Creative Schools join Orchestral Triumph at Sunderland Empire 


Peter and the Wolf and Friends at the Sunderland Empire, Sunday Matinee, 14th July, 2019

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 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 a 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 an appropriately atmospheric moon-lit setting by Sophia Pearson for Sunderland Symphony Orchestra’s performance.

Musical Director David Milner’s lightness of touch immediately 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) - bravo!, 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 for the benefit of the people of Sunderland.

Commending the concert, the Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear, Mrs Susan Winfield, OBE, wrote: 

“I thoroughly enjoyed Sunday’s concert and would like to congratulate all involved”.

SSO also 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.

Next SSO concert:  'Proms at The Point'  -  with Flaming Tutti Celli, and Jarrow Choral Society, featuring orchestral composition premieres

Saturday, 12th October at The Point, Sunderland

Tickets will soon be available online via Eventbrite.

Anyone wishing to find out more about Sunderland Symphony Orchestra and its upcoming concerts and events should visit or contact the Development Manager, Matthew Burge at [email protected]

Spring Into Jazz

West Park Church, Saturday, 23rd March, 2019


The 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.

The very talented young flautist Megan Robinson treated us to a quite astonishing solo performance The Carnival of Venice by Giulio Briccialdi, supported with a sensitive accompaniment by the symphony orchestra, not forgetting that of SSO’s own flautists Sheila Rayson and Anna Lockey. The audience were noticeably moved by Megan’s performance, returning prolonged applause, and were delighted with her encore of Georges Bizet’s Minuet from L'Arlésienne Suite No. 2.

Duke Ellington and Irving Mills’ ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing’ brought us back to swing with lively rhythm and brass performances 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 waltz. Finally, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue, arranged by Jerry Brubacker, rounded off an evening of very accomplished performances of varied jazz-related compositions by an increasingly versatile orchestra. Bravo Sunderland Symphony Orchestra, yet again! 

MB - March, 2019



A beautiful Christmas concert by Sunderland Symphony Orchestra at Sunderland’s West Park Church - Saturday matinée, 15th December, 2018.

An annual family attraction

Once again, Sunderland Symphony Orchestra doesn’t disappoint, performing for an inclusive and family-orientated audience of over two hundred an engaging programme of diverse Christmas music appealing to all tastes. Performing under the baton of the orchestra’s new Musical Director David Milner, and led by virtuoso violinist Judith Thompson, the orchestra was joined this year by the acclaimed East Herrington Primary Academy Choir under the accomplished leadership of Musical Director Nicola Hair.

The programme began with delicate interpretations of selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite: Trepak; Dance of the Mirlitons; and The Chinese Dance. The audience joined the orchestra to sing a rich rendition of Hark! the Herald-Angels Sing, before hearing a wonderfully gliding performance of Émile Waldteufel’s The Skaters’ Waltz.

East Herrington Primary Academy Choir has an impressive history of success including reaching the finals of the Barnado’s School Choir of the year at the Royal Festival Hall (2016), and the Music for Youth regional festivals (2017 and 2018). Led by Musical Director Nicola Hair, the choir took the stage for touching performances of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in harmony; the delicate Voice of an Angel; and, heralding Christmas in fine style, pealing ding, ding-a dong harmonies for Carol of the Bells.

The orchestra’s powerful string section led by Judith Thompson provided gloriously sonorous under-pinning to oboist Fiona Cudlipp’s and flautist Sheila Rayson’s excellent solo performances of Ennio Morricone’s Gabriel’s Oboe from the 1986 film The Mission, written by Robert Bolt and directed by Roland Joffé. 

Frederick Delius’ Sleigh Ride preceded more audience participation for Once in Royal David’s City before the centre-piece of the concert, The Snowman Suite by Howard Blake to the story by Raymond Briggs. 

It’s easy to think that we know very well such a famous piece as The Snowman, but a performance of the entire suite with narration by David Mitchell proved how much we had to learn and to appreciate. Interestingly, a single piano keyboard shared the four hands of Barnaby Blacker and Alan Cooper as the touching melody began. Over 26 minutes in length, the orchestra performed the entire suite flawlessly, with East Herrington Primary Academy Choir joining in to sing and dance the story through the extraordinary “flying in the air” to the poignant string accompaniment to “a little heap of melted snow, an old hat, a tangerine, a scarf, and a few lumps of coal”. The delicacy, precision, and timing of the pianists and all the solo and ensemble instrumental performances was quite remarkable, and reminded us of the importance of orchestral music and the developing achievements of Sunderland Symphony Orchestra “coming of age” in its eighteenth year.

Generous prizes donated by orchestra members and others were won in the orchestra raffle, and the concert continued with two more snow-themed pieces - Prokoviev’s Troika from Liutenant Kieje; and Leroy Anderson’ famous and playful Sleigh Ride of 1948, so evocative of the Christmas season.

The programme ended with a rich orchestration of the wistful Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Martin and Blane) first introduced by a young Judy Garland in the 1944 film Meet Me in St Louis.

What more could anyone have asked to put us in the spirit of Christmas? Congratulations to Sunderland Symphony Orchestra!

MB - December, 2018


 18th Birthday Celebration Triumph! - West Park Church, Sunderland, 13th October, 2018

Sunderland Symphony Orchestra “comes of age”, supported by Arts Council England’s Grants for the Arts Award.

Sunderland Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 18th Birthday on Saturday night with a spectacular programme of orchestral works reflecting the achievements of the orchestra since its establishment in 2000 supported by Sunderland City Council. 

“The idea was to celebrate the Millennium with an initiative of real and lasting cultural and educational value for the people of Sunderland”, said Mark Greenfield, Orchestra Founder and Vice-President.

The varied and triumphant programme of orchestral music selected by the newly appointed Musical Director David Milner and admirably led by the excellent Judith Thompson included works from Saint-Saëns, Cole Porter, Tchaikovsky, Johann Strauss, Andrew Lloyd Webber - and a version of Happy Birthday, including wide-ranging musical quotations, composed by Phil Jackson, arranger and trumpet player from the ranks of the orchestra itself. 

There was a standing ovation for a powerfully passionate rendition from Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, and rapturous applause for the Finale from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, performed at the orchestra’s first concert in 2000.

Passing the baton to David Milner for his first concert as Musical Director, Paul Judson, received Life Membership of the orchestra from Chairman David Mills.

The concert included adept performances from former players Laura Payne, Flute and Piccolo; Gary Nichol and Stephanie Brown, Horn; Jane Boyd, Cello; and former leader David McCourt, Violin. Many other former players attended as members of an appreciative audience.

Eager to develop new talent, and as a part of SSO’s “Coming of Age” programme supported by Arts Council England’s Grants for the Arts and the Sunderland Music Education Hub Together for Children, the orchestra is working closely with the Sunderland Youth Orchestra led by Emma Mapplebeck (also a Cellist with the SSO) to develop music education outreach programmes to Sunderland schools over the next 18 months. The celebratory 18th Birthday concert orchestra players included eighteen year olds Caitlin Williams, Viola; Sarah Blackhall, Clarinet; and two younger violinists.

Over eighteen successful years the orchestra has played more than seventy concerts from its base at West Park Church in Sunderland, and across the wider region. Sunderland Symphony Orchestra, itself a registered charity, has helped to raise money for other charities including the RNLI; and the Lazarus Foundation, supporting children living in poverty.

Attending the eighteenth birthday celebration concert was Honorary Patron, The Right Worshipful Mayor of Sunderland, Councillor Lynda Scanlan. The orchestra has always welcomed members from overseas, and as the orchestra’s own birthday present to Mayor Lynda Scanlan, Founder and Vice President Mark Greenfield presented a recording of the orchestra’s performance of “Roker Pier”, a new composition by Malaysian flautist Lawrence Chiu, performed to great acclaim at the orchestra’s summer concert, conducted by Paul Judson.

Commenting on future plans, Chairman David Mills said: “We are coming of age, and we are looking to the future. We’re an open and inclusive voluntary orchestra and we aim to diversify and extend our audience. With the continuing support of Sunderland City Council, Arts Council England, Together for Children, and other sponsors, collaborators and partners to whom we are inordinately grateful, we are planning sure, steady, and sustainable development. Look out for our new website. Anyone sharing our vision can join us. And come along to our Christmas concert with the East Herrington Primary Academy Choir on the 15th December at 4.00 pm! 

MB - 15.10.18


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