The English String Orchestra and the English Symphony Orchestra are two versions of the same performing organization, which was founded under the English String Orchestra name. These ensembles, which often use the abbreviation ESO, are named not for any claim to be national or state-supported English organizations, but instead for the concept of Englishness. Based in the city of Worcester, they have stressed their roots in the English countryside.
The first of the pair to exist was the English String Orchestra, which was founded in the city of Malvern in 1974 by conductor William Boughton. Later moving to Worcester, the group played pastoral string music, and emphasized its rural English roots. As the orchestra's repertory developed, works with brass and winds began to be featured more often. Boughton began to program large works by the likes of Bax, Bridge, and Elgar in the expansive mode of the Enigma Variations. As a result, the group's name was changed to the English Symphony Orchestra in 1984. However, the original name continued to be used for all-string repertory, as on a 1988 recording of the complete String Symphonies of Mendelssohn. For a time, the English String Orchestra name was mostly eclipsed as the larger English Symphony Orchestra broadened its reputation under conductors Yehudi Menuhin, Vernon Handley, and, as of 2013, Kenneth Woods. The English String Orchestra name continued to appear on reissued albums, and sometimes, as on a 2017 recording of music by Philip Sawyers, both names might appear on an album. By the late 2010s, the English String Orchestra was once again regularly mounting tours and making recordings under its own name.
The group has recorded for Nimbus, Signum Classics, and other labels. In 2017, it joined the English Symphony Orchestra in the 21st Century Symphony Project, an enterprise planned to record nine new symphonic works by nine different composers. An early fruit of that project was a 2019 recording of the Symphony No. 9 and other works by David Matthews. Both the English String Orchestra and English Symphony Orchestra names were used on that recording, too. The English String Orchestra issued the album The Art of Dancing, featuring music by Nimrod Borenstein, Deborah Pritchard, Geoffrey Gordon, and Toby Young, on Signum Classics in 2018.