Return to KCYO….

My late summer staycation (a word I had never heard before this year which is now everywhere, and will no doubt hopelessly date a forgetable blog post) comes to an end this week. Tomorrow morning, we are heady to Kent, where I will be spending my next week conducting the Kent County Youth Orchestra.

Going back to work as a conductor is a bit more surreal than doing so as an instrumentalist- at least I can practice the cello for a few days before going to my first rehearsal, but without an orchestra to practice on at home, stepping in front of 90-odd musicians after a break can be a bit of a shock. Watching Maestro on Tuesday, it really hit me what a bizarre, even silly way this is to make a living, then watching the National Youth Orchestra Prom with Tony Pappano tonight, it struck me what a difficult job this is as well (he was amazing, IMO).

However, I can’t think of a more fun way to kick off the new season than with KCYO. I wrote quite a bit about our last course, which you can read herehere,  here,  here and here. I would be remiss if I didn’t say hi to the many wonderful young colleagues I’ve worked with there in the past, as I’ve learned that orchestra musicians always tend to read the blog a couple of days before we start a rehearsal sequence to see what I’m saying about them. This year’s course is in a different venue, further from my favorite pub in the region, the Star and Eagle, but we’ll cope somehow. Other than the wonderful players, my favorite thing about KCYO is watching the tutors in sectionals- they’re almost all members of the major London orchestras, and they are so knowledgeable and engaged that it is quite an education every time.

The program is a nice mix of the familiar and unfamiliar- Sibelius 5, which I did not too long ago (see posts on it herehere and here) is very fresh in my mind (I hope). We’re doing the Tristan Prelude and Liebestod- I’ve done the Prelude before and did the Prelude to Act  III with BBC NOW a couple years ago, but I’ve never done the Liebestod before. I find it much harder to pull off- I really miss the singer, even though she is mostly commenting on the melody rather than singing it. I’ve often felt that orchestral performances of it are too static and slow- ponderous in a way that would never fly if a singer was there. From the ultimate German piece, we go to the ultimate French piece- the Nocturnes of Debussy (we’re only doing the first two, sadly- no choir!). I’ve got a great story about Nuages, but I’ll save that for another post if I have time.

[I don’t know how the internet will work next week so it may be feast or famine for blog posts (and answering emails).]

Finally, we open the program with a new-ish piece by Philip Sawyers, a composer I’ve been following for some time. 2008 has been a good year for doing some works by composers I’ve been interested in for a long time, but not been able to do things by, from Varese and Xenakis, to Downie and Higdon.

I think it’s quite a formidable program- much harder than Mahler 5 which we cancelled because we thought it might be too hard in the wrong ways….

The Kent County Youth Orchestra will perform next Saturday, August 30 at 7:30 PM in Mote Hall, Maidstone.

Sawyers- Gale of Life

Debussy- Nuages et Fetes

Wagner- Prelude und Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde

Sibelius- Symphony no 5

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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3 comments on “Return to KCYO….”

  1. Philip Sawyers

    Saturday’s concert was fantastic. As a KCYO violin tutor and this time a composer it was great to work with Ken again and I know that all our talented young musicians felt the same – witness the rapturous applause the orchestra gave him. A wonderful performance of my own piece performed and conducted with such understanding and committment – as was the rest of the progamme. Guests of mine were suitably impressed, the Sibelius 5th was splendid ending the concert on an optimistic and triumphant note. Thank you orchestra and thank you Ken!!

  2. Kenneth Woods

    Hey Philip-

    I’ve got a lot of catching up to do here on the blog, and I’m looking forward to writing more about the work on Gale of Life. What a tremendous piece! Thanks so much for getting in touch and for your kindness and wisdom as we tried to get to grips with your music.

    All best and more soon


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