Originally set up to accompany the KEMS Choir, a role that is still central to its activities, the Orchestra has progressively established itself as a performing orchestra in its own right.
It has atttracted 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:
GERSHWIN Rhapsody in Blue
BRAHMS Symphony No 2
MILHAUD Suite Provencale
DELIUS Brigg Fair
DVORAK Symphony No 8
TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto
ELGAR Symphony No 1
BRUCKNER Symphony No 6
SAINT-SAENS Organ Symphony No 3
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Sea Symphony
KARL JENKINS The Armed Man
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’.
From 2014, Jac McKeigue became leader of the Orchestra in succession to Jake Phillips.
the 2015-16 season was a momentus year for the Orchestra – big challenges, big changes, great and exciting music making and successful concert performances.
The season began in grand manner working on Vaughan Williams’ wonderful London Symphony and this along with the Rutter Gloria and Tsunami Requiem by another Williams, contemporary composer Chris, received powerful performances in November. The orchestral comtributions to the Christmas concert were well received, especially the Coppelia Ballet music and I was proud to have my Orchestral Christmas Suite of Tchaikovsky’s Op. 37a music programmed and played so well by you all. This concert was tinged with the sad knowledge that we were loosing our valued leader Jac McKeigh, whom we had taken to our hearts and had developed the string team with great sensitivity and charm. We thank her for all her hard work for the Orchestra and remember her with affection.
So the New Year began with the search for a new Leader. I felt it was time for this position to be upgraded and to be put on a more professional basis and so as to get it right and not to rush into an immediate appointment, I set a timetable to have someone in place for the beginning of the 60th season. This left the opportunity for first Robert Shaw and then Dianne Knowles to sit up and experience the responsibility and lime-light for the two remaining concerts of the season. Both threw themselves into the role with great skill, energy and creativity – I was most impressed by their commitment and grateful for their generous collaboration, in their own ways they were a delight to work with.
Our March concert, with Rob leading, was a great success – the popular programme of Romantic classics attracted our largest audience to date and they were given magnificent performances from everyone and especially our charismatic soloist Adam Swayne in the Rachmaninov. It really was a night to remember. Then with Dianne taking over from Rob on the Leader chair we began rehearsing Brahms’ glorious Requiem score. It was a delight to work on this masterpiece along with the Song of Destiny and Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave Overture and Ian was very pleased with the performance; the Choir and Orchestra inspiring each other in this great music.
Most of us were able to take part in the February Orchestral Workshop Gerald had organised again this year. The move to earlier in the year seemed popular and a big orchestra enjoyed working on and performing Strauss’s Rosenkavalier Suite and Enscu’s Romanian Rhapsody. It was a pleasure to have Nicola Bright guest leading for the day and the charity benifitted considerably from everyone’s generosity.
The season concluded with three Tuesday repertoire rehearsals in May in which we explored the early Tchaikovsky’s symphonies. These rehearsals were led each week by one of the three very able and charming candidates in line for the vacant full-time Leader’s post, an ideal opportunity for them to try us out and for us to assess them in action. These were most enjoyable sessions, a chance to get to know these mostly neglected gems from this Russian composer.
Our leader hopefuls were all excellent but one stood out as being particularly special and the right fit for us. Emma Rushworth was offered the job, accepted and will be leading the Orchestra from our first rehearsal in September. I am looking forward to working with her and to her building a lasting and creative relationship with us all.
The Orchestra always welcomes enquiries from prospective players; in the first instance, please e-mail us brief details of your playing experience and we will let you know if any vacancies exist at the present time.