The Worcestershire-based ESO 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.
British music has always been central to the orchestra’s repertoire. Appropriately for an orchestra based in the Elgar’s home town, 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. The English Symphony Orchestra is very proud to have John McCabe as its composer-in-association. To mark the beginning of their collaboration in 2013, the ESO and Kenneth Woods have commissioned a Third Symphony from Philip Sawyers, planned for premiere in 2015.