The Steven R. Gerber Trust has begun a 2-year performance/recording relationship with the English Symphony Orchestra , wherein the Trust will support ESO's 21st Century Symphony Project, which involves commissioning, premiering and recording nine new symphonies by different composers, as well as support for Gerber's music in the U.K. through performances and recordings. The Gerber Trust recently asked ESO Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Kenneth Woods to respond to the following questions:

Tell me about the English Symphony Orchestra.

The ESO was founded as the English String Orchestra in 1980 by a conductor named William Boughton. The core of the original group was made up largely of members of the recently-disbanded BBC Midlands Light Music Orchestra. Within a year or two, the orchestra had already expanded to symphonic repertoire, hence the change of name, although we continue to perform and record as both English String Orchestra and English Symphony Orchestra.

William was succeeded by the legendary British conductor Vernon 'Tod' Handley. Tod's health was poor for most of his two-year tenure with the orchestra prior to his death 2008, but his masterful interpretations of some of the greatest pieces of English music remain a treasured part of the ESO legacy and he is very much missed.

After Tod's passing the orchestra experimented with not having a conductor several years, but after five years of this, they saw the need for new leadership and this is when I joined them.

I saw on arrival that there was still a lot to admire in William's original concept of the orchestra. To that, we've added a few new things. First, I'm probably more deeply obsessed with the music of Central Europe and Russia than William or Tod, so the Austro-German canon and the 20th C works that grew out of it is a bigger part of our repertoire than in years past. Working in strategic partnership with educational groups, festivals and community groups. is more important now than in the past. And, finally, although both Tod and William were deeply committed to new music, the place of new work in our programmes and recording plans has expanded a great deal.