Kensington Symphony Orchestra Golden Anniversary Celebrations

Written by: Colin Anderson

The Kensington Symphony Orchestra, one of the leading non-professional orchestras in the UK, has re-enlisted the Russian pianist Nikolai Demidenko to perform at its 50th anniversary gala concert in the Barbican Hall in London on Wednesday 18 October. A regular with the KSO, Demidenko and the orchestra join forces again to perform Rachmaninov’s ever-popular Second Piano Concerto in this celebratory concert.

The concert opens with music from Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s soundtrack to “The Sea Hawk”, which starred Errol Flynn, in a newly compiled extended suite by the KSO’s music director Russell Keable. Over the years the orchestra has become closely associated with this composer: KSO gave the UK premiere of his opera “Die tote Stadt” in 1996 and has given other rare Korngold performances, including his one-act opera “Violanta”, the Cello Concerto, and the Symphony in F sharp.

The Barbican Hall concert concludes with more music inspired by the silver screen, the cantata that Prokofiev fashioned from his score for Eisenstein’s film “Alexander Nevsky”. The London Oriana Choir and the mezzo-soprano Jean Rigby will join the Kensington Symphony Orchestra. In fact, this could be described as a film-music concert; Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto featured in David Lean’s classic “Brief Encounter”.

The KSO is one of the UK’s longest-running amateur orchestras. Reaching 50 years as a self-run and largely self-funded orchestra is an achievement in itself. During these 50 years there have been only two principal conductors. It is largely thanks to Leslie Head and, now, Russell Keable that the orchestra has achieved consistently high standards for such a long period. Their artistic direction, sheer enthusiasm for the music and good humour have encouraged devoted players to form the strong ensemble that KSO is today.

The Classical Source is delighted to review KSO’s concerts, not least for the orchestra’s innovative programming. The KSO’s 2005-06 season contained five concerts – all played at St John’s, Smith Square, London – and each was covered by TCS (links below); as well as commissioned ‘fanfares’, the programmes were satisfyingly adventurous. The KSO won the 2005 BBC Radio 3 Listeners’ Award for its performance with the BBC Concert Orchestra of a piece by Errollyn Wallen; and KSO also received a Gramophone Editor’s Choice for its commercial recording of Sir Henry Walford Davies’s “Everyman” – an oratorio in the vein of Elgar’s “The Dream of Gerontius”, recorded with the London Oriana Choir and conducted by David Drummond (Dutton CDLX7141).

The Classical Source looks forward to the Kensington Symphony Orchestra’s new season, and wishes Russell Keable and everyone who plays in, and who is associated with the orchestra, every success.

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