Darlington Hippodrome partnership

Following the extensive refurbishment of Darlington Hippodrome in 2017, we developed a new relationship with the venue to embed orchestral activity in their annual artistic programme.

What we wanted to achieve

As part of our growing presence in the North East, our vision in Darlington is to sustain and grow an annual concert series, where learning and participation activity is embedded to help build and broaden audiences whilst sharing skills and helping to develop the cultural infrastructure. We have been designing the orchestral presence in Darlington around an exciting mixture of British orchestras, each holding events for young children and families and engaging with local young instrumentalists, composers and music leaders, as well as performing public concerts at the Hippodrome. Our curatorial role ensures there is artistic synergy between the programming of different orchestras.

A music leader conducting a semi circle of young musicians in rehearsal.

Rehearsals for the Sax Score project with music leader Michael Betteridge and Royal Northern Sinfonia.

Credit: Scott Akoz Photography

What we did

The first project saw the Hallé working with local young musicians to compose a brass fanfare that they performed at the re-opening of the theatre and alongside Hallé Brass at the Hallé's concert.

The series continues to engage different groups of young people from schools across Darlington to co-create new music. This is inspired by music the orchestras perform and by the place that they live. Each orchestra brings their unique perspective to this creative work and participants are invited to perform their new music with the orchestra during the concert, showcasing the talent of Darlington’s young people.

A music and film composition project was held in 2018 to coincide with a performance by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the Hippodrome. The young participants were set the task of composing a live instrumental soundtrack to a set film. Once workshops were underway it was clear to music leader James Redwood and OAE musicians that the participants were constrained by the set film and so responded flexibly to allow participants to create a new film to accompany their composition, which was filmed and produced by OAE's education team.

A young woman playing saxophone as soloist with an orchestra made up of students and professional players.

Jess Gillam rehearsing 'Unity' with project participants and musicians from Royal Northern Sinfonia.

Credit: Scott Akoz Photography

Influential saxophonist Jess Gillam performed with local young musicians in 2019. They created a new composition 'Unity' through workshops with composer Michael Betteridge, which they performed on the Hippodrome stage together with an ensemble from the Royal Northern Sinfonia, with Jess as soloist.

In autumn 2019, the London Mozart Players and music leader Sarah Freestone worked with Darlington String Orchestra to create and rehearse a 'string serenade' that they performed on the Hippodrome main stage alongside the professional musicians. The Hallé returned to Darlington in early 2020 to work with young guitarists and create a new piece that was performed alongside renowned soloist Craig Ogden. Both projects were supported by our Spitalfields Trainee Music Leader for 2019/20, Alice Phelps.

Craig Ogden in rehearsals for 'Glorious Guitars' in Darlington

Credit: Becky West

The River Skerne

Credit: Skerne Music participant

Our most recent project Song of the Skerne worked with a new partner, the local landscape and heritage programme Discover Brightwater, and Opera North to create a new piece of music inspired by the local river Skerne. Sarah Freestone and songwriter Katie Doherty worked with Haughton Academy through the challenges of the pandemic to create the music, which was recorded by Opera North and then 3 schools had individual recording sessions in May 2021. The final piece premiered as a specially created film in July 2021 accompanied by an exhibition at the Hippodrome and is followed by a schools broadcast by Durham Music Service and live premiere with Opera North and participants in November 2021.


Since the reopening of Darlington Hippodrome in 2017, our activity has included:

  • Visits from five professional British orchestras: the Hallé, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Royal Northern Sinfonia, London Mozart Players and Opera North.
  • A total of 2,665 people attending orchestral performances
  • 203 young people involved in collaborative composition projects
  • 6 new pieces of music including 2 films created and performed by the young people of Darlington

The experience of the project activity has had a profound effect on the participants' confidence levels and attitude towards music in their studies.

This project built up the self-esteem of every student who was involved. Your team took some extremely reluctant learners and gave them the confidence to compose their own music, to create and express their own ideas. Students who were terrified of performing in front of people were given the self-belief to play in front of an audience and the smiles on their faces were a testament as to how much that experience has enriched their lives. I now have a group of budding musicians who are raring to go and looking for the next project. You have awoken their musical aspirations and given me a fantastic foundation to build upon.

~ Kristen Peacock, Teacher at Wyvern Academy

I really enjoyed meeting and working with the young people in Darlington and seeing their confidence grow throughout the rehearsal, enjoying music and working together. Projects that encourage and involve young musicians are essential to ensuring that young people have the opportunity to express creativity and experience music.

~ Jess Gillam, saxophonist

Future plans

Darlington Hippodrome are looking forward to welcoming back Royal Northern Sinfonia for a performance in early 2022, including a creative project with their venue volunteers.


The Darlington Hippodrome orchestral series is produced by Orchestras Live in collaboration with Darlington Hippodrome, Durham & Darlington Music Hub and Durham Music Service with support from Foyle Foundation and Creative Darlington.