American conductor Kenneth Woods has been selected as recipient of the 2020 UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music Distinguished Alumni Award. Woods was nominated for the award by James Smith, with additional letters of support from John DeMain, Parry Karp, and Cyrena Pondrom.

The School of Music established a Distinguished Alumni Award to recognize alumni who are making outstanding contributions to the music profession in service and in artistic impact. The award in particular recognizes exceptional skills and credentials as a music professional as well as significant influence on the profession.

Hailed by Gramophone Magazine as “a symphonic conductor of stature,” Woods was appointed Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra in 2013. He was also recently appointed Artistic Director of both the Colorado MahlerFest–the only US organization other than the New York Philharmonic to receive the International Gustav Mahler Society’s Gold Medal–and the Elgar Festival in Worcester.

“Equally at home as a conductor, recitalist, chamber musician, and writer, Kenneth is a credit to the University of Wisconsin-Madison,” retired Director of Orchestras James Smith said. “His artistic accomplishments and the numerous ways he has contributed to the music profession, and his outstanding career as a multi-talented professional musician, make him an excellent nominee for this award.”

As a guest, Woods has conducted ensembles including the National Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Royal Northern Sinfonia and the English Chamber Orchestra.

“This past season, Kenneth made his conducting debut with the Madison Symphony Orchestra,” MSO Music Director John DeMain said. “His work drew raves from the musicians, audience and critics. Indeed, his performance of Haydn was revelatory, and Strauss’ extraordinarily difficult ‘Ein Heldenieben’ came off flawlessly.”

Under his leadership, the English Symphony Orchestra has gained widespread recognition as one of the most innovative and influential orchestras in the UK. In 2016, Woods and the ESO launched their “21st Century Symphony Project,” an ambitious multi-year effort to commission, premiere and record nine new symphonies by leading composers, with Philip Sawyers’ Third Symphony.

Woods earned his MM in Cello as a student of Parry Karp at the School of Music from 1991-1993. He remains active as a cellist, and his debut recordings with the string trio Ensemble Epomeo and the Briggs Piano Trio were both recipients of the Gramophone Editor’s Choice.

“The breadth and quantity of Kenneth’s work as a musician is awe-inspiring, and the consistent high quality of his artistic work is spectacular,” Professor of Chamber Music and Cello Parry Karp said. “While conducting has become the biggest part of his life as a musician, he has stayed very active as a cellist, musical writer, educator, composer and arranger. In all of these areas he is highly original, challenging and inspires the musicians around him to new heights. He is a great role model for young musicians of today, many of whom have to wear many hats to be successful.”  

A widely read writer and frequent broadcaster, Woods’ blog, A View from the Podium, is one of the 25 most popular classical blogs in the world. He has spoken on Mahler on NPR’s All Things Considered and is a regular guest on BBC radio programs. Since 2014, he has been Honorary Patron of the Hans Gál Society.

Mead Witter School of Music Distinguished Alumni Award candidates are reviewed each year by the Distinguished Music Alumni Award Committee. This committee consists of faculty emeriti, current faculty, the president of the School of Music Alumni Association, and the director of the Mead Witter School of Music.