Although it has an important role accompanying Macclesfield Singers, Macclesfield Symphony Orchestra (formerly known as KEMS Orchestra) has progressively established itself as a performing orchestra in its own right.
It has attracted eminent conductors over the years; in recent years they have included such figures as composer Colin Touchin (former head of composition at Chetham’s School of Music and Director of Music at Warwick University); Martin Milner (former leader of the Hallé Orchestra); and Stephen Threlfall (former BBC Philharmonic cellist, now Director of Music at Chetham’s).
Since the 2001-2 season, the Orchestra has been conducted by Anthony Houghton, who for many years was Principal Clarinet of the Northern Ballet Theatre and Manchester Camerata Orchestras and who was a regular player with the Hallé Orchestra and BBC Philharmonic. Anthony has played a major role in expanding the Orchestra’s repertoire in recent years. A few examples will demonstrate the range and styles of music played during the past few years:
l COPLAND Rodeo
l GERSHWIN Rhapsody in Blue
l BRAHMS Symphony No 2
l MILHAUD Suite Provencale
l DELIUS Brigg Fair
l DVORAK Symphony No 8
l TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto
l RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Scheherezade
l ELGAR Symphony No 1
l BRUCKNER Symphony No 6
l SAINT-SAENS Organ Symphony No 3
l VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Sea Symphony
l KARL JENKINS The Armed Man
l BRAHMS Symphony No 4
l DELIBES Coppelia
l PROKOFIEV Peter and the Wolf
l BRITTEN Young Person’s Guide
l PROKOFIEV Peter and the Wolf
l SIBELIUS Symphony No 1
l BERNSTEIN Candide Overture
l SIBELIUS Symphony No 3
l Adam Gorb Silk Impressions
(KEMS Commission with funds kindly provided by the Anne Thomson Foundation)
In 2011, the Orchestra gave the premiere of Christopher Swithinbank’s composition ‘June Unfolding’ recorded for BBC Radio 3.
In 2013, the Orchestra joined KEMS Choir for an acclaimed north-west premiere of Jonathan Dove’s ‘There was a Child’.
In 2018, the Orchestra gave a concert in Congleton to mark the centenary of the town’s mayoralty. Further concerts in Congleton are planned.
The Orchestra always welcomes enquiries from prospective players; in the first instance, please e-mail Sue Hudson giving brief details of your playing experience and we will let you know if any vacancies exist at the present time.
The 2018-19 Season: Tony Houghton looks back on another successful year
A season that has ended on a very positive note with two great and memorable orchestral concerts began with some bumpy moments.
The search for a new Leader to replace Emma Rushworth and a wind section unsettled by Margaret’s departure and bassoonists coming and going, made the early rehearsals challenging. Despite this the November Concert of British music worked well, if a little anxiously. The least known piece, The Fall of the Leaf by Finzi, was given a most sensitive and winning performance by the Orchestra.
The Christmas Combined Concert with uplifting music by Rossini and Massenet from the Orchestra was played with joie de vivre and panache adding fizz and fun to our traditional family seasonal event.
After Christmas things seemed much more settled with Ellis Thompson leading with his calm, smiley confidence and the challenging and well known music for our February concert in Congleton to work on. The rehearsals were hard working and happy occasions with spirited proactivity and positivity all round.
Taking our music to Congleton was another experiment into the unknown but was treated as a great adventure by most. Being such an important occasion for Congleton and its Mayor, the hype and publicity had been turned right up and there was a very buzzing atmosphere. The Hall proved to be as good acoustically as it looked and the Orchestra immediately felt confident and inspired by the clarity of sound and ease of hearing each other in its magnificent space.
The event itself produced one of the Orchestra’s finest performances with sensitivity, passion and confidence from everybody. The Bill Connor première was acclaimed by the people of Congleton, and Rossini, Tchaikovsky and Dvorâk all sounded wonderful, winning over our new audience and gaining us a standing ovation which we rewarded with a fizzing encore. A grand success this concert – musically and financially, which bodes well for our return in March 2020.
The Elgar project with the Choir and the Shrewsbury collaboration, disappointingly reduced to just one performance at the RNCM, brought us back to Earth but the power of the music and the rich Elgarian orchestration made rehearsals a joy and we all put our hearts into it. Much less exposed than our orchestral programme, the lush large orchestral textures felt safe and familiar though the continual flux and flexibility of the pulse of the music and sensitivity and awareness of the moment required kept us on our toes; …but the Orchestra are becoming experts at this sort of challenge and the performance by all accounts was excellent.
Our final concert was very special, back home in St Michael’s and with our two special soloists we were on our metal to attract as large a number of our loyal fans as possible and give them an evening of music making to remember. Our programme by three of the most well loved composers, Mendelssohn, Mozart and Beethoven did the trick and attracted a healthy sized audience who were rewarded with another great evening of music. Our first half offered two rarely heard pieces by these so familiar composers. The opening ‘Trumpet’ Overture by Mendelssohn turned out to be a wonderful work and our performance convinced everyone that it should be played more often. However it was only the curtain-riser for a rare opportunity to hear Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos. Neil and Adam, a duo we had brought together last year for the Carnival of the Animals, gave us a wonderfully unified and delightful performance, inspiring us to an equally sensitive, supportive and spirited chamber music backing in the orchestra. Thank you to the Society for taking the financial risk of two pianos and two soloists to allow us to programme this beautiful work. After the strings wowed us with their rich, powerful sound and commitment in the Mozart Introduction and Fugue the concert concluded with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, so familiar but so strong and exciting – it has everything and what a great performance by everyone. A perfect ending to the season – well done.
Of course our successes are a result of hard work, resolve and dedication of many people and not just in musical ways. There are so many non-musical, practical things that have to be in place for rehearsals and concerts to happen and to allow us to focus on and enjoy the music. So a huge thanks to the Committee, Tim, Sue, Melanie and Ruth for their selfless work for the Orchestra and all the many others who help in many ways – there is always a need for jobs to be done so if you have a little time, please offer to get involved.
Ruth is finally retiring from her caring role in the Orchestra, which has kept us in good health over so many years. We owe her a huge debt and her unique contribution will be sorely missed, impossible to duplicate and very hard to replace. We give her all our love and thanks for looking after us for so long and hope she will be able to stay playing with us for a bit longer. In some ways it has been a tough season, perhaps we could say character building, we have been tested but I believe we have come out stronger as a result. In the end it has been your love of truly committed music making together that has won through, so Bravo to you all.
The future looks good, with Ellis as Leader and a great programme of music for us to explore and present in prospect we can look forward with hope and great expectations.
ELLIS THOMPSON (leader)
Ellis grew up in Gloucestershire and is now based in Manchester, graduating with an MMus from the Royal Northern College of Music in 2017 under the tutelage of Julia Hanson, and with a BMus (Hons) degree in Music from the University of Birmingham in 2012. Between the two, he continued his musical studies in Innsbruck (2012-14) and Vienna (2015) whilst working as an English language assistant for the British Council.
Alongside the violin, he has studied viola with Heather Wallington and Baroque violin with Pauline Nobes and Caroline Balding.
Ellis is currently a freelance performer, teacher and arranger. Away from the violin, he has accompanied improvised comedy shows with the ‘Watch This’ Improv Troupe on piano, and played for shows and jazz bands on drums and bass guitar.