KING EDWARD MUSICAL SOCIETY (KEMS) of Macclesfield officially started in
September 1957 so we celebrated our Diamond Jubilee in 2017.
KEMS originated from two musical events that took place at The King’s School in 1956 and 1957. On Saturday 24th March 1956, the King’s School Choir supplemented by parents (King’s School Choral Society) and the Brocklehurst-Whiston (a local company)
orchestra performed Handel’s Messiah in the Parish Church (St Michael’s) in Macclesfield. The performance was directed and organised by the then Director of Music at King’s School, Patrick Salisbury.
At an inaugural meeting to arrange the first season’s concerts then took place on 18th June 1957 under the chairmanship of Charles
Beswick. The orchestra was formed from members of the new society, King’s School Instrumental Tutors, members of The King’s School and the Brocklehurst-Whiston Orchestra.
The Society’s debut concert was a Christmas Concert directed by Patrick Salisbury in which
Ralph Chadwick led the orchestra. Patrick Salisbury left the Society in 1960 to be succeeded first by Simon
Johnson and then by Neil Chaffey, the next Director of Music at King’s School. In 1961 the Society took part in the celebrations to mark the 700th anniversary
of Macclesfield Borough receiving its Royal Charter. We participated in a BBC Songs of Praise in October 1964. KEMS celebrated its 10th Anniversary in St George’s Church, Macclesfield with a performance of Verdi’s Requiem on 16th March 1968.
After Neil Chaffey left the Society, the musical direction changed hands to
Brian Goodwin for a short while, before Colin Touchin (orchestra) and John
Railton (choir) took over for the 1985-86 season. This was the first time that
the Society had had two musical directors. John took the KEMS choir to the Llangollen Eisteddfod in 1986 and the choir was
placed 5th out of 15 choirs, even ranking higher than some of the Welsh Choirs
that were participating. Colin Touchin wrote a piece for baritone, choir and orchestra entitled Hilarion
for the Society to perform as part of its 30th birthday celebrations.
Under Colin's and John's direction, KEMS also gave the North West premiere of
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem in St Michael’s church in Macclesfield and in St John's in Buxton in March 1986. November 1987
was the first occasion when the orchestra gave a concert on its own,
independently of the choir.
John Railton left the choir at the end of the 1988 season and Colin's final
concert with the Society was in March 1989. Martin Hindmarsh (choir) and
Stephen Threlfall (orchestra) then took over the musical direction.
In 1991-92 the musical direction changed hands again to the former leader of the
Hallé Orchestra, Martin Milner, (orchestra) and Simon Mercer (choir). It was under
Martin’s directorship that the tradition of a separate orchestral concert became an
established part of the KEMS season. In 1996-97, KEMS celebrated its 40th Anniversary. It was an ambitious season
that included performances of Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s B minor Mass, Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius and a semi-staged performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Trial by Jury. Stephen Threlfall, now Director of Music at Chetham’s School of Music, took on the direction of the orchestra in 1998, and Simon
Bowler took over the choir in 1999 and choir and orchestra in 2000-01.
In May 2000, the Orchestral and Choral Workshop was the first event when the
members met their new musical directors for the 2001-02 season: Peter Gunstone
(choir) and Anthony Houghton (orchestra). Peter's first season with the Society included a special concert to commemorate
the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002.
In 2005, Peter was succeeded as Choir Director by lan Chesworth. In the same year, the orchestra performed at the
Buxton Fringe Festival for the first time. In the 2005-06 season, the orchestra
was proud to give the World Premiere of Silk Impressions by Adam Gorb - a piece
that reflects aspects of legends, places and industry in the Macclesfield area. In turn, Ian was succeeded in 2022 by Mark McCombs who is our
current choral director.
KEMS celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2006-07 with a truly ambitious series of
concerts with an international flavour. The highlight of the jubilee year for all who participated or attended in the
audience was a performance, with the Tatton Singers, of Verdi's Requiem at the
Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester on 22nd April 2007.
In the period since then the KEMS membership has continued to grow to and now
has nearly 200 performing members. KEMS Concert Band was founded in 2005 and now has over 45 members, ranging from
teenagers to those in their 70s. The band performs six or seven times a year in formal and informal concerts in
stately homes, bandstands and shopping centres and famously in a quarry. The band has toured to Belgium and France, and returned to Belgium in August
2017. The Band was thrilled to be accepted onto the Adopt a Composer
scheme run by Making Music in partnership with Sound and Music in association
with BBC Radio 3, funded by PRS for Music Foundation and the Philip and Dorothy
Green Music Trust, working with our composer, Christopher Schlechte-Bond.
The choir and orchestra continue to extend their repertoire so ensuring that our
concerts appeal to all. Our 60th Anniversary season 2016-17 included
Beethoven’s Mass in C - a major collaboration between the choir and orchestra; Carols in
the Stable Yard at Tatton Park (Band and members of the Choir); and a brilliant
performance by the violinist Benedict Holland of Elgar’s Violin Concerto.
In recent years, KEMS has spawned yet another musical group: Macclesfield
Contemporary Ensemble (originally named KEMS Minimalists). Its foundation followed a successful workshop performance of In C, a minimalist
composition for an indefinite number of performers by Terry Riley; now, the
group meets regularly to explore small scale experimental modern works. In February 2017, the group performed in Sound Scape by Lorna Green and Julia
Harding at Manchester Art Gallery.
KEMS is truly an organisation for the community. Over the past 60 years we have
staged or participated in over 450 performances. There have been many musical
highlights for performers and audiences alike – and we know that there will be many more to come in the years ahead.
In November 2019, KEMS was rebranded as Macclesfield Singers, Macclesfield
Symphony Orchestra, Macclesfield Concert Band and Macclesfield Contemporary