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.


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