generic white transparent.png
Registered charity no 517554
making music logo small.png
twitter bird.png
Macclesfield Symphony Orchestra  

Macclesfield Symphony Orchestra (formerly known as KEMS Orchestra) has established itself as a performing orchestra in its own right as well as accompanying Macclesfield Singers in joint concerts.
The orchestra  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 2001-02 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:  
•  Copland Rodeo  
•  Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue  
•  Brahms Symphony No 2  
•  Milhaud Suite Provencale  
•  Delius Brigg Fair  
•  Dvorak Symphony No 8  
•  Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto  
•  Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherezade  
•  Elgar Symphony No 1  
•  Bruckner Symphony No 6  
•  Saint-Saens Organ Symphony No 3  
•  Vaughan Williams Sea Symphony
•  Karl Jenkins The Armed Man
•  Brahms Symphony No 4
•  Delibes Coppelia    
•  Prokofiev Peter and the Wolf
•  Britten Young Person’s Guide
•  Prokofiev Peter and the Wolf
•  Sibelius Symphony No 1
•  Bernstein Candide Overture
•  Sibelius Symphony No 3
•  Adam Gorb Silk Impressions
New players welcome
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.
Music Director Tony Houghton looks back on the 2019-20 season  

Our new season began with the usual excitement and enthusiasm, the Orchestra strong in numbers and ambition.  The discussions and decisions completed for the rebranding of the KEMS Ensembles, we were all keen to live up to our new status as the Macclesfield Symphony Orchestra.

The big musical challenge of Sibelius’s third symphony began our season.  This unfamiliar but beautiful music was taken on in various ways. Some very wary of the unknown and needing convincing, others in an evangelical spirit determined to bring this hidden gem to a wider public.  So, much caution and scepticism but also much adventurous spirit and certainly a general willingness to give it a go.  It didn’t take long though for the quality and beauty of the melodies and unique journey the work took us on to win over everyone and rehearsals became like a voyage of discovery and joy.  The Grieg Tone Poem/Overture In Autumn was a rare find too and it needed a good deal of dedication and application from us all to grasp its essence and bring out the dance and song of its rustic charm. The performance alongside the Nelson Mass, another fantastic piece, was excellent and the orchestra certainly lived up to its symphonic status and aspirations, entertaining our regulars and winning many new fans.

Our orchestral contribution to ‘Christmas at KEMS’ included a rare overture by Nicolai, appropriately the ‘Christmas Overture’ and a long requested programming of the Hely-Hutchinson Carol Symphony, which many of us enjoyed playing for the first time.  As ever a fun seasonal celebration of familiar favourites thoroughly enjoyed by singers, players and audience alike.

The New Year brought the highest ambition and expectation so far for us with our big Symphony Concert to be presented twice on consecutive days. The programme of well-known romantic blockbusters for full symphony orchestra by Wagner, Richard Strauss, Glinka and Rachmaninov presented our biggest challenge yet.  This was ensemble music on the grandest scale requiring our best musical commitment but also great stamina.  Everyone in the orchestra rose to the challenge and the January and February rehearsals were intense and hard working.  Rachmaninov’s first symphony was new to most (the 2nd is the one everyone knows), long and with many notes to learn.  Wagner’s Mastersingers’ Overture, very familiar, had to be prepared with extra care to make our rendering convincing and special.  The Glinka, in contrast was a respite from the other large-scale works and needed a light touch and assured grasp of style.  One of the delights of our concert was to be Strauss’s 2nd Horn Concerto played by George Strivens, our talented young soloist, now in his 2nd year at the Royal Academy of Music and who, while still at School had played with us in a memorable performance we gave a few years ago of Schumann’s Concertstücke for 4 Horns. We thoroughly enjoyed learning the brilliant Concerto No.2 and having George with us for a special rehearsal.

As the concert weekend approached the excitement and anticipation was gaining considerable momentum but suddenly we were becoming aware of the looming threat from China and Italy. …would all our hard work come to nothing? If memory serves me right lockdown wasn’t to be brought in to the UK until the following week but there was much rumour and concern, so it was put to the players would they be prepared to play.  I was perhaps the strongest advocate, wanting a proper finish to all our efforts to prepare a wonderful programme and to fulfil my long time plan for the orchestra to repeat a concert and develop our new Congleton audience.  Bravely the majority of the group voted to play despite some strong family pressure not to and I am forever grateful.  However that wasn’t the end of it because at the I got a call from George to say that he believed he had had contact with a person with Coronavirus and felt he must self-isolate and pull out of the concert – disaster!  It seemed to me for a while that that was the final straw and we would be forced to cancel.  It was too short notice to get a replacement soloist, so what could be done?  In the end I came up with a plan.  From my library I had some wind music by Richard Strauss, which I thought could be put in the place of the Concerto.  I was very aware of what a big ask of the wind players it was after only a short 20minute play-through on the Saturday afternoon to perform another major piece, when already their lips and stamina were being severely tested.  However I had great faith in my players who I knew had the experience and grit to rise to even this beyond-the-call-of-duty request and my belief in them was fully justified.

The two concerts were great musical successes, our audiences were inevitably depleted but those that came had a very special experience.  The Orchestra gave their all and the performances were wonderful and very moving. Especially in Congleton, when we all knew by then that this was likely to be our last concert for a very long time. We performed in front of the current Congleton Mayor and last year’s Mayor who had been so involved with our previous concert there, demonstrating the official support from the Town.  The atmosphere in the Hall was electric.

It was a great disappointment to many of us that the final two events of our season were lost to the lockdown.  With the orchestra in such good health and great momentum in March it is very frustrating that we have been stopped in our tracks by the pandemic and we can only hope that we will be able to pick up the baton again to explore and perform great music together with similar passion soon.
Orchestral Director: Anthony Houghton
Tony in rehearsal.jpg
ANTHONY HOUGHTON  conducts Macclesfield Symphony Orchestra and was Founder and Conductor (until 2013) of Macclesfield Concert Band. He was born in Warrington but brought up in the Lincolnshire countryside near Grimsby, where he attended the Choir School and played Clarinet with the Youth Orchestra. After study at the Royal Manchester College of Music (now the RNCM) he settled in Manchester working as a freelance Clarinet and Saxophone recitalist, orchestral and session player. He was Principal Clarinet of the Northern Ballet and Manchester Camerata Orchestras for many years and played regularly with the Hallé, BBC, Opera North and other UK orchestras.
 Anthony is Clarinet, Saxophone and Ensemble Tutor at Manchester Grammar School, until summer of 2019 was Instrumental Tutor, Chamber Music Organiser and Ensemble Director at the Music Department of the University of Sheffield and acts as Adjudicator at music festivals and competitions.

He is on the executive of the national symphonic band organization (BASBWE) and, in addition to directing the KEMS Macclesfield Symphony Orchestr, was conductor of Sheffield University Wind Orchestra with whom he has directed performances around the UK and Europe. .

A lifetime enthusiasm for the intimacy of chamber music and a continuing professional activity in this field has fed Anthony ’s long time passion for enabling chamber music and ensemble participation in others at many levels.
Macclesfield Symphony Orchestra Rehearsals  
Covid-safe rehearsals resumed on Tuesday, 18th May at 7.40 pm at St Michael’s Church, Macclesfield (map below). For a full rehearsal schedule, click here.
Orchestra rehearsal - Covid.jpg