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The Lancashire Chamber Orchestra

Leader Anne Heaton


The Lancashire Chamber Orchestra is one of the North West’s leading amateur orchestras. It has a strong core of talented string players which is supplemented with woodwind, brass and percussion players, as needed.


The orchestra performs its own concerts about three times a year, usually at Altrincham Girls Grammar School. It also teams up with some of the region’s top choral societies to perform the great classical choral works, including a regular engagement with Blackburn Choral Society playing The Messiah in Blackburn Cathedral every December.


Over the years, the orchestra has played in many venues including Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, the Royal Northern College of Music concert hall, BBC Manchester studios and many of the region’s churches and town halls.


Regular conductors have included the American cellist Ken Woods, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra violinist Bob Chasey and a number of special guest conductors including Justin Doyle, Richard Davis, Richard Howarth, Jon Malaxetxebarria, Alex Robinson and Michael Bawtree.


The Lancashire Chamber Orchestra usually rehearses on two or three Sundays leading up to a concert date, in a range of venues, including Mawdesley and Heskin, near Chorley, Hale and Altrincham. The group always welcomes new members (around Grade 8+ standard) to come and join them.


Further details about the orchestra can be obtained from any of our players or by emailing the orchestra on lancashirechamberorchestra@gmail.com


Our History


On a Sunday morning in February 1969, a small group of enthusiastic musicians assembled- in anticipation -outside Padgate Teacher Training College, waiting to be let in through the back door of the music block by David Blott, harpsichordist, organist and Head of Music at the college. Most-but not all- were string teachers from Lancashire County Schools’ Music service responding to an invitation from their Head of Department, John Ashworth to join him and his friend and colleague David Greenlees in the formation of a new ensemble to be called the Lancashire String Orchestra. It was to be conducted by the distinguished cellist Paul Ward, sub-principal in the Hallé orchestra and professor at the Royal Manchester College of Music who shared John Ashworth’s concept “that teachers should not only teach, but that they should also play together and have the opportunity to do so to a high standard under professional direction”. The ensemble was launched into its inaugural rehearsal and from those very modest beginnings almost half a century ago, has grown today’s Lancashire Chamber Orchestra.

Initially, and during those early years as “resident house orchestra” at Padgate, few concerts were given and those were mostly for college functions (with large audiences!), but gradually it began to perform further afield with public concerts in Warrington and Thelwall (at which the soloist was a very young Stephen Hough). The (mostly) string-repertoire ranged from baroque to contemporary works and programming was often ambitious and challenging including 20th century masterpieces by -among others-Hindemith, Bliss and Bartok (e.g.Concerto for Strings percussion and celeste-in which a young Peter Donohoe appeared in the percussion section). Paul Ward retired and was succeeded first by Andrew Penny, (soon after to be offered prestigious engagements with professional orchestras, and then-for three years- Richard Vardigans, both of whom were still students on the RMCM’s conducting course).(Richard left the UK on his appointment as chorus master at the Mannheim opera.)

Robert (Bob) Chasey had performed as soloist with the Lancashire Chamber orchestra on several occasions whilst still a student at the RMCM, as leader of the Northern Ballet Orchestra and then as principal 2nd violin with the BBC Northern Symphony orchestra and had come to know the orchestra well. Although Bob had never previously conducted an orchestra, he was approached and agreed to “give it a try”! Thus began a fruitful relationship which lasted some fifteen years during which time he presided over a considerable expansion in repertoire, an increase in membership with brass wind and percussion players too joining us for most concerts although the string repertoire was, by design, still a core factor. Significantly too we were introduced to new and prestigious performing venues including the Bridgewater Hall, BBC Studio 7 (for concerts for the “Friends of the Phil), Manchester and Blackburn cathedrals inter alia and began our now much cherished association with choirs from around the region.

Bob’s tenure ended with his departure for the Bolton Symphony Orchestra in order to widen his experience in the symphonic repertoire, and some two years later we appointed as our conductor the young American Kenneth (Ken) Woods who had then only very recently arrived in this country. Ken oversaw a remarkable eightyear period which markedly developed the orchestra still further. Players and audiences regularly had the engaging experience of programmes often including extremely challenging rarely performed works by little known or neglected established composers such as Hans Gal and from the American contemporary scene. Exhilarating programming (-and outstanding performances) too of both familiar- and sometimes unfamiliar -works from the classical era-Haydn, Mozart and Schubert regularly featured but Ken will perhaps be principally remembered for his “benchmark” direction of five Beethoven symphonies and for the many concerts in which we were joined by some outstanding soloists including on two occasions himself directing from the cello.

Ken was indeed a most difficult act to follow for he had raised the standards of the orchestra to an entirely new level. By the end of his time with us he had been appointed chief guest conductor of the Orchestra of the Swan (the professional chamber orchestra of the Midlands) introducing audiences throughout that region-as indeed he had done with us-to rare and exciting new works and producing much praised CDs (Gal and Schumann) inter alia with leading British orchestras. He has also since been appointed principal conductor of the resurrected English Symphony Orchestra in succession to the late Vernon Handley.

Since Ken’s departure the orchestra has to date opted specifically not to appoint a permanent successor choosing instead to invite outstanding conductors (and also some exceptional soloists) from our region to join with us on a “concert to concert” basis and to enjoy the benefits (and privilege) and fresh musical experiences each and every one has since given us. It has been our great pleasure and privilege to play under the direction of Justin Doyle, David Curtis (Orchestra of the Swan) Michael Bawtree, Jon Malaxterixa, Richard Davis and Alex Robinson who have all made each concert a most enjoyable and memorable occasion.

A much cherished vital and integral part of the orchestra’s existence has been its association with several choirs from our region with whom we regularly join forces in their programmes. Chief among them over many years have been the Blackburn Musical Society in that city’s cathedral, Altrincham Choral Society at the RNCM and more recently the Chesterfield Philharmonic in the town’s celebrated parish church.

We are always very happy to welcome new players able to combine a high standard of performance on their instrument with a strong commitment to the orchestra’s at times quite heavy schedule. We are a friendly group who strive to our best endeavours to perform to the highest possible standard and simply enjoy making music together. Come and join us in this rewarding and stimulating venture!
David Fuller


Kenneth Woods

Principle Conductor






Hailed by the Washington Post as an “up-and-coming conductor” and a “true star” of the podium, conductor and cellist Kenneth Woods is quickly becoming recognized as major talent on the international scene. He has worked with many orchestras of international distinction including the National Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Symphony, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the Budapest Festival Orchestra and the State of Mexico Symphony Orchestra. He has also appeared on the stages of some of the world’s leading music festivals, including Aspen, Lucerne, and Scotia.


His work on the concert platform and in the recording studio has led to numerous broadcasts on BBC Radio 3, National Public Radio, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He is currently Music Director of the Oregon East Symphony, Surrey Mozart Players, Conductor of the Contemporary Music Ensemble of Wales, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Rose City Chamber Orchestra.


Recent highlights include first appearances at the Bridgewater Hall, Menuhin Hall, Albert Hall, Royal Concert Hall of Nottingham and Bute Hall. In America, his recent performance Jennifer Higdon’s new Soprano Saxophone Concerto with the Texas Festival Orchestra at the Round Top Festival was recorded for NPR’s Performance Today- a triumph that led to his immediate invitation to return in 2009.


His blog, A View from the Podium, has become a hit with music lovers in the UK, Canada and the US and received wide acknowledgement from the music critics of the New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, Independent and Gramophone. 2008-9 sees him making more important UK, US and European debuts, doing extensive studio and concert work for the BBC and making his debut recordings in London for Avie Records.


In the spring of 2001, Kenneth Woods was selected by Leonard Slatkin as one of four participants in the National Conducting Institute. At the completion of the Institute, he led the National Symphony Orchestra in a debut concert, drawing great critical acclaim and a return invitation from the NSO. In the spring of 2000, David Zinman selected Kenneth Woods from a pool of over 200 applicants to be a fellow in the inaugural class of the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen. Toronto Symphony Music Director Peter Oundjian has praised Woods as “a conductor with true vision and purpose. He has a most fluid and clear style and an excellent command on the podium… a most complete musician.”


Kenneth Woods has conducted critically praised productions of operas from Britten to Puccini, and ballet scores as diverse as Giselle, the Nutcracker and Firebird. Woods’ work as an active proponent of contemporary music includes collaborations with composers including John Corigliano, Krystopf Penderecki, Peter Lieberson and Oliver Knussen.


An active cellist cello soloist and chamber musician, his colleagues include members of the Toronto, Chicago and Cincinnati Symphonies, the Minnesota, Gewandaus and Concertgebouw orchestras and the La Salle, Pro Arte, Tokyo and Audubon quartets.


As music director of the Oregon East Symphony since 2000, he has transformed a tiny orchestra in a remote, rural area into possibly the most talked-about orchestra in the Pacific Northwest, winning universal praise for their ongoing Mahler cycle and their innovative youth programs. In 2005, he was asked by the musicians of the Rose City Chamber Orchestra to found a new professional training institute for young conductors.


In just four years under his leadership, the Rose City International Conductor’s Workshop has become widely recognized as one of the leading training centers in the world for young conductors, drawing students from the world’s leading conservatories and nations as diverse as Argentina, Japan, Korea, Germany, Spain, Israel, Mexico, Brazil, Russia and Canada. In 2009, the RCICW will be the subject of a major documentary on American television.

David Curtis

Guest Conductor






David Curtis is Artistic Director of Orchestra of the Swan, the driving force behind the Swan’s nationally acclaimed Take Note! and Music of Our Time series, and Festival Director of Spring Sounds, a new international music festival in Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon. The closing concert was featured on the South Bank Show with David conducting Tasmin Little and Orchestra of the Swan in the Barber Violin concerto and world premiere of Roxanna Panufnik’s ‘Japanese Spring’, commissioned for Spring Sounds.

…a brilliant performance… Daily Telegraph

…a genuine exuberance… Musical Opinion

…The brilliant success of Stratford's inaugural "Spring Sounds" festival… an avid public, packed houses, enlightened sponsorship, the sheer "wow" factor of David Curtis and his accomplished Orchestra of the Swan and Tasmin Little… co-commissioner of Japanese Spring by Roxanna Panufnik, receiving its premiere here, burgeoned with joyous exhilaration, Little's solo line trilling and dancing, and interacting zippily with various soloists from Curtis' orchestra… Birmingham Post

His thought-provoking programming, infectious enthusiasm for contemporary music and considered but fresh interpretations of standard repertoire have established him as a conductor of note on the international stage, conducting in the Belgium, China, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany – recording with Dimitri Ashkenasi and the Hamburg Symphonika, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Romania, Singapore, Sweden and the USA.

…David Curtis, has raised this jewel (Orchestra of the Swan) to an impressive level of performance… The Guardian

In 2008 he made his debut conducting the Academy of St Martin’s-in-the-Field, one of the world’s most prestigious chamber orchestras and he has appeared with the Prague Chamber Orchestra and Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra and the North Hungarian Symphony Orchestra. He is a regular guest soloist and conductor in Finland, appearing with the Mikkeli City Orchestra, the Roveniemi Chamber and Yvaskyla Symphony Orchestras in the concert hall and on Finnish Radio and in 2005 he premiered a new chamber symphony by leading Finnish composer Aki Yli-Salomaki.

…charismatic, inspiring…a conductor who deserves wider recognition…Birmingham Post

In autumn 2006 he conducted in the biennial Nordic Music Days Festival with the Icelandic contemporary music ensemble Caput, the first British composer to be invited to do so, giving the world premiere of works by four leading Nordic composers for Icelandic Radio and in May 2007 conducted the Moravian Symphony Orchestra in the prestigious annual Olomouc Dvorak's Festival and the Policka Martinu Festival.

…all credit then to Curtis and Orchestra of the Swan… The Guardian

David is a champion of new work and has commissioned and given world premieres of at least 50 works by British, Bulgarian, Chinese, Nordic, and American composers including Snorri Sigfús Birgisson, Oscar Colomina i Bosch, Joe Cutler, Tansy Davies, Joseph Duddell, Sampo Haapamäki, Lars-Petter Hagen, Thuridur Jónsdottir, Peter Lieuwen, Paul Patterson, Joseph Phibbs, Julian Philips, Marie Samuelsson, Dobrinka Tabakova, Param Vir, Andrew Waggoner, Errollyn Wallen, Shu Wang and John Woolrich.

…a packed house for this concert…a genuine esprit de corps, with players as keenly alert to each other as they are to the conductor… Daily Telegraph

David delights in working with musicians of all ages and abilities and has conducted at the Moores School of Music in Houston USA giving conducting masterclasses for students, at Birmingham Conservatoire and the Guildhall School.

Since 2005 he has been a regular guest conductor with the American Schools International Orchestras in London, Beijing, Brussels, Geneva and Singapore and he has wide experience with many other student orchestras in the UK and USA; Warwick University, Bedford County Youth Orchestra, Fife Youth Orchestra, Sheffield University, Gloucester Academy of Music, Birmingham Schools Symphony and Syracuse University, NY. He has recently been appointed Principal Conductor for Norfolk County Youth Orchestra.

…a stirring performance under the baton of David Curtis… The Guardian

Since 1999 David has been principal conductor of the Cheltenham Symphony Orchestra and under his leadership the orchestra has developed an outstanding reputation, tackling major works such as the Strauss Alpine Symphony, Mahler, and Rachmaninov symphonies and the Britten War Requiem. The reputation of the CSO led to an invitation to give three concerts in the Annecy Festival, France in July 2008.

…a superb performance of Stravinsky's Petrushka… David Curtis's attention to detail paid off handsomely, the crisp, precise and committed playing of the musicians conjured up vividly the bustling atmosphere of the Shrovetide fair in St Petersburg… Gloucester Echo

…a lively performance of Strauss Don Juan, followed by the Four Last Songs… Elizabeth Clarke’s voice blended impeccably with the sensuous playing of the orchestra…sheer perfection. Strauss’ Alpine Symphony towered over both…the charismatic David Curtis succeeded magnificently…a full-blooded, spell-binding performance… Gloucester Echo

Keen to take music into the wider community, David was responsible for the Swan’s residency at Birmingham International Airport and for overseeing their extensive and highly imaginative Education programme. He continues to be in demand as a speaker, giving illuminating descriptions of life on the podium and behind the scenes.

…David Curtis directs his with style and understanding…a lynch-pin in the obvious success of this venture, dreaming up a fascinating menu of offerings, chatting to the audience as if among friends, and drawing colourfully communicative readings… Birmingham Post

Prior to conducting David had a distinguished career in chamber music, working with leading musicians and composers of international stature, including Sir William Walton, Sir Michael Tippett and Robert Simpson. His conducting teachers include the legendary Finnish maestro Jorma Panula.

Richard Howarth

Guest Conductor






Richard Howarth has had a distinguished career as a violinist, leading and directing orchestras for over twenty years. In recent years he has been in increasing demand as a conductor.

Richard has conducted Manchester Camerata, the Ulster Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the London, Scottish and Manchester Concert Orchestras and, from the violin, has directed Manchester Camerata and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. He is in demand as a string coach/conductor and works regularly at the Royal Northern College of Music and Chetham’s School of Music.

As an educator, he is Principal Conductor of the Vale Royal String Orchestra, Sale Chamber Orchestra and Manchester Youth String Orchestra. He is a regular guest conductor of Chester Philharmonic Orchestra and coaches Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra.

Trained as a violinist at the Royal College of Music in London, Richard worked with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra and as Leader of the Ulster Orchestra before becoming Leader of Manchester Camerata. He has been a guest leader with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC Scottish and Welsh Symphony Orchestras, the BBC Philharmonic, the Halle, Orchestra of St John’s Smith Square, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, East of England Orchestra and Bournemouth Sinfonietta.

Jon Malaxetxebarria

Guest Conductor






Jon Malaxetxebarria, born in Gernika Spain, is currently pursuing a Master of Music conducting degree at the Royal Northern College of Music. His primary conducting professors are Clark Rundell and Mark Heron. He was awarded the AIE Foundation (Spain) scholarship and a prestigious scholarship by the Basque Government for his artistic and academic achievements. He studied French horn at the Bilbao conservatory. During this time he played with several orchestras such as BIOS (Bizkaia Symphony Orchestra), and EGO (Basque Country Youth Orchestra).

After finishing his studies in Bilbao, Jon won a scholarship from the Bizkaia counsel to attend Roosevelt University Chicago, where he studied with Dale Clevenger, principal horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He graduated with honors, obtaining a Bachelor of Music degree. Other conducting teachers include George Hurst, Mark Shanahan, Denise Ham, Rodolfo Saglimbeni and Robert Houlihan.



    Very informative. I love reading about your history