Macclesfield Symphony Orchestra
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Registered charity no 517554
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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.
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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 2021-22 season  

 It is with very mixed emotions that we look back on this momentus year for the Orchestra and KEMS.
 
On the one hand it is with great pride and relief that we have not only survived the empty two years of the pandemic with its lockdowns and difficulties but been able, in this first season back, to present amazing concerts to our returning audience.
 
We have risen miraculously and stronger from the ashes.
 
….However, we have been shaken to the core by the loss of two key players from our community. First, before the season started, Ron Thorn passed away. A vital and loyal member of the Orchestra for over 50 years, playing viola and for many of those years the leader of his section. At least though we were able to celebrate his contribution during the season – the November concert was dedicated to his memory. But, worse was to come after the end of our season. Little over a week after our concluding concert we were all shocked and devastated to hear that our wonderful leader, Ellis Thompson, at only 31 years of age, had tragically died. Such a terrible loss for the Orchestra, where he was so much loved and for the musical community, where even so early in his career he had already made such a mark and endeared himself to a large circle of friends and colleagues far and wide.
 
So, a huge roller-coaster of a year, which I will try and record and report on as dispassionately as I can.
 
We began in September with the hope that we would be able to have a season with regular Tuesday rehearsals reinstated, attended by the majority of our players and to present the planned programme of public concerts – though the fears and uncertainties of the covid epidemic were still very present and nothing was sure at that time.
 
We decided, with the help of Moira Taylor and Richard Moss, to advertise and invite players to come and try us out during these weeks in an attempt both to keep up the public profile of KEMS in the area and to attract possible new playing members. This initiative has yielded about a dozen responses so far and there is a good chance that the six or seven of them who joined us might turn into permanent members of MSO and the Society.
 
Looking back at this step into the unknown, I can only thank and congratulate everyone for your courage and determination because we did have great turn out, week after week, and I thank you for your continued belief and trust.
 
I had set a huge musical challenge in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and you pulled it off brilliantly. We welcomed new members Lindsay Pulley, Mary Thorn & David Cliffe in the strings, Gerald Coope, John Vincent, Gareth King & James Wilson in the Wind and Brass for the new season, which added extra vitality and energy to the excitement of our music making together. In retrospect we are grateful for those wonderful Ellis solos in that piece for us to relish and remember. This concert, with an encouragingly large audience, was a fitting tribute for Ron, for whom it was dedicated and we thank his wife Mary for her generous donation that helped make it possible and are delighted she is now playing with us, filling Ron’s vacant chair.
 
Next was our Christmas Concert featuring seasonal orchestral favourites by Malcolm Arnold and Tchaikovsky. There were some added fears at that time of a possiible new infection surge, which affected the audience numbers considerably for this popular annual event that is usually a sell-out. A further new member Andrew Smithson, Horn, was welcomed and made his debut with us at this concert, which was superbly led on this occasion by Ruta Labutyte as Ellis’s deputy.
 
Our February Symphony Concert programme, which was being repeated in Congleton Town Hall, gave me the chance to invite back George Strivens as soloist in the Strauss 2nd Horn Concerto. On our very last concert as the first lockdown kicked in, he had been prevented from playing because of Covid and my having to rejig this February’s programme because our initially planned Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto had to be dropped, I jumped at the opportunity. George more than repaid the compliment, really wowing and winning over the audiences and the players in both venues. The orchestra played wonderfully in the Weber Overture, were inspired in the Brahms Symphony and because of the shorter concerto we had space for an extra item and so were able to include Puccini’s beautiful Crisantemi for Strings. Especially in the sonorous acoustic of Congleton Town Hall with Ellis giving his usual inspiring lead, a lovely and moving performance was created.
 
In April accompanying the Singers in Haydn’s masterpiece The Creation was a delight. His music, so fresh and familiar with its brilliant and sympathetic writing for instruments was a tonic and rehearsing during March was joyous and fun after the heavy seriousness of Brahms and the technical gymnastics required in the ‘impossible’ Strauss!
With our final concert of the season we were back to the big stuff and Wagner and Tchaikovsky certainly know how to supply that! With much needed extra strength in the strings, to balance the full brass, wind and percussion forces, that included yet another new member Isolde Coope and a welcome return visit from Nicola Bright, in the violins. It was great to show off our magnificent trombone section in the Wagner and everyone was stretched and tested in the impassioned sixth symphony of Tchaikovsky, and all rose magnificently to the challenge. This excess of high emotion sandwiched a magical Mozart interlude. The smaller orchestra and our wonderful soloist on the bassoon, Jon Jones, gave us lovely moments of stylishly classical elegance followed by a delightful encore piece for similar transparent forces by Paul Carr.

With rules and safety protocols relaxing more and more, we were at last able to offer wine and refreshments at this concert and we were pleased to welcome and entertain a larger crowd than expected – perhaps we really are getting back to a normality…
 
…This year (and the previous mostly fallow two) has been a huge commitment and effort from us all to keep the ensemble active and alive, feed the musicmaking passion and rekindle our performing skills and mojo. Many people in the Orchestra and in the Society have contributed unstintingly and tirelessly behind the scenes to this end but I would especially like to thank our Orchestral Chair Andrew Tyler for his huge efforts to keep the ship afloat and for his immense help to me. Although fairly new to the Orchestra and the post, his concern for MSO’s spirit and well-being and the practicallity of his actions has been brilliant. After the gathering successes of our concerts through the season and particularly this triumphant last event I felt immensly proud of MSO and every player in it – all special people; the Orchestra had risen phoenix-like and seemed more vibrant and united than ever – the future was so exciting but we had given our all and it was good to stop… …but then, only ten days later, the unthinkable thunderbolt hit us – how could it be – Ellis had played like a demon, his amazing sound still loud in our heads. Especially in the Tchaikovsky he inspired and lifted us all to heights seemingly unattainable. We have lost an inspirational leader, a most generous giver of his time and talents but most of all a lovely and irreplaceable friend. But if we can find a positive, and we must, he has left us all with personal and special memories and we owe it to him as well as ourselves, MSO and KEMS to keep striving, keep enjoying and keep making music together.
 
PS We are very sorry to say goodbye to Hilary Kershaw and Roger Dowling, long-time stalwarts of the second violins, who living some distance away, have reluctantly decided that the long weekly journey on those dark winter Tuesdays are now just too much. Thank you for your loyalty and commitment to the Orchestra, your enthusiasm and friendly faces will be much missed. Especial thanks to Roger for the wonderful programmes and your work on the KEMS website, so vital to the Society – you leave a big vacancy there!

Orchestral Director: Anthony Houghton
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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  
Rehearsals resume on Tuesday, 6th September 2022 from 7.40 - 9.45 pm at St Peter's Church, Windmill Street, Macclesfield SK11 7HS. For a full rehearsal schedule, click here.
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