English Symphony Orchestra kicks off 21st Century Symphony Project with Sawyers: Birth of a Symphony


The English Symphony Orchestra (ESO) embark on their multi-year celebration of the enduring place of the symphony in today’s musical life with the world premiere of Philip Sawyers’ Symphony No. 3 at St John’s Smith Square this February.

Sawyers Symphony No.3 is the first instalment of the ESO‘s 21st Century Symphony Project that will commission nine composers to write nine symphonies over the coming years.

The project is the brainchild of ESO conductor Kenneth Woods, who was named as the orchestra’s Artistic Director in October, 2016.

“This big moment for both me and the orchestra begged for a bold statement,” he said. “And I decided to commission a symphony from my friend and colleague Philip Sawyers to celebrate this new partnership.”

The ESO has consistently supported the creation and dissemination of new and unknown British music. Commissioning, performing and recording new orchestral works remains a key aspect of the orchestra’s mission.

Whilst devising the 21st Century Symphony Project, Woods considered the genre’s relationship with the past and what it has to offer in the future, “these are among the questions I hope the project will encourage all of us to consider,” he said.

The 21st Century Symphony Project will continue in 2018 with the world-premiere of David Matthews’ Symphony No. 9.

“Kenneth Woods is a visionary conductor and a champion of new music,” said Matthews of his choice to write his Ninth symphony for Woods and the ESO.

Matthews looks forward to the premiere of Sawyers’ Third, “Sawyers is a natural symphonist. His first two symphonies show those qualities of dynamism, drama, contrast, lyricism; they are works that renew the tradition in a vital way,” he said.

Emerging piano superstar Clare Hammond is to perform Mozart’s fiery Piano Concerto in D minor, and soprano April Fredrick will give the London premiere of Songs of Loss and Regret.

Previous symphonies by Sawyers, who holds the English Symphony Orchestra’s John McCabe Composer in Association chair, have been greeted with universal acclaim.

“…strong personality, genuine substance and warm-hearted integrity. Symphony strikes me a formidably rigourous, intelligent and nourishing statement,” wrote Gramophone.

Asked about the future of the 21st Century Symphony Project, Woods said, “I have a pretty clear sense of what the next steps in the cycle will be, and I have a long wish list of possible composers, more than enough to fill out the cycle. Who’s to say we need to stop at nine, which after all is perhaps a not-so-discreet nod to Beethoven’s legendary symphonic output.”

The concert will take place on February 28 at St John’s Smith Square and there will be a pre-concert talk at 6.30pm.


Clare Hammond – Piano
April Fredrick – Soprano
Kenneth Woods – Conductor

Philip Sawyers
Fanfare (world premiere)

Philip Sawyers
Songs of Loss and Regret (London premiere)

Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor K466

Philip Sawyers
Symphony No. 3 (world premiere)

Date: Tue 28 February – 7.30pm
Tickets: £25, £20, £15, £10
For information and bookings visit www.sjss.org.uk/events/english-symphony-orchestra

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