusual arrangement by Dean Marshall, adapted by Bob Phillips the brass were allowed a breather as we enjoyed a strings  performance led by the accomplished Judith Thompson, supported by able pianist Alan Cooper, and the excellent percussion of Steven Moore.

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Flautist Megan Robinson treated us to a quite astonishing virtuoso solo performance The Carnival of Venice by Giulio Briccialdi, supported with sensitive accompaniment by the symphony orchestra, not forgetting those of SSO’s own flautists Sheila Rayson and Anna Lockey.

SSO Honorary Patron, The Right Worshipful Mayor of Sunderland, Councillor Lynda Scanlan with flute soloist Megan Robinson


Audience members were noticeably moved by Megan’s extraordinary technical ability, returning prolonged applause; and we were all delighted with her encore of Georges Bizet’s Minuet from L'Arlésienne Suite No. 2, delicately accompanied by Alan Cooper on piano and the full orchestra delivering beautiful key changes evocative of military baroque.

Duke Ellington and Irving Mills’ ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing’ brought us back to swing with lively rhythm and brass performances (Steven Moore excelling again on drums) before the interval - followed by a rendition of Sir John Dankworth’s Tom Sawyer’s Saturday, dryly narrated by Ken Matthews (Musical Director of St Andrew’s Operatic Society) and received with great mirth. Alan Frazer’s arrangement of Scott Joplin’s ‘The Entertainer’ gave us a relaxed taste of rag time as an influential component of the US Jazz mix. In contrast, James Curnow’s arrangement of Dmitri Shostakovitch’s Waltz No. 2 from the Second Jazz Suite, for a Variety Orchestra, added a bohemian flavour to the evening as we swung together for the swirling waltz. Finishing the concert, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue, arranged by Jerry Brubacker, rounded off in dramatic style an evening of very accomplished performances of varied jazz-related compositions by an increasingly versatile orchestra. Bravo Sunderland Symphony Orchestra, yet again! 

Roker Pier by Lawrence Chiu


Inspiring the SSO / University of Sunderland Composition Competition, Lawrence Chiu's Roker Pier, performed by Sunderland Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Paul Judson, has been set to photography and film by SSO Development Manager, Matthew Burge.

(For highest quality, set "Quality"

to 1080p in bottom right hand

corner of screen)


Composition Competition - 2019


In 2018, Sunderland University music student, SSO member, flautist and piccolo player Lawrence Chiu composed 'Roker Pier' for the orchestra. SSO's Summer Concert on Saturday, 7th July 2018 gave 'Roker Pier' its Première performance. The piece was received with great enthusiasm, inspiring an annual composition competition to be held in partnership with the University of Sunderland. The SSO Composition Competition was opened in October of 2018 with an entry window to the end of March, 2019. The competition is now closed for this year, but we expect to open a new competition in the autumn. The winning composition for 2019, Wearmouth Stories by Andreas Poupazis, was given its Première performance at SSO 'Proms at The Point' concert on Saturday, 12th October, 2019.

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