Make sweet music by joining this wonderful Sunderland orchestra

Eighteen-years-old. That's the Sunderland Symphony Orchestra, which is as strong as ever.

Wednesday, 26th September 2018, 11:00 am
Updated Thursday, 27th September 2018, 6:01 pm
The Symphony Orchestra.
The Symphony Orchestra.

And to mark its big anniversary, it is holding a celebration concert which will be held this month.

Today, with the help of Mark Greenfield, we take a look back at the history of the orchestra – so far.

Sunderland Symphony Orchestra will celebrate its coming of age soon.

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Ray Farr, left, with Paul Judson, from Sunderland Symphony Orchestra.

A celebratory concert on Saturday, October 13, starts at 7.30pm at West Park Church, Stockton Road.

But it was back in 1999 that the City of Sunderland Millennium Orchestra Society (CoSMOS) came out of an idea from the three former ward councillors, John Lennox, Win Lundgren and Mark Greenfield for the then Thornholme Ward.

The city council allocated £2,000 to each of the 25 political wards in the city. The aim was to celebrate the new millennium.

But rather than spend it on a one-off event, the Thornholme councillors wanted to make a lasting cultural investment and the orchestra was formed on Friday, October 1, 1999 – using the loss of the city’s School Music Service and its Youth Orchestra as its input.

David Milner from Sunderland Symphony Orchestra.

Rupert Hanson was appointed as the first Musical Director/Conductor of CoSMOS and soon created opportunities for younger, inexperienced musicians to play alongside professionals.

Grants were also secured and West Park Church soon became home for CoSMOS. But then came the first big test – playing in front of the public.

West Park Church was the setting on Saturday, February 29, 2000. It was a hit. A Sunderland Echo review said: “The new musical society is to be congratulated on a remarkable achievement with Fingal’s Cave Overture opening the proceedings. This was colourfully and confidently played.”

Later that year, a constitution was adopted and a society committee was established with David Mills as chairman. The Orchestral Society became a registered charity in September 2000.

Since then, there have been four public concerts a year featuring a huge repertoire of anything from classical to Abba or The Beatles, such is the orchestra’s range.

Venues include The Sunderland Empire; Sage at Gateshead; Mowbray Park; Herrington Country Park; Auckland Castle; Sunderland Minister; and very recently the Sunderland leg of The Tall Ships Races.

The society was re-named The Sunderland Symphony Orchestra in 2011 and there have been three musical directors/conductors over the years.

Following Rupert Hanson’s sad passing in 2009, and Mun Ying Lin as interim musical director, Ray Farr succeeded Rupert in the November.

Paul Judson became the orchestra’s third musical director. His last concert was in early July this year. Now comes the 18th birthday concert, with the new musical director David Milner.

The concert also marks the launch of the Sunderland Symphony Orchestra’s ‘Coming of Age’ development plan with Matthew Burge as development manager.

There will be outreach work in city primary schools, a special ‘Peter and the Wolf’ matinee for schools at the Empire Theatre and a new website going live soon.

Reflecting on the past 18 years, Mark said that while many doubted the success of the venture, the spirited few “have been proved right.”

David Mills, chairman of the Sunderland Symphony Orchestra, said: “It is a remarkable fact that over 300 people have been part of the playing members of the orchestra since our inception back in 2000,

“Many of the younger player members have progressed on to teaching music, or join other orchestras, some becoming professional.”

He added: “Our playing members turn up every Wednesday for rehearsals; they enjoy welcoming new players; our motto has always been, ‘Music makes friends’. We are always looking for new players and you will be made most welcome.”

To find out more, visit Or if you really want to play your part, why not drop in on rehearsals? They are held on Wednesday evenings at 7.30 pm at West Park Church in Stockton Road.