12 May 2023

English Symphony Orcestra

On 23 April, Sir Simon Rattle gave an impassioned speech decrying the threats to the future of orchestral musical life in the UK. Since then, others have joined his rallying cry, including Nicola Benedetti. The English Symphony Orchestra, the only professional orchestra both based in and serving our region of Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, is one of several orchestras profoundly affected by the issues raised by Sir Simon and others, and, as a result of the recent National Portfolio cycle and subsequent increased competition for Arts Council Project Grants, we are deeply concerned that our ability to serve our communities is under urgent threat. We believe that everyone deserves to have access to orchestras and their music. Over 4 decades, English Symphony Orchestra has been the leading provider of professional orchestral music making and orchestral training in our region.

Today we add our voice and call for urgent action:

  • Orchestras and classical music organisations need resources to continue to operate – adequate and reliable funding, access to rehearsal and concert venues, and above all highly trained musicians coming into the profession.
  • We need to support music-making by young people, such as ESO Youth, activity reaching those who cannot attend conventional concerts, including ESO Concerts in Care Homes, and development opportunities for those entering the profession, like ESO Youth Side-by-Side and The Elgar Conducting Masterclass.
  • We must act now to protect our musicians’ livelihoods – our musicians need reliable, secure musical work, which means reliable, secure funding.

We ask:

  • For all those who value our art to add their voice to our cause by sharing this news post widely.
  • For those with the means to support orchestral work in the UK directly to do so – from individuals to funding organisations, businesses to public bodies. Find out more about how to support ESO here.
  • For an urgent reconsideration of both the amount of funding for orchestras and classical music in the UK and the methods by which it is distributed. We call for urgent dialogue between funders and arts organisations to consider how application processes can be simplified, how assessment processes can be more transparent and how funding mechanisms can be more flexible and responsive to the needs of both artists and communities.

The English Symphony Orchestra

English Symphony Orchestra is the sole professional orchestra both based in and serving an  area with a population of 1.4 million people. ESO is more than just a musical ensemble giving concerts and making recordings. Through all three strands of our work – Orchestra, Academy and Community, our in-person activity reaches thousands of people every year in Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and farther afield, from 5-year-old beginners, concert audiences in some of the most rural areas of the country and to isolated care home residents suffering dementia. Our ESO Digital platform sees over 100,000 views every year, we commission new music and we place orchestral music at the heart of our communities.

The English Symphony Orchestra performs dozens of concerts per year across our home region of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, as well as touring nationally to venues large and small from Lincoln’s Royal Theatre and Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, to London’s Cadogan Hall and the Queen’s Theatre in Barnstaple. Our musicians are some of the finest in the country, led by Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Kenneth Woods and Principal Artist and Leader Zoe Beyers.

Our artistic offer is unique – in addition to acclaimed performances of the core classical repertoire and popular programming, we give listeners a chance to hear music that would otherwise go unheard, such as the music of composers oppressed by injustice, composers of colour and female composers. We commission new works for symphony orchestra through our 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and, as well as live performances we have made dozens of recordings available online which receive tens of thousands of views every month.

ESO places great importance on the future of music by training the next generation of musicians. ESO Youth is a unique coaching programme for over 500 young orchestral musicians per year aged 5+, from beginners to diploma standard. Advanced musicians are invited to perform side-by-side with our professionals at ESO concerts and our bursary scheme means any child in the UK who wants to attend our courses can do so, regardless of their family’s financial situation.

ESO’s Care Home Concerts reach people in care settings and dementia care centres across our region. In 2023 so far we have performed in 25 care homes and centres, reaching over 500 isolated older people who otherwise would have no access to live music.

In the last decade, ESO has demonstrated significant growth – doubling our turnover in the last five years, becoming City Orchestra for Worcester, Orchestra in Residence at The Elgar Festival, re-establishing our series at Malvern Theatres and Cheltenham Town Hall and developing our partnership with Hereford Sixth Form College. We have added new works to the repertoire, trained hundreds of young musicians and brought live music to thousands in care homes. We are a thriving orchestra bringing the highest quality music provision to an underserved region, but without action today, we are deeply concerned that our ability to serve our communities is under urgent threat.

Photograph © Michael Whitefoot


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