Hilary Davan Wetton founded the Milton Keynes Chamber Orchestra in February 1975 and performed to a sell-out audience at Stantonbury Campus theatre, where he held the position of Head of Music. Hilary also founded the MK Music Service and the MK Chorale, providing a wealth of live classical music resource to the ‘new town’ of Milton Keynes.
The Orchestra continued to flourish under Hilary’s baton, establishing itself as an important pillar of culture for the growing population and engaging successfully with the education sector, the business community and generally as a valuable arts resource. The Education and Outreach work of the Orchestra gained charitable status and continues to engage with schools and communities to this day.
A loyal and valuable group of Patrons was established from the outset and the Board of Trustees has been drawn from that group to steer the progress of the Orchestra. Many local companies provide much appreciated volunteer support in the fields of IT, design, print, PR and advertising. Public sector funding has been key to the growth of the orchestra and the birth of a new city and the importance of a cultural foundation was well funded by many investors to Milton Keynes in the early decades.
In the earlier years, the freelance Chamber Orchestra attracted a number of committed musicians either living near Milton Keynes or travelling to support the Orchestra and the exciting journey it had embarked upon. The Orchestra played with distinguished choirs and toured to perform in Jersey First Proms, the English Music Festival and abroad to the USA and France. The orchestra released six recordings on the Unicorn –Kanchana and Hyperion labels and also performed in the Classic FM “Masterclass” series of introduced works.
The completion of Milton Keynes Theatre in 1999 provided a new home for the Chamber Orchestra to expand and become the Milton Keynes City Orchestra (MKCO) to perform large symphonic works and attract wider audiences. MKCO still holds that ambition for Milton Keynes to gain City status and for the orchestra to be the centrepiece of great celebrations to come.
In 2007 he passed the baton to Sian Edwards who became Principal Conductor of MKCO when Hilary retired. Hilary has returned frequently since, as Founder and guest conductor. In 2013 he received the honour of a position as Vice President from the President Lady Thompson and the Board of MKCO.
Sian brought her International reputation to Milton Keynes and gave many accomplished performances, winning praise and affection from regular and new concert goers. Her flair for contemporary works brought a new edge to the organisation, encouraging young composers and supporting a flourishing education programme.
The early part of this century brought challenging times for the arts nationally and the recession of 2009 signalled a new phase in how the arts would be financed, resulting in significant cuts in public sector funding, filtering down to local government. MKCO is considered to be strategically important to the cultural heritage and future of Milton Keynes and there is continued grant support for their work, encouraging other funding bodies.
Celebrating the 40th year of MKCO, we find an organisation with a renewed focus and energy.
Generated over the last two years with a radical change to its operating model to reduce overheads, modernise accounting and operating systems and improve audience engagement, while continuing to deliver an education and outreach programme in the community.
The volunteer MKCO Board is currently managing the operation, creativity and strategic development of the Orchestra and our office is hosted by Milton Keynes College, in the heart of further education at their Woughton Campus.
In 2014, world-class musician Damian Iorio was appointed as Music Director, marking the first stage in a vibrant new future for MKCO. Damian planned the 2014-2015 concert series and received great reviews after the very first concert.
“The orchestra has taken off to a completely new level under Damian Iorio. There was tremendous energy and terrific ensemble playing."
"The orchestra was on top form – one of their best performances.”
"Damian Iorio conducted with authority and verve."
"We very much enjoyed the evening as a whole and the selection of music and the performances of the orchestra and conductor in particular''
Damian has just completed the 2015-2016 concert series to be launched at the end of July and this will be a season to remember, one that will define MKCO future plans.
MKCO has grown in the past two years through partnership working with Milton Keynes College, UCMK, Yamaha, The Parks Trust, The MK Community Foundation, MK Dons SET, DMK and a growing number of corporate supporters with a combination of funding and support in kind.
MKCO’s significant successes in the past two years include:
• MKCO successfully partnered with The Parks Trust in 2013 and 2014 to stage a Proms concert in Campbell Park, attracting over 3000 people each year, fully sponsored by local organisations and creating a surplus of around £3000 for each charity. This event is considered one of the most successful in Milton Keynes and continues in 2015 with all 2014 sponsors coming back to support and is now fully sponsored for the August concert.
• In 2014 MKCO successfully applied for and won by public vote a £25K STEP grant from MK Community Foundation. The Orchestra also partnered MKCF to enhance their Music Bursary in 2013/2014 and this will again take place in 2015. MKCO also partnered MKCF to stage an International Women’s Day concert in 2015 featuring an all-female orchestra with Sian Edwards returning to conduct.
• In 2015, MKCO was short listed in the MK Business achievement awards in the Leisure and Tourism category. This significantly raised the profile of the Orchestra within the business community and acknowledged the Orchestra as a major force for the local visitor economy.
MKCO is a professional freelance orchestra providing a first-class listening and visual experience for audiences at every stage of classical music appreciation.
The orchestra is also dedicated to the delivery of a relevant and innovative education and outreach programme, working closely with partners in education, the arts and charities that have similar goals and ambitions within the community.