Our History

The National Schools Symphony Orchestra (NSSO) was born in Suffolk in 1994 and gave its first concert at The Maltings Concert Hall in Snape, home of The Aldeburgh Festival, founded in 1948 by Benjamin Britten. Since February 2016 it has been operated by Malvern College, registered charity no 527578. David Evans was its founding Artistic Director and he was succeeded in 2014 by John Madden.



NSSO has always appointed experienced and internationally acclaimed professional conductors, skilled at relating to young people and able to make appropriate demands on them. In recent years, these have included former ENO musical director Mark Shanahan, Bath Philharmonia principal conductor Jason Thornton and Peter Bridle MBE. In 2014, Richard Dickins was appointed Principal Conductor. He is Director of Music at Imperial College, London, and was for many years Principal Conductor of the Royal College of Music Junior Department. Richard is well known for his work with young musicians as well as his award-winning TV and radio appearances and recordings.

The orchestra has also worked with leading soloists including Susan Bullock, Peter Donohoe, Ronan O’Hara and Tim Hugh. In 2013 it marked the Britten centenary with a wonderful account of his Violin Concerto with Tamsin Waley-Cohen. In 2014 Catherine Young (ENO) sang Elgar’s Sea Pictures with the orchestra at the Malvern Theatre.

The first National Schools Symphony Orchestra course brought together 78 young musicians at Snape and made a modest surplus of £28! Whilst numbers have remained remarkably constant over the years, standards have risen consistently and the orchestra has performed to growing audiences. It has also been able to offer support to large numbers of children whose parents need assistance to meet the fees for the annual course.

In 2011 it established a second orchestra, Young NSSO, offering opportunities for younger players (from age 9 upwards) to acquire orchestral experience in preparation for joining the main orchestra. Keith Slade was its first conductor and the orchestra is oversubscribed each year. It adopts the hallmark NSSO mixture of full sessions, sectionals and individual instrumental coaching along with a vibrant social life led by an experienced pastoral team.

In 2016 the structure of the organisation was revised and a third orchestra created: NSSO Sinfonia, conductor Leandro Silvera. This enabled a more musically and educationally sound transition from Young NSSO to NSSO Main Orchestra.

NSSO sits comfortably in the panoply of national provision for our most talented young players and welcomes applicants from across the UK to audition for its annual courses.

NSSO has always offered vital experience to those who aspire to membership of the National Youth Orchestra, bridging the gap between school or county orchestra and the NYO. It has also provided continuing opportunities to alumni of the National Children’s Orchestra (NCO). But its single annual residential course is very often a better fit for those talented individuals with wide-ranging interests and commitments for whom music is important but possibly not a career or higher education goal.

Our orchestras provide a programme of individual instrumental coaching with professional tutors, the experience of playing in smaller ensembles, sectional and full rehearsals, culminating in a final concert in a significant public venue.

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If you have an enquiry about any aspect of NSSO please feel free to get in touch:

NSSO, Malvern College, College Road, Malvern, WR14 3DF

T: 01684 581640 // 01684 581616

Latest News

Early Music Young Composer Award January 30, 2018

The National Centre for Early Music Young Composer Award in associated with BBC Radio 3, and the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble (ECSE) could be yours! This major national award offers bright, young composers the chance to have their composition heard and performed by ECSE at Turner Sims, Southampton, as well as recorded for broadcast by BBC […]

NSSO at 2018 WOWFest October 18, 2017

We are thrilled that NSSO has been invited to give the opening concert of the 2018 WOWFest and will play in Wells Cathedral on Thursday 12 July at 7.30pm As part of the festival we will also host a concert at Malvern by the German string ensemble Violinissimo.

NSSO Taster Day October 14, 2017

Join us for our Taster Day on Monday 18 December at Malvern College – the ideal way to sample the NSSO experience. A whole day of music-making with NSSO tutors and Artistic Director, John Madden, the chance to enjoy the marvellous facilities of Malvern College, and to take part in a short concert at the end of the day. Details […]