Feature article and interview on ESO/KW from Thoroughly Good

A lovely article from critic, broadcaster and essayist Jon Jacob has been published on his popular blog,Thoroughly Good.

Jon shares some recollections of his own time as and ESO managerial assistant in the 1990′s then moves on to an extended interview with Ken.


A short sample follows. Read the whole thing here.


What are the challenges for regional orchestras like the ESO? 

In a geographically small country like the UK, “regional” orchestras have to be good enough to compete directly with national orchestras. You forget that at your peril. These days, orchestras from the major metropolitan centres are queuing up to play in small and medium sized venues.  This means that any professional orchestra has to play like a national orchestra in order to survive, but that’s one of the reasons that this orchestra is called the English Symphony Orchestra and not the Worcestershire Philharmonic. Artistically, we believe the orchestra has been and must again become an institution of national significance.

However, there are also compelling reasons for orchestras not to forget where we come from. When it comes to doing educational and outreach work that has a meaningful and lasting impact on people in our communities, being a regional orchestra is a strength. The recordings we make and the works we commission should have lasting international impact, but our work with children, the elderly and other under-served groups  enriches the communities where we work in a way that a concert from an orchestra bussed in from London, however great the concert, never can.

What’s on the to-do list for the next 12 months, strategically and creatively? 

We have a once-in-a-generation chance to put the orchestra back on the national stage as an important artistic force, and we’ve got to deliver on that. That means giving powerful performances of well-rehearsed, thoughtful programmes that show we can engage audiences with unfamiliar repertoire and present core repertoire in thought-provoking contexts. On our next concert, we’re playing two works by Mendelssohn alongside one of Hans Gál. All three works are tuneful and fun to listen to, but there are interesting underlying connections- Mendelssohn was the first Jewish composer to breakthrough into the German mainstream, Gál was one of the last generation of Jews to rise to the top of the musical world in Austria and Germany who were then pushed out or worse by the Nazi’s. There are other, less intense connections, too- both Mendelssohn pieces were inspired by his travels to Scotland, where Gál lived for the last 45 years of his life.

So, first up is doing distinctive programmes really well, but we also have to make sure that the ESO is not just the tree that falls in the forest. You can expect the ESO to start performing again in London and other metropolitan centres. We’re looking to have a media presence that includes traditional radio, audio and video streaming and podcasting.  We’ve named a composer-in-association for 2014 and we’ve commissioned a new symphony. We’re also anxious to get a first CD or two under our belts.

Strategically, this means finding new friends, developing partnerships and engaging with a whole new generation of ESO listeners, funders and supporters. We can’t do this alone, and that means we’ve got to make the orchestra a cause that lots of people believe in.

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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 www.kennethwoods.net

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