Next Concert:

Christmas by Candlelight


Saturday, 14th December, 2019 at 4.00 pm

West Park Church, Sunderland SR2 7AQ

Tickets available soon from this website.

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.



Hand-crafted instruments carved with tools of his own making

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.


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)

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 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.

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)

 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.



Sunderland Empire Sold Out!

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!


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.

(Right) Left to right, SSO Chairman David Mills; Councillor Lynda Scanlan; and SSO Vice President Mark Greenfield



The Orchestra is very grateful to the former Mayor of Sunderland, and thanks her for all the support she has given us as a an Honorary Patron during her Mayoral year of Office.


(Left) Recipients of the Mayoral charity award

Creative Workshops at Six Sunderland Schools in April and May

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.

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.

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!

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.



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.

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.

Megan Robinson, flute soloist at SSO's 'Spring Into Jazz concert', 23.3.19
Extract sample from the live performance of The Carnival of Venice by Giulio Briccialdi performed by flautist Megan Robinson with SSO, conducted by MD David Milner, on 23rd March, 2019

 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.

 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! 

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 will be given its Première performance at SSO 'Proms at The Point' concert at 7.00 pm on Saturday, 12th October, 2019, at The Point, 1 Park Lane, Sunderland SR1 3JE. This is a free concert, and tickets will be available online from this website.

Content © 2019 Sunderland Symphony Orchestra