Sunderland Symphony Orchestra

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The Sunderland Symphony Orchestra was formed after an initiative by the Sunderland City Council. The council wished to commemorate the Millennium, and allocated funds to each ward for this purpose.(1)

John Lennox, Winifred Lundgren and Mark Greenfield, the three councillors for the Thornholme Ward, had the vision of forming an orchestra as a long-term commemoration of the Millennium.(2) A public meeting was called on on 1st October 1999 where it was decided to form ‘The City of Sunderland Millennium Orchestral Society’ (CoSMOS), with the aim of forming a symphony orchestra. The musicians at that first meeting formed the core membership of the new orchestra.(3)

Rupert Hanson was appointed musical director and principal conductor, and he developed the orchestra in consultation with the society members.

The new society later became a registered charity,(4) and since other musical activities did not materialise, the name of the charity was changed to ‘Sunderland Symphony Orchestra’ in 2006. In September 2009, following the death of Rupert Hanson, Ray Farr was appointed as the new Musical Director and Principal Conductor.(5) After four years in the post, Ray Farr moved on to become Associate Conductor with the Grimethorpe Colliery Band and was succeeded by Paul Judson, a founder member of the orchestra, in January 2014.(6)

David McCourt was leader of the orchestra until September 2012, when Judith Thompson took over the position. David then played cello with the orchestra.(7)

The orchestra performed its first full symphony – Dvořák's 9th (The "New World Symphony") – on April 7, 2001.(8)

The orchestra gives four concerts a year, usually held in the West Park United Reformed Church, Stockton Road, Sunderland (opposite Park Lane Transport Interchange and Metro). Performances have also been given at the Sunderland Empire Theatre, The Sage (Gateshead) and The Stadium of Light (Sunderland AFC).


1) 'Once a Quarter' Issue no.2, January 2000. 2) 'Sunderland Star' January 6th, 2000. 3) 'Sunderland Echo' January 1st, 2000. 4) 'Wear Together' Issue no.5, Winter 2000-2001. 5) 'Sunderland Echo' November 27th, 2009. 6) Sunderland Symphony Orchestra Newsletter, Spring/Summer 2014. 7) Sunderland Symphony Orchestra Newsletter, Winter 2012/13. 8) 'Sunderland Echo' April 11th, 2001.

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