From the last OES program

A symphony supporter in Pendleton emailed this morning and asked me to reprint the little farewell essay I wrote for the OES program last week-

To my Pendleton friends-

I know it is the most obvious cliché one always hears at these times, but I honestly can barely believe that it has been nearly 10 years since I first conducted the OES in Mozart’s Paris Symphony, with which we open our final concert together tonight. At the time, I never imagined that I would still be associated with the orchestra after a decade, nor imagined the 180 pieces we’d play together, nor could I have guessed how fast those years would fly by. I could certainly never have foreseen all the friends I would make here, or the predict the brilliant colleagues who would join us along the way.

There have been many musical highlights that will stay with me- from Beethoven 9 in my first year, though Dvorak’s Stabat Mater and the Mozart Requiem, I’ll always treasure my work with the OES Chorale. Thank you for singing! I’ll always remember our performance of the New World Symphony in my second season, which was the first time I think I really got a glimpse of what the orchestra could be. Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration seemed to mark a fulfillment of that potential many years later. Every one of our Beethoven symphony concerts has been a memorable learning experience, and each has been a marvelous measure of how far we’ve come from year to year. Perhaps our most important work together has involved the many first performances of new pieces by a wonderful group of composers. Finally, how lucky I’ve been to have such tremendous collaborators here as soloists- I’m especially grateful to Bill Wolfram, Parry Karp, Jorja Fleezanis, Rick Rowley and tonight’s soloist, James Dick. We’ve all learned so much from their contributions here.

I must also thank Michael Steinberg, who passed away this summer after a heroic battle with cancer, for his memorable pre-performance talks at our Elgar Violin Concerto/Firebird Suite performances in 2008. Michael was already very sick that week, and I’ll always be grateful that he undertook such an arduous journey to be here for us. I hope Pendleton audiences realize what a giant he was in the music world, and just how lucky we were to have him here- he was truly the best to ever do what he did. He taught me so much about programming, about writing on music and about communicating with an audience- he’s the only man who could leave me at a loss for words when it comes to music.

And thinking of Michael reminds me that as important as the musical work has been here, it has been the human connections here that I have most valued and will miss the most. In particular, it has been a huge joy to watch a generation of young musicians come up through our youth programs then later join the symphony, and go on to become outstanding professionals and people in their own right- I can’t begin to say how proud I am of all of them.

One moment I will never forget from my time here took place as I was giving one of my introductions to a work we were about to perform. As I talked, I realized that I recognized every single face in the audience. I’ve got many years of conducting ahead of me, but I doubt I shall ever have that experience again, nor do I think many of my peers have ever had it. Knowing that you, your colleagues and your audience have shared a journey much bigger than a single concert or season is a tremendous and humbling feeling.

But if I had to pick the most important moment of my time here, it would be our performance of Mahler 2. I’ve never, ever seen an orchestra dig so deep or give so much. For me, the lesson of that concert, and of my time here, is simply that ANYTHING is possible. Anything is possible. That’s what I’d like you all to remember as I say goodbye and good luck- anything is possible here, and that this marvelous little orchestra can achieve any goal. Don’t settle for anything but the best, dream big and look to the future with confidence and ambition. Music changes lives.

Thank you


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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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1 comment on “From the last OES program”

  1. Bill Anderson

    And we’re going to miss you too. Thanks for the great musical experiences of the last few years. Hopefully, who ever steps into your shoes will challenge us again, may it not be with Mahler 2. The going away concert was lots of fun to play in spite of the ceiling and lack of convenient wash room facilities. BTW, they still aren’t fixed

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