Stoneleigh Youth Orchestra (SYO) are celebrating their 75th anniversary this year with a range of planned concerts.

The unique orchestra for younger people aged 8-18 is one of the oldest of its kind in the country, founded in 1944.

Now based in Wimbledon, SYO began life in wartime Surrey "because the adults in the Stoneleigh Orchestra wanted to keep their kids occupied," but has since grown in importance and renown, to eclipse its modest beginnings.

With more than 160 members drawn from around 80 schools across Surrey and London, SYO perform three concerts a year in some of the most renowned concert halls in and around London and regularly undertake a European summer tour.

The 75th anniversary season (which runs from Sept 2019 – Sept 2020) will see performances at both Cadogan Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall, London.

The Surrey Comet spoke with Julian Hardwick, Vice Chairman of SYO, about the orchestra and its upcoming celebrations.

"It's one of the oldest youth orchestras in the country. It's older than the National Youth Orchestra and National Children's Orchestra.

"One of the secrets to SYO's success has been the fact that its a parent-run organisation. We don't have any hired or employed people, it's all run by volunteers," Mr Hardwick said.

"We have a really committed body of people involved in it over the decades and we've always had very high standards too," he added.

Indeed, across its 75-year history SYO has only had four conductors, giving the role considerable prestige.

Prospective musicians who want to join the orchestra must first pass through an audition process, with a minimum of Grade 4 expected for most applicants.

"It the passion (and) the quality... It attracts players who want to have the opportunity to perform orchestral pieces that they might not be able to at school and be part of a full symphony orchestra," Mr Hardwick said.

"Those who join will be able to play and share with others kids their love of music... It has tremendous appeal — you don't get 160 kids turning up every Sunday afternoon to rehearse if they don't want to do it."

SYO are holding auditions for those interested in joining in August.

For more information on how to apply, and details about the 75th anniversary, concert and tour dates, go to: