Artistic Director and Principal Conductor- English Symphony Orchestra
Artistic Director- Colorado MahlerFest
Artistic Director- The Elgar Festival
Hailed by Gramophone as “a symphonic conductor of stature”, American conductor Kenneth Woods was appointed Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra in 2013, and has quickly built up an impressive and acclaimed body of work and recordings with them. Woods was also recently appointed Artistic Director of both the Colorado MahlerFest - the only US organisation other than the New Year Philharmonic to receive the International Gustav Mahler Society’s Gold Medal - and the Elgar Festival in Worcester.
As a guest, Woods has conducted ensembles including the National Symphony Orchestra (Washington), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Royal Northern Sinfonia and the English Chamber Orchestra, and has made numerous broadcasts for BBC Radio 3, National Public Radio and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He has appeared on the stages of some of the world’s leading music festivals, such as Aspen, Scotia and Lucerne.
Photograph credit - Benjamin Ealovega
Under Kenneth Woods’ leadership, the English Symphony Orchestra has gained widespread recognition as one of the most innovative and influential orchestras in the UK. They received Classical Music Magazine’s “Premiere of the Year” plaudit for both Donald Fraser’s orchestration of the Elgar Piano Quintet in 2015 and John Joubert’s opera Jane Eyre in 2016. Jane Eyre also marked the ESO’s first foray into opera, and the premiere and subsequent Somm Recordings CD were both received with international critical acclaim including a string of five-star reviews, Disc of the Month and MusicWeb Opera Recording of the Year accolades, and was named the Birmingham Post’s “classical music highlight of 2016.”
A true star of the podium
The Washington Post
The first of Woods’ many acclaimed ESO discs was volume one in the Complete Piano Concertos of Ernst Krenek, selected by The Times as one of their “Best Recordings of 2016.” Their recording of Fraser’s Elgar orchestrations for Avie was a Classic FM Disc of the Month, and An Eventful Morning in East London (a collection of 21st Century violin concertos with soloist Harriet Mackenzie) for Nimbus received a five-star review in The Times. Woods’ recording of his own orchestration of Brahms’ Piano Quartet in A major was chosen by theartsdesk as one of their Top Ten Classical CDs of 2018.
In 2016, Kenneth Woods and the ESO launched their 21st Century Symphony Project, an ambitious multi-year effort to commission, premiere and record nine new symphonies by leading composers, with Philip Sawyers’ Third Symphony, a work described by Classical Source as “a masterpiece” following its triumphant St. John’s Smith Square premiere in 2017. In 2018, The Spectator selected the premiere of the second work in the 21CSP, David Matthews’ Ninth Symphony, as one of the top 10 classical concerts of 2018. In 2019, the ESO premiered Matthew Taylor’s Fifth Symphony at Cadogan Hall, and this work was welcomed by Robert Matthew-Walker, editor of Musical Opinion, as “a masterwork of genuine symphonic thinking.”
Photograph credit - Evan Dawson
Highlights in 2018/19 included the ESO’s sold-out debut at St George’s Bristol with Sheku Kanneh-Mason; a return to the Orchestra of the Swan in two programmes combining Mahler symphonies with the music of David Matthews; world-premiere recordings of three new symphonies by Christopher Gunning with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for Signum; a gala concert with the North Czech Philharmonic at Prague Castle; and the ESO’s first foray into Wagnerian opera with a performance of Act One of Die Walküre. As Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest, Woods has overseen an expansion of the artistic programme, introducing a new chamber orchestra concert alongside an acclaimed final concert which included Mahler’s First Symphony and the Korngold Violin Concerto. In his second year as Artistic Director of the Elgar Festival, Woods conducted the ESO and Raphael Wallfisch in the official Centenary performance of Elgar’s iconic Cello Concerto in a gala concert at Worcester Cathedral which crowned a week of sold-out concerts.
2019/20 saw Kenneth Woods making his debut with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in a programme featuring Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben. At the ESO, he was joined by Nicola Benedetti for the Elgar Violin Concerto, and by Isata Kanneh-Mason and Alexander Sitkovetsky for piano and violin concertos by Beethoven as part of the orchestra’s celebration of that composer's 250th birthday. Autumn 2020 sees the launch of ESO/Woods' new series of studio concerts from Wyastone, and the release of his latest disc with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Highlights in 2021 include performances of Mahler's Third Symphony at the Colorado MahlerFest, Woods' debut with the Novosibirsk Philharmonic, and a performance with ESO at Sandringham in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen.
Photograph credit - Evan Dawson
A widely read writer and frequent broadcaster, Woods’ blog A View from the Podium is one of the 25 most popular classical blogs in the world. He has spoken on Mahler on NPR’s All Things Considered, and is a regular speaker on BBC radio programmes. Since 2014, he has been Honorary Patron of the Hans Gál Society.
“Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony received one of the best performances I have heard live”
Robert Matthew-Walker, Editor-in-Chief, Classical Source
“The charismatic American conductor, Kenneth Woods…”
“…a conductor with true vision and purpose”
“Stunning concert with every piece done to perfection. And a terrific orchestration [by Donald Fraser] of the Elgar Piano Quintet. Everything presided over by the urbane Kenneth Woods”
James Jolly, Editor-in-Chief, Gramophone