English Symphony Orchestra
The English Symphony Orchestra, the International Orchestra of Elgar Country, was founded by conductor William Boughton as the English String Orchestra in 1978. It soon earned an international reputation for performances of English music, made over fifty recordings and began touring regularly in Europe. Over time, the orchestra’s repertoire expanded to include the full breadth of orchestral music, and the ESO grew to become the English Symphony Orchestra. Ever since then, “ESO” has served as an acronym with a dual meaning.
Conductor Vernon “Tod” Handley succeeded William Boughton in 2007, and led the orchestra until his death in 2008. Over the years, the ESO has worked with a distinguished list of instrumentalists, composers and conductors, including Nigel Kennedy, Stephen Isserlis, Daniel Hope, 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. Kenneth Woods was appointed as the ESO’s third Principal Conductor in 2013.
The music of Edward Elgar has been a central part of the ESO’s repertoire since its founding. Under the baton of their founder, William Boughton, the orchestra recorded several well-received CDs of Elgar’s music, ranging from repertoire mainstays such as the “Enigma Variations” and “Pomp and Circumstance” marches to lesser-known works, miniatures and forgotten gems. Boughton’s successor, Vernon Handley, made his debut with the ESO conducting the orchestra’s 2006 Elgar Festival and had ambitious plans to record a wide swath of Elgar’s music at the time his death. Handley had himself been a protégé of Elgar’s friend and colleague, Adrian Boult. Yehudi Mehuhin, who served as the ESO’s Principal Guest Conductor from 1991-2000, also brought his unique love and knowledge of Elgar’s music to his work with the orchestra. Menuhin’s seminal recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto was made under the composer’s baton when Menuhin was only sixteen years old, sparking a lifelong passion for Elgar’s music.
British music has always been a central part of the orchestra’s mission. Appropriately for an orchestra based in the Elgar’s hometown, the ESO has made many acclaimed recordings of that composer’s music, and that of major 20th century British composers including Vaughan Williams, Britten, Butterworth and Bridge. The ESO discography also highlights a commitment to the music of our time; in addition to the notable recordings which grew out of the orchestra’s affiliation with Sir Michael Tippett, are recordings of music by John Metcalfe, John Joubert, and Michael and Lennox Berkeley. The ESO’s discography also includes Baroque masters such as Boyce and Handel, and composers as diverse as Schnittke, Strauss, Shostakovich, Sibelius and Respighi. Kenneth Woods brings to the ESO a particular grounding in the core Central European and Russian repertoire alongside a life-long interest in British music, and the composers of his home country of America. Woods is a noted advocate for the generation of composers killed or exiled during World War II, and works by composers including Hans Gál, Viktor Ullmann, Mieczyslaw Weinberg feature prominently in the orchestra’s current concert offerings and upcoming recordings. John McCabe served as the orchestra’s Composer-in-Association from 2013 till his death in 2015. Following McCabe’s death in 2015, the ESO appointed Philip Sawyers as “John McCabe Composer-in-Association.” The ESO and Kenneth Woods have commissioned a Third Symphony from Philip Sawyers, planned for premiere in 2015 and to be recorded by the orchestra for Nimbus, and will be recording a number of other works by Sawyers as part of their collaboration. Other important recording projects in 2015-6 include volume one of the Complete Piano Concertos by Ernst Krenek for Toccata Classics, a disc of newly-commissioned works for trumpet, piano and strings with Simon Desbruslais and Clare Hammond for Signum, and the Hans Gál Concertino for Cello and Orchestra with Matthew Sharp for AVIE.