Hailed by Gramophone as a “symphonic conductor of stature,” conductor, cellist, composer, rock guitarist and author Kenneth Woods has worked with the National Symphony Orchestra (USA), Royal Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Royal Northern Sinfonia and English Chamber Orchestra. He has also appeared on the stages of some of the world’s leading music festivals such as Aspen, Scotia and Lucerne. In 2013, he took up a new position as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, succeeding Vernon Handley. Ken also serves as Artistic Director of the Elgar Festival, the official international celebration of the music and life of Britian’s greatest composer in the town of his birth.
Gustav Mahler’s music has been a lifelong source of inspiration for Kenneth Woods, who has conducted acclaimed performances of the symphonies and songs across the Americas and Europe. In 2011, Somm Records released Woods’ first recording of the music of Gustav Mahler, Schoenberg’s chamber ensemble versions of Das Lied von der Erde and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, which won the coveted IRR Outstanding rosette from International Record Review.
Off the podium, Woods is also much in demand as an essayist and speaker on Mahler’s life and music. He has given talks and participated in panel discussions on Mahler for the BBC and multiple festivals and orchestras, and was the official blogger of The Bridgewater Hall’s Mahler in Manchester series in 2010-11.
Under Kenneth Woods’ leadership, the English Symphony Orchestra has gained widespread recognition as one of the most innovative and influential orchestras in the UK. They received Classical Music Magazine’s “Premiere of the Year” plaudit for both Donald Fraser’s orchestration of the Elgar Piano Quintet in 2015 and John Joubert’s opera Jane Eyre in 2016. Jane Eyre also marked the ESO’s first foray into opera, and the premiere and subsequent Somm Recordings CD were both received with international critical acclaim including a string of five-star reviews, Disc of the Month nods and the Birmingham Post’s classical music highlight of 2016 accolade.
The first of Woods’ many acclaimed ESO discs was volume one in the Complete Piano Concertos of Ernst Krenek, selected by The Times as one of their “Best Recordings of 2016.” Their recording of Fraser’s Elgar orchestrations for Avie was a Classic FM Disc of the Month, and An Eventful Morning in East London (a collection of 21st Century violin concertos with soloist Harriet Mackenzie) for Nimbus received a five-star review in The Times.
In 2016, Woods and the ESO launched their 21st Century Symphony Project, an ambitious multi-year effort to commission, premiere and record nine new symphonies by leading composers, with the triumphant premiere of Philip Sawyers’ Third Symphony at St John’s Smith Square
Highlights of Woods’ 17/18 season included the world premiere of David Matthews’ Ninth Symphony and a performance of the Elgar Cello Concerto with Sheku Kanneh-Mason at a packed St. George’s in Bristol with the ESO; acclaimed performances of Das Lied von der Erde in Colorado; the Elgar Festival’s inaugural gala concert at Worcester Cathedral; and their latest CD release Woods’ own arrangement of the Brahms Piano Quartet Op. 15 – hailed by the Birmingham Post as “effectively a completely new Brahms symphony… so many of Brahms’s ideas translated beautifully.”
Upcoming highlights in 18/19 and beyond include an all-Dvorak UK tour with the ESO and Czech star violinist Pavel Sporcl; performances of Mahler 1 in Colorado; concerts with the Orchestra of the Swan in April and May (in continuation of the David Matthews In the Heart of England 75th Birthday joint ESO and OOTS celebrations); new world premiere 21stCentury Symphony performances in London; and an exciting new season of ESO concerts including Die Walküre Act and The Hour of Love and Death (a multimedia staging of Shostakovich’s 14th Symphony).
A widely read writer and frequent broadcaster, Woods’ blog, A View from the Podium, is one of the 25 most popular classical blogs in the world. He has spoken on Mahler on NPR’s All Things Considered and is a regular speaker on BBC radio programmes. Since 2014, he has been Honorary Patron of the Hans Gál Society.