Founded by William Boughton and former members of the Midlands Radio Orchestra in 1976 as the Vivaldi Chamber Orchestra then later the English String Orchestra, the ESO 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.
From the earliest years of the orchestra under the leadership of William Boughton, the ESO have had a long and distinguished history of collaboration with legendary figures of British music making. The ESO have worked with a distinguished list of instrumentalists, composers and conductors, including Nigel Kennedy, Steven 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. British music has always been a central part of the orchestra’s mission. Vernon “Tod” Handley became the orchestra’s second Principal Conductor in 2007, and led the orchestra until his death.
Appropriately for an orchestra based in 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. Most of the orchestra’s recordings prior to 2006 were for the Nimbus label under the baton of William Boughton, with a few conducted by Yehudi Menuhin and Michael Tippett.
ESO Timeline and Highlights. 1976-Present
1980 – Malvern Theatres: First concert as Vivaldi Chamber Orchestra, founded by William Boughton
1982- First concert as English String Orchestra
1982- First Recording: Vivaldi Sinfonias & Concertos on Meridien Label with soloist Paul Arden-Taylor (oboe)
1982 – First Nimbus recording: Susan Drake, Harpist. Ravel-l Introduction & Allegro, Handel- Harp Concerto.
1984- First concerts as English Symphony Orchestra
1985 – Sir Michael Tippett 80th Birthday Celebrations at Malvern Festival (filmed by BBC Omnibus)
1990 – Sir Michael Tippett 85th Birthday Weekend in Worcester.
1990- Nicholas Maw 60th Birthday Celebrations in Malvern.
1990- Tour to USA
1991- Lord Yehudi Menuhin Becomes Principal Guest Conductor, remains with the ESO until 2000.
2004- ESO found their own ESO Elgar Festival. Featured soloists include Natalie Klein, Ilya Gringolts, Monica Groop
2007- ESO Elgar Festival with Vernon Handley
2007- Vernon Handley appointed as orchestra’s second Principal Conductor
2008- Vernon Handley dies. Orchestra elects to work with a portfolio of guest conductors under a player-led leadership model
2012- ESO Royal Jubilee Elgar Festival
2013- Kenneth Woods appointed as orchestra’s Principal Conductor
2014- John McCabe appointed Composer-in-Association
2014- ESO Debut at LSO St Luke’s
2015- ESO Debuts at National Gallery of Art, St John’s Smith Square
2015- ESO Elgar Pilgrimage festival in Hereford, Malvern and Birmingham. Premieres of Sawyers “Songs of Loss and Regret,” Elgar/Fraser Sea Pictures for Choir and Strings and Elgar/Fraser Orchestration of Piano Quintet (2015 Classical Music Magazine Premiere of the Year)
2016- Premiere of John Joubert’s opera Jane Eyre (2016 Classical Music Magazine Premiere of the Year)
2016- Debut at Kings Place
2017- First work of 21st Century Symphony Project (Philip Sawyers Third Symphony)
2017- Debut at Bridgewater Hall Manchester International Series
Important guest artists
• Nigel Kennedy
• Radu Lupu
• Emmanuel Ax
• Daniel Hope
• John Lill
• Steven Isserlis
• Raphael Wallfisch
• Soile Isokoski
• Monica Groop
• Stephen Chaundy,
• Ilya Grubert
• Grigory Sokolov
• Toru Takemitsu
• John Joubert
• Anthony Powers
• Stephen Roberts
• GDR – East Germany, 1st tour with Strauss Metamorphosen. Played at Gewandhaus Leipzig
• Gstaad Festival, Switzerland – numerous times with amazing soloists including Zara Nelsova, Rudolf Firkusny, Gidon Kremer.
• Stockholm – Nobel Prize Concert with Yehudi Menuhin
• Spain – three tours
• Italy & Greece – two tours
• Germany – Three tours including Berlin Philharmonie
• Three Choirs Festival
• Elgar Festival
• Bath Mozartfest