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:
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
The 2016-17 Season
Tony Houghton looks back on a successful year
The sixtieth anniversary season has been one of the busiest for the Orchestra, one of great change and development but also one of the most successful and musically fulfilling.
Early we saw the retirement of two of our longest serving and valued members; Ann Newton – flute and Tim Kendal – horn, both of them have made huge contributions to the Orchestra over many years and we wish them all the very best. Leaving us also after a few short years with us was Suzanne Blair – bassoon. Despite this sudden depletion of the wind section with these departures the vacancies were soon filled and we welcomed Ann Speyer on flute and piccolo, Lisa Rendall on bassoon and Charles Smith on horn. We were delighted also to welcome back Carolyn Alsop to share the principal bassoon chair with Jo Allinson.
The brass section was also enhanced by Laurie Cooper on trombone, joining Rodney and Richard to give us a complete ‘in house’ section for the first time – what a luxury!
The strings too have gained new members, violinist Julie Farmer, Jen Haines on viola, ‘cellist Kevin Hamer and Linda Pyatt, our first Double Bass member for years – wonderful.
Emma Rushworth was appointed Leader in September 2016 (see above) and her great playing and charming personality has endeared her to us all and she is inspiring a new enthusiasm and unity in the strings, audibly helping to enrich the tone and quality of unanimity and intonation over the season.
Before our St Michael’s winter season began the Orchestra had taken on a very special project. Invited by the Hayfield Royal British Legion to take part in ‘Somme 100’ in the New Mills Theatre in late October, we were to accompany the silent film ‘The Battle of the Somme’, performing a specially composed score by contemporary composer Laura Rossi to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War (see above). With just four weeks of rehearsal allocated for this massive score, this was a big challenge for both orchestra and conductor, both musically and organisationally but everyone took it on wholeheartedly and it was a moving and unique occasion in the packed and magnificent old theatre and the orchestra performed brilliantly, syncing efficiently with the film and creating the changing moods and atmosphere beautifully.
Following very soon after the New Mills event the first KEMS concert set high standards, beginning with three French pieces, the Orchestra excelling in Berlioz and Saint Saëns (the Danse Macabre showpiece that featured our new leader Emma) that sandwiched a delightful rendering by the winds of Gonoud’s Petite Symphonie before supporting the Choir in Beethoven’s Mass in C.
Our Christmas concert featured the popular Swan Lake Ballet Music Suite by Tchaikovsky – another opportunity for Emma to display her soloistic talents!
After the all too short seasonal break we were back to work in early January on Elgar’s Violin Concerto, another big project for the Orchestra. Brought forward to February, the concert with Ben Holland as soloist was an artistic success, with the Orchestra showing great sensitivity, flexibility and warmth especially in an epic performance of the Concerto.
Then it was on to the main focus of the year, the big RNCM 60th Aniversary spectacular in early April. We had just five weeks to learn and prepare our own Copland and Mascagni pieces plus the many Choir items we were accompanying. Again everyone pulled out all the stops, coping with the organised chaos of an event involving so many people on the day and relishing a celebratory and memorable concert, which was enjoyed by all in the lovely acoustic and facilities of a professional concert hall.
To round off our season a second orchestral concert in St Michael’s gave us just five weeks to prepare. With our own set of soloists, in a lovely programme of Beethoven, Mozart and Tchaikovsky, in which the Orchestra (and soloists) were in fizzing form, we produced our best ever performance, every section shining and polished – one big family playing as one.
From 2016, Emma Rushworth became leader of the Orchestra in succession to Jac McKeigue.