SASO’s farewell to inspirational conductor Bjorn

Bjorn Bantock

Bjorn Bantock - Credit: Archant

After five years at the helm of St Albans Symphony Orchestra (SASO), principal conductor Bjorn Bantock is standing down.

Bjorn, 42, is credited with achieving an all-round improvement in the orchestra’s playing standards, attracting talented new players and drawing audience and critical approval for a series of exciting concerts.

But the price of success has been growing international demand for his services, including professional orchestras and ensembles in Ireland, Denmark, South Korea, South Africa, and the United States. He has also been promoted to housemaster at Bedford School where he has taught as head of strings since September 2014.

That and a resumption of his own career as a cellist playing chamber music has convinced him that he no longer has enough time to rehearse SASO on a regular basis.

Bjorn said: “It a great disappointment to be going because I’ve really enjoyed working with the orchestra and seen them grow and improve, really out of all recognition. Music making, for me, is a privilege and the priority must always be to create music without letting egos or anything else get in the way. And that’s how it’s been with SASO.”

Highlights from his five seasons with the orchestra include acclaimed interpretations of Rachmaninov and Beethoven concertos with the St Albans-based pianist Alissa Firsova, Verdi’s Requiem and the Brahms German Requiem and a spectacular New Year concert of music by John Williams and other film composers.

But the performances he recalls with greatest pride were L’Ascension, a 20th century masterpiece by Messaien, and – most recently – Beethoven’s Choral Symphony in St Albans Abbey in March this year.

Most Read

He explained: “These were memorable occasions when the orchestra as a collective whole played even better than any of it’s individual members. The Beethoven was especially moving because it was the concert where we remembered Kieran McGuirk, the orchestra’s chairman for seven years, who sadly died last autumn. It was a terrible shame that he died so suddenly.”

SASO will be be looking to appoint a new principal conductor next spring and until then, they will be conducted by specially invited guests.

But chair, David Utting, admitted: “Bjorn Bantock is going to be a very hard act to follow. Building on the contributions of his predecessors James Ross and Andrew Parnell he has helped to turn SASO into one of the leading amateur orchestras in Hertfordshire and beyond. We are very sorry he is leaving.”

Bjorn’s last concert with the orchestra, on Saturday, June 27, will consist of music by English composers, including Vaughan Williams’s Lark Ascending and Elgar’s Enigma Variations. He is also scheduled to return as a guest conductor in May next year conducting more Elgar (the Symphony No 2) and as the soloist in Bloch’s Shelomo for cello and orchestra in June 2016.