English Symphony ORCHESTRA
The Worcestershire-based ESO, the International Orchestra of Elgar Country, is an ensemble which in recent years has become synonymous with artistic excellence, innovative and visionary programming, distinctive commissioning, ground-breaking recording, a welcoming and immersive concert experience, transformative youth programmes and service to the community.
Since 2013, under the artistic directorship of the American conductor Kenneth Woods, the orchestra has re-emerged as a major force in British musical life, presenting and recording the orchestra’s first full-length opera (the world premiere of John Joubert’s Jane Eyre) to overwhelming critical acclaim, presenting the 2015 and 2016 Classical Music Magazine “Premiere of the Year,” and releasing a triumphant series of recordings including Donald Fraser’s orchestration of the Elgar Piano Quintet (Classic FM Disc of the Week) and the Complete Piano Concertos of Ernst Krenek (Sunday Times Essential New Release).
Founded by conductor William Boughton in 1978, the ESO has a long and distinguished history of collaboration with legendary figures of British music making. Vernon Handley became the orchestra’s second Principal Conductor in 2007, and led the orchestra until his death. Over the years, the ESO has worked with a distinguished list of instrumentalists, composers and conductors, including Nigel Kennedy, Steven Isserlis, Daniel Hope, Sir Michael Tippett, Nicholas Maw and Yehudi Menuhin, who was appointed the ESO’s Principal Guest Conductor in 1991 and led the orchestra on a number of international tours.
Photograph Credit - Evan Dawson
Photograph Credit - Evan Dawson
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony received one of the best performances I have heard live
Robert Matthew-Walker, Editor-in-Chief, Classical Source
Stunning concert with every piece done to perfection. The superb Sheku Kanneh-Mason in the Elgar. The world premiere of David Matthews’ 9th Symphony. And a terrific orchestration of the Elgar Piano Quintet. Everything presided over by the urbane Kenneth Woods
James Jolly, Editor-in-Chief, Gramophone
British music has always been a central part of the orchestra’s mission. Appropriately for an orchestra based in Elgar’s home town, the ESO has made many acclaimed recordings of that composer’s music, and that of other major 20th century British composers including Vaughan Williams, Britten, Butterworth and Bridge. The ESO discography of over 50 discs highlights a commitment to the music of our time; in addition to the notable recordings which grew out of the orchestra’s affiliation with Tippett, are recordings of music by John Metcalfe, John Joubert, and Michael and Lennox Berkeley. John McCabe served as the orchestra’s Composer-in-Association from 2013 until his death in 2015, and the ESO subsequently appointed Philip Sawyers as “John McCabe Composer-in-Association.” Sawyers, who continues his association with the ESO as Composer Laureate, has since been succeeded by David Matthews (2018-19) and Adrian Williams (2019-).
In 2017, the ESO and Kenneth Woods launched the 21st Century Symphony Project, a multi-year undertaking to commission, premiere and record nine new symphonies by leading composers of our time. That year, the orchestra premiered the Third Symphony of Philip Sawyers, hailed by Classical Source at its premiere as “a masterpiece”; the subsequent recording on Nimbus was named a Gramophone Critics’ Choice as one of the Best Recordings of 2017. In 2018, The Spectator highlighted the premiere of David Matthews’ Ninth Symphony as one of the top ten “can’t miss” classical concerts of the year. And in 2019, the ESO premiered, at Cadogan Hall, the Fifth Symphony of Matthew Taylor which was also acclaimed as “a masterpiece” by Musical Opinion editor-in-chief Robert Matthew-Walker.
Other recent recording projects include a disc of 21st Century Violin Concertos with Harriet Mackenzie (five stars, The Sunday Times; Recording of the Year 2017, MusicWeb), two volumes of the Complete Piano Concertos of Ernst Krenek (2016 Sunday Times Best Recordings of the Year; 2017 Forbes Magazine 10 Best Classical Recordings), the Hans Gál Concertino for Cello and Orchestra with Matthew Sharp (MusicWeb International Recording of the Year 2018) and Kenneth Woods’ orchestration of the Brahms Piano Quartet in A Major (theartsdesk Ten Best Classical Recordings of 2018).
Concert highlights of recent seasons include acclaimed debuts at St John’s Smith Square, The Bridgewater Hall, Kings Place, Cheltenham Town Hall, St John's Smith Square and Elgar Concert Hall, and collaborations with noted soloists including Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Raphael Wallfisch, Alexander Sitkovetsky, Emma Johnson, Noriko Ogawa and Pavel Šporcl. In 2018, the ESO became Orchestra-in-Residence of the Elgar Festival, the official celebration of the life and music of Britain's greatest composer in the city of his birth.
2019/20 saw the ESO working with some of today’s leading soloists, including Nicola Benedetti, Isata Kanneh-Mason, Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Maja Bogdanović. Highlights in 20/21 include the launch of ESO Digital's new series of studio concerts from Wyastone, the release of their latest disc for Nimbus (Matthew Taylor Symphony No. 5) and a performance at Sandringham in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen.
“Electric performances, all“
The Sunday Times
“The ESO – enjoying a comet-like rise under Kenneth Woods, its Principal Conductor”
“...under Woods’s artistic leadership, the ESO is an orchestra that gives you a lot to talk about”
Richard Bratby, The Birmingham Post