English Symphony Orchestra completes first series of Post-Covid recordings and performances

The musicians of the English Symphony Orchestra (ESO) gathered for the first time since lockdown at Wyastone Concert Hall near Monmouth in July, for a series of innovative projects.

Working in close collaboration with The Music Agency, The Musicians’ Union, the Wyastone Estate and Foundation, and producers Phil Rowlands and Tim Burton, the ESO put together an industry-leading plan for a safe return to work implementing new protocols to ensure the health of players and staff. Performing forces ranged from a one-on-a-part chamber ensemble of 11 players to string orchestra and chamber orchestra of 25 musicians, all working under socially distanced conditions. The projects were funded in part by Arts Council England, William A. Cadbury Trust and several private sponsors

Over the course of two-plus weeks of rehearsal, recording and filming, the ESO were able to record material for several forthcoming releases and online concerts. the ESO’s Artistic Director, Kenneth Woods, said:

“We view the current crisis as a call for innovation, and a time to create really distinctive programming. With that in mind, we’ve focused our energies and resources on repertoire nobody else will be doing, on reaching new audiences, and on strengthening and developing our ties with our artistic partners.”

For their first post-Covid visit to Wyastone, the ESO performed two works they had planned to perform in concert two days after the original lockdown in March: Mieczysław Weinberg’s Concertino for Violin and Stringsand Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Third String Quartet in a new orchestration by Kenneth Woods. Highlighting the project’s emphasis on nurturing and supporting its artistic partners, the Weinberg featured the ESO’s Leader, Zoë Beyers, as soloist. Beyers, who divides her time as Leader of the ESO with the same role at the BBC Philharmonic, has been recognised as one of the leading violinists of her generation since her concerto debut with Paavo Jarvi at age 13.

A few days later, the orchestra was joined by Affiliate Artist, soprano April Fredrick, for a recording of Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs in a chamber version by composer James Ledger which was premiered at the farewell concert of Felicity Lott with the Nash Ensemble under the baton of Bernard Haitink. Fredrick’s world premiere of Philip Sawyers’s Songs of Loss and Regret was a 2017 Gramophone Critics’ Choice, and her premiere with the ESO of John Joubert’s opera, Jane Eyre, was chosen by the Birmingham Post as the Classical Highlight of 2016. The Strauss marked a poignant return to the stage for Fredrick for the first time since lockdown. Strauss’s Four Last Songs was also the last work she sang before lockdown. In late March, she contracted coronavirus, and is now recovered. “The fatigue, which is one of the virus’ symptoms, was like nothing I’d experienced, giving a new dimension to the multiple uses in the cycle of the wonderful German adjective ‘müde’ (‘tired, weary, worn out’),” says Fredrick of her illness. “But I will also never forget the incredible, almost euphoric joy I felt the first time I walked out of my front door after my quarantine-what an unthinkable privilege to be well and free to move about again. A stark encounter with mortality, weariness, euphoria, and ‘weiter, stille Friede’ (wide, still peace): the virus provided me with the most curious sort of gift of experience which has forever stamped and deepened my understanding of this work.”

Fredrick also collaborated with the orchestra in recording a new virtual concert and concept album, A Child’s Journey, featuring chamber versions of works by Franz Schubert, Gustav Mahler, Engelbert Humperdinck and Richard Wagner, tracing a life’s journey from Wagner’s touching evocation of the miracle of birth in the Siegfried Idyll to Mahler’s vision of a child’s life in Heaven in Das himmlische Leben (The Heavenly Life)the final movement of the composer’s Fourth Symphony.

Woods, who also serves as the Artistic Director of Colorado MahlerFest, says:

“One thing we and other orchestras – including the Berlin Philharmonic – have been doing this summer is Erwin Stein’s wonderful chamber version of Mahler Four. Although that’s been a staple piece for me and the orchestra for a long time, we thought that rather than duplicate the efforts of others with another complete performance of the Fourth, we would perform just the final movement, Das himmlische Leben, which was written long before the rest of the piece and also helped inspire Mahler’s Third Symphony. Stein’s arrangement provides an important touchstone for this historic moment, emerging as it did from the post-World War I hardships which necessitated the chamber versions of pieces like this which Schoenberg commissioned for the Society for Private Musical Performances in Vienna. Stein and Schoenberg showed us that, as artists, we can use the challenges of our time to come up with something artistically fresh and interesting.”

The rest of the recording consists of new arrangements and adaptations by Kenneth Woods of works such as Mahler’s song Das irdische Leben (The Earthly Life) and Schubert’s Der Tod und das Mädchen (Death and the Maiden), using the same forces as Stein’s version of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. The ESO has previously recorded Woods’ orchestration of Brahms’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in A Major for Nimbus Alliance, which was chosen by The Arts Desk as one of their Ten Best Classical Recordings of 2018. “I can’t say whether I was the right person for this task,” says Woods of the new orchestrations, “but I was certainly the cheapest!”

The project also included a day of sessions with the ESO Brass Ensemble, which recorded a collection of popular favourites to be shared on social media.

Finally, the orchestra recorded five new storytelling works for narrator and orchestra. “Again, we thought this is the perfect time to reach out to new audiences and create content that can be enjoyed by whole families. Much as I adore Peter and the Wolf, we’ve long needed new works for young people, and I’m really proud of the five works we came up with, which range from classics by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen to a very funny Klezmer story and an ancient Egyptian folk tale.The results of the July sessions will be shared in a series of web streamed concerts throughout the autumn and subsequently released on CD and digitally.

Forthcoming projects include a recording of new arrangements of the music of Elgar by David Matthews and Donald Fraser with cellist Raphael Wallfisch, a recording of music by the American composer Steven R. Gerber and music by the ESO’s “John McCabe Composer- in-Association”, Adrian Williams.


All works/arrangements except the Weinberg, Elgar/Matthews and Mahler/Stein are first recordings
Russian Strings

Recorded Sunday and Monday, 12 and 13 July 2020 at Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth
Mieczysław Weinberg (1919 – 1996) Concertino for Violin and Strings
Zoë Beyers violin
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893) String Quartet No. 3 in E-flat minor, Op. 30
arranged for string orchestra by Kenneth Woods
Video scheduled to stream January 2021
Recording scheduled to be released by Nimbus Alliance in 2021
Further information

Strauss Up Close
Recorded Sunday, 26 July 2020 at Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth
Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949) Four Last Songs
arranged for chamber ensemble by James Ledger
Richard Strauss Morgen
arranged for chamber ensemble by Tony Burke
April Fredrick (ESO Affiliate Artist) soprano
Video scheduled to stream September 2020
Further information

A Child’s Journey
Recorded Monday and Tuesday, 27 and 28 July 2020 at Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth
Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) Siegfried Idyll
Engelbert Humperdinck (1854 – 1921) Der Kleine Sandmann and Abendsegen, Act II, Scene 2 from Hansel and Gretel
Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828) Die Forelle
Gustav Mahler (1860 – 1911) Das irdische Leben
SchubertDer Tod und das Mädchen
the above arranged for chamber ensemble by Kenneth Woods
MahlerDas himmlische Leben
arranged for chamber ensemble by Erwin Stein
April Fredrick (ESO Affiliate Artist) soprano
Video scheduled to stream October 2020
Recording scheduled to be released by Nimbus Alliance in 2021
Further information

Magic and Tragic – New Storytelling Works
Recorded Thursday and Friday, 30 and 31 July 2020 at Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth
David Yang (b. 1967) Lubin from Chelm
Kile Smith (b. 1956) The Bremen Town Musicians
Thomas KrainesHansel and Gretel
Kenneth Woods (b. 1968) The Ugly Duckling
Jay Reise (b. 1950) The Warrior Violinist
Narrators tbc
Video scheduled to stream November 2020
Further information


Orchestral Music of Steven R. Gerber (1948 – 2015)21 September 2020 at Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth
Two Lyric Pieces for Violin and Strings
Zoë Beyers violin
String Quartet No. 4
 (orchestrated as String Symphony No. 1)
String Quartet No. 6 (orchestrated as String Symphony No. 2)
String Quartet No. 5 (orchestrated as Sinfonietta No. 2)
the above orchestrations by Adrian Williams
Piano Quintet (orchestrated as Sinfonietta No. 1 by Daron Hagen)
Sponsored by the Steven R. Gerber Trust

Music of Edward Elgar (1857 – 1934)
22-23 September 2020 at Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth
String Quartet in E minor, Op. 83arranged for string orchestra by David Matthews
Miniatures for Cello and Strings:Chanson de matin
Chanson de nuit
Dance of the Bears
Salut d’amor
Raphael Wallfisch cello
arranged by Donald Fraser
Supported by the Lyrita Trust
Video scheduled to stream December 2020
Recording scheduled to be released by Lyrita in 2021

Music of Adrian Williams (b. 1956) (ESO “John McCabe Composer-in-Association’)
Russells’ Elegy
Migrations for 22 Solo Strings

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