Now in its 61st year, the Kensington Symphony Orchestra enjoys an enviable reputation as one of the finest amateur orchestras in the UK. Its founding premise — to provide students and amateurs with an opportunity to perform concerts at the highest possible level — continues to be at the heart of its mission. It regularly attracts the best non-professional players from around London.
It seems extraordinary that KSO has only had two principal conductors — the founder, Leslie Head, and the current incumbent, Russell Keable. The dedication, enthusiasm and passion of these two musicians has indelibly shaped KSO’s image, giving it a distinctive repertoire which undoubtedly sets it apart from other groups. Its continued commitment to the performance of the most challenging works in the canon is allied to a hunger for new music, lost masterpieces, overlooked film scores and those quirky corners of the repertoire that few others dare touch.
Revivals and premières, in particular, have peppered the programming from the very beginning. In the early days there were world premières of works by Arnold Bax and Havergal Brian, and British premières of works by Nielsen, Schoenberg, Sibelius and Bruckner (the original version of the Ninth Symphony). When Russell Keable arrived in 1983, he promised to maintain the distinctive flavour of KSO. As well as the major works of Mahler, Strauss, Stravinsky and Shostakovich, Keable has aired a number of unusual works as well as delivering some significant musical landmarks — the London première of Dvořák's opera Dimitrij and the British première of Korngold’s operatic masterpiece, Die tote Stadt (which the Evening Standard praised as ‘a feast of brilliant playing’). In January 2004, KSO, along with the London Oriana Choir, performed a revival of Walford Davies’s oratorio Everyman, which is now available on the Dutton label.
New music has continued to be the life-blood of KSO. An impressive roster of contemporary composers has been represented in KSO’s progressive programmes, including Thomas Adès, Charlotte Bray, Brett Dean, Magnus Lindberg, Colin Matthews, Joby Talbot, Matthew Taylor, Judith Weir and John Woolrich. Two exciting collaborations with the BBC Concert Orchestra have been highlights of recent seasons: Bob Chilcott’s Tandem and the première of Errollyn Wallen’s lively romp around the subject of speed dating, Spirit Symphony, at the Royal Festival Hall, both of which were broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Russell Keable has also written music for the orchestra, particularly for its education projects which have seen members of the orchestra working with schools from the inner London area.
KSO has an honourable pedigree in raising funds for charitable concerns. Its very first concert was given in aid of the Hungarian Relief Fund, and in recent years the orchestra has supported the Jacqueline du Pré Memorial Fund, Trinity Hospice, Field Lane, Shape London, the Kampala Music School and War Child.
The reputation of the orchestra is reflected in the quality of international soloists who regularly appear with KSO — Sir John Tomlinson, Nikolai Demidenko, Nicholas Daniel, Tasmin Little, Richard Watkins, Jean Rigby and Steven Isserlis to name just a few — each enjoying the immediate, enthusiastic but thoroughly professional approach of these amateur musicians.
Without the support of its sponsors, its Friends scheme and especially its audiences, KSO could not continue to go from strength to strength and maintain its traditions of challenging programmes and exceptionally high standards of performance. Thank you for your support.