History

Daniel Barenboim, Isaac Stern and Pinchas Zukerman in session with the ECO c.1970. Photo by Clive Barda.

The English Chamber Orchestra has its roots in the Goldsbrough Orchestra, founded in 1948; its name changed in 1960 and since then it has remained under the artistic direction of a member of the original group, Quintin Ballardie.

The ECO is one of the world’s leading chamber orchestras, having performed in more countries than any other orchestra, recorded over 1,500 works and played with the world’s greatest musicians in its five decades of history. Over the years its soloists and conductors have included Vladimir Ashkenazy, Janet Baker, Daniel Barenboim, Benjamin Britten, Colin Davis, Placido Domingo, Kiri te Kanawa, Raphael Kubelik, Raymond Leppard, Yehuhi Menuhin, David Oistrakh, Luciano Pavarotti, Murray Perahia, Itzhak Perlman, Andre Previn, Karl Richter, Mstislav Rostropovich, Georg Solti, Isaac Stern, Mitsuko Uchida, Maxim Vengerov and Pinchas Zukerman.

Since 1977 the ECO is delighted to have had as its Patron HRH The Prince of Wales and the Orchestra has performed at many royal events for him and his family, including the late Queen Mother’s 90th birthday celebrations (1990), The Prince of Wales’ 50th birthday Gala Concert (1998) and also the first concert ever to be broadcast from Buckingham Palace.

The year 1967 was a highlight of the ECO’s first decade. The Orchestra and Benjamin Britten inaugurated London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall and Snape Maltings, both in the presence of HM The Queen (later ECO concert hall inaugurations have ranged from Finland to Japan and Kazakhstan). Also in 1967 the ECO started recording Mozart with Daniel Barenboim, participated in the Montreal Expo 67 and in the BBC’s first colour television transmission of a concert as well as the opening concert in the European Broadcasting Union’s first international concert series.

Benjamin Britten, the Orchestra’s very first Patron, was a tremendous musical influence on the ECO until his death in 1976. The ECO also enjoyed a long relationship with Daniel Barenboim, one of the highlights of which was the performance and recording (for EMI) of the complete cycle of Mozart Piano Concertos. The 1980s were marked by the appointment of Jeffrey Tate as the ECO’s first Principal Conductor and by recordings of the complete Mozart Symphonies and late Haydn symphonies (with Tate, for EMI) along with two further celebrated cycles of the complete Mozart Piano Concertos (for CBS with Murray Perahia and for Phillips with Mitsuko Uchida and Tate). The 1990s included an epic series of 21 concerts at London’s Barbican Centre in 1991 for the ‘Mozart 200’ celebration, containing (in chronological order) Mozart’s major works from each year between 1770 and 1791.

Since the advent of the new century the ECO has toured around the world with artists such as Maxim Vengerov, Radu Lupu, Itzhak Perlman, Hilary Hahn, Sarah Chang and Pinchas Zukerman and it still attracts the calibre of guest artists which few other chamber orchestras can match. Unique collaborations have also been forged with Ralf Gothoni and Paul Watkins, the Orchestra’s Principal Conductors during the last decade, and with the late Sir Colin Davis, the Orchestra’s Conductor Emeritus until his death in 2012. The Orchestra also has a strong tradition of leadership within its ranks; Spanish violinist Jose-Luis Garcia was Leader of the ECO for 25 years, succeeded by the present Leader Stephanie Gonley in 1997.

The ECO aims to celebrate and build upon its tradition of maintaining the highest international musical standards, nurturing new talent and focussing on the ‘best of British’ music and musicianship, as well as being the chamber orchestra of choice for many of the world’s greatest soloists and, via its many and varied foreign tours, a significant invisible export for the United Kingdom. Its first world tour was in 1969 with Daniel Barenboim, Pinchas Zukerman and Jacqueline du Pre, followed in 1973 by a second world tour with the same soloists plus Andrew Davis; in 1968 it had made debut tours in both SouthAmerica and the USA, while its first coast-to-coast tour of the USA was in 1979 with Vladimir Ashkenazy.

In 1998 the ECO was the only orchestra honoured with invitations to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Independence in Sri Lanka and the inauguration of Kazakhstan’s new capital city, Astana. Recent tours have included Azerbaijan, Russia, Qatar, Dubai, China, as well as countries across Europe, whilst future plans include a debut visit to Siberia and return visits to Baku, Doha, the USA and the Far East.

For many years the ECO was resident orchestra at the Aldeburgh Festival, while later residencies included Aix-en-Provence opera festival. The Orchestra’s 21 annual Mediterranean and Caribbean music festivals at sea continue to feature many of its internationally renowned soloist friends. From 2008 – 2013 the ECO was resident orchestra at the Grange Park Opera Festival.

The ECO made its first LP in 1961 and in 2011 was confirmed as the most recorded chamber orchestra in the world, having recorded over 1500 individual works. Some of the world’s greatest voices to have recorded with the ECO include Kiri Te Kanawa, Janet Baker, Jessye Norman, Montserrat Caballe, Renee Fleming, Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo. The Orchestra has been chosen to record many notable film scores including John Barry’s Bond movies and Dario Marionelli’s recent soundtracks for Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, and has also featured in many of Tony Palmer’s and Christopher Nupen’s films about music and musicians.

The ECO is proud of its outreach programme, Close Encounters, which takes music and educational projects into communities and schools around the UK and overseas, including South Africa, Bermuda and Qatar.

In its recordings, performances and tours the ECO continues to build on decades of remarkable music-making, and for this we are grateful to our players, soloists, conductors and all those who have supported us financially and in so many other ways over the decades. Bravo and thank you to all those who are and have been associated with the ECO!