ESO is a Chelmsford-based Orchestra formed in 1949 that plays three to four concerts per season.  We choose adventurous programmes that feature the large symphonic works of the 19th and 20th centuries, along with contemporary pieces.  We pride ourselves in bringing world class soloists to Chelmsford and have also provided a platform for many young artists both from Essex and the national scene.

Rooted in our community we are proud to have supported a range of local charities over the years.   We are committed to inspiring the next generation of musicians and audiences through a range of concerts and workshops aimed at local children and young people. 

Having given years of study to our instruments we enjoy the musical and social rewards of working together in our weekly rehearsals, under our professional leader and Music Director. We come from many walks of life and are united in a passion for music which we love to share with our audiences in live performance.

ROBERT HODGE – Music Director

Robert is a conductor known for his considerable skill, clarity of technique and good rapport with musicians. He devises exciting programmes that are enjoyable and challenging for players and audiences.

Alongside his role with ESO he is also the Musical Director of the City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra, and Aylesbury Symphony Orchestra. He regularly works with Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, conducting them at venues across the island. He also recently made his debut working for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducting a side-by-side workshop in Swansea. 

Incredibly active in the world of education, Robert is the Musical Director of Stoneleigh Youth Orchestra in London. Recently SYO have enjoyed success performing in the NFMY Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, and a broadcast on BBC Radio 3 as part of the Making Music ‘Adopt a Composer’ scheme. SYO tour extensively, and under his guidance have developed a wonderful exchange partnership with Malta Youth Orchestra.  

Robert is Regional Director of Music for the National Children’s Orchestras of Great Britain, Conductor in Residence at St Albans High School, and works at the Royal College of Music Junior Department (RCMJD) where he conducts the Sinfonia. He enjoys working with organisations including Malta Youth Orchestra, Yorchestra, Oasby Music Group, and Benslow Music.

He is increasingly busy as a teacher of conducting technique. Robert is responsible for all of the conducting classes at the RCMJD, and he teaches on the Masters Programme at the Royal College of Music, delivering a unit entitled ‘Conducting in Education’. He has also given workshops and training in ensemble conducting technique for several schools and music services.

Born in Pembrokeshire, Robert studied at Royal Holloway, University of London before winning a scholarship, funded by the H R Taylor Trust, to the Royal College of Music where his conducting teachers were Peter Stark and Robin O’Neill. At the RCM he prepared the orchestras and acted as assistant to conductors including Lorin Maazel, Bernard Haitink and Vladimir Ashkenazy. In 2011 Robert was a member of the European Union Youth Orchestra, playing orchestral piano and celeste for their European tour.

For three years Robert was Musical Director of Nonesuch Orchestra, conducting an extensive series of outreach concerts and appearing at London festivals including the St Jude’s Proms in Hampstead. He has toured the UK with aerial theatre company Ockham’s Razor, directing choirs for their critically acclaimed production, Not Until We Are Lost. In past seasons, he has conducted Oxford University Orchestra, King’s College London Symphony Orchestra, Suffolk Sinfonia, Havant Symphony Orchestra, Kingston Philharmonia, Farnborough Symphony Orchestra, the Yorchestra Holiday Courses, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and Tallis Chamber Orchestra.


Philippa leads a busy and varied life as a freelance violinist, leading a number of ensembles, such as the Kings Chamber Orchestra, and Essex and Colchester Symphony Orchestras. She plays all around the country and further afield with various other orchestras, such as English Touring Opera, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the London Mozart Players and the City of London Sinfonia.

As a soloist, Philippa has a growing repertoire, including concerti by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Bruch, Mozart, Bach and Vivaldi. She has also collaborated with the pianist, Alisdair Hogarth, in several recitals, playing programmes including sonatas by Franck, Elgar and Debussy.

Philippa is passionate about working with young people, leading educational workshops, chamber music groups, coaching for Essex Youth Orchestra, and teaching individuals, privately and at Felsted School.

Her own education was at the Royal College of Music, studying with Dona Lee Croft and Trevor Williams. Shortly after leaving college, she spent several years playing with Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, before returning to London to continue with her freelance career.

The Essex Symphony Orchestra grew out of the Chelmsford Festival Orchestra which had been formed before the Second World War to accompany choirs competing in the town’s annual Essex Musical Association ‘EMA’ Festival. The first orchestral concert took place in 1949 under founding conductor William (Billy) Bush and leader Arthur Davison, the young Canadian violinist who had recently arrived in London.    In the same year Dr Stanley Vann was appointed Cathedral organist and soon showed an interest in the orchestra. He took over as conductor in 1952 and persuaded the members to expand it into a full symphony orchestra and adopt its current name.  

Since then the Orchestra has performed across the county, in The Shire Hall, Civic Centre, The Corn Exchange, Thurrock Civic Centre, The Hoffman Hall, Harlow Sports Centre, King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford High School for Girls, Cressing Temple, Brentwood Cathedral, Cliffs Pavilion, Westcliff School, Thaxted Church, Felsted School Chapel, Loughton Academy and Davenant Foundation School, as well as in our home of Christ Church, Chelmsford. ESO played in Harwich at the Film Festival in 1998 and the International Music Festival in 2014 and 2016 and appeared in a joint concert with the Essex Police band in Chelmsford in 2002.

Choral performances during the early years saw the Orchestra perform under the guests invited to adjudicate the choral competitions including world famous conductors Sir Adrian Boult, Sir Charles Groves, Sir David Willcocks and Antony Hopkins. Repertoire performed included the requiems by Brahms, Mozart, Verdi and Fauré; Mendelssohn’s Elijah; Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius and the Sea Symphony by Vaughan Williams. The Orchestra accompanied the last ever EMA concert in Davenant Foundation School, Loughton, in 2011.

By the 1970’s ESO was performing to packed houses and was able to engage famous soloists of the day such as Leon Goosens, John Lill, Alfredo Campoli, Phyllis Sellick, Peter Katin and Ian Wallace. The introduction of leading soloists has remained one of the ESO’s missions and we have been able to bring the finest musicians to Chelmsford. We are pleased to have provided a platform for many young talented artists, both from Essex and from the national scene, often supported by the Countess of Munster Trust. We have enjoyed long associations with a series of Music Directors including Antoine Mitchell (1984 – 2004), Justin Doyle (2005 – 2009) and Tom Hammond (2009 – 2019) who was succeeded by Robert Hodge.   Read more …

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