Barry Wordsworth’s successful career as a conductor is grounded in a strong relationship with ballet, coming to prominence as the music director of the Royal Ballet Covent Garden. In a conducting career spanning decades, Wordsworth has worked with major ballet companies, and orchestras throughout the world.
Wordsworth was born February 2, 1948 in Surrey, England. His family wasn’t of a musical background, but realized early he had a passion for it, and he began taking piano lessons. At age 13, he attended Trinity College of Music studying under Gladys Puttick. From there, Wordsworth went on to study with Sir Adrian Boult at the Royal College of Music. It was during this time Wordsworth would have his first opportunity to conduct. The head of music at his school became ill shortly before his all boys’ school, and its neighboring all girls’ school, were set to perform Handel’s Messiah. Wordsworth, a prefect at the time, volunteered to conduct, and the performance went on as scheduled; a pivotal moment in his youth. He went on to continue his studies in Amsterdam, studying piano and harpsichord with Gustav Leonhardt.
His first involvement in a ballet production came at age 22, with the Royal Ballet Covent Garden. He played harpsichord in a production of Kenneth MacMillan's ballet Las Hermanas, set to Frank Martin's Harpsichord Concerto. Though this production was short lived, Wordsworth’s involvement with the Royal Ballet Covent Garden had just begun. In 1972, he was named assistant conductor to the ballet’s touring company, and in the following year, he was named principal conductor of the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet. The Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet would later move to Birmingham, becoming the Birmingham Royal Ballet. He remained in this post until 1984. He returned to the Royal Ballet Covent Garden as music director in 1990, serving until 1995. In 2005, Wordsworth rejoined the Birmingham Royal Ballet as music director, where he remained until 2008. In 2007, he returned once more as music director of the Royal Ballet Covent Garden, remaining in this post until 2015, when he was named principal guest conductor. He was succeeded as music director by Koen Kessels.
Accompanying his long, venerable career with ballet, Wordsworth has also been very successful in the orchestral world. In 1989, Wordsworth began two prominent roles: he was named principal conductor of both the BBC Concert Orchestra, and the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra. During his tenure with the BBC Concert Orchestra, Wordsworth regularly led the group at the BBC Proms; this included the honor of leading the “Last Night of the Proms” in 1993. He remained in this position until 2006. With the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra, Wordsworth was just the third person named principal conductor, remaining in this position until 2015. He has been named conductor laureate by both groups. Along with these orchestras, Wordsworth has conducted major English orchestras, such as the Philharmonia, London Symphony and Royal Philharmonic, among others. He’s also conducted major orchestras around the world, including the Toronto and Sydney Symphonies, and the Seoul Philharmonic.
Wordsworth has had an extensive recording career; he is featured on dozens of releases, and appears on many more. He has recorded on most of the major classical labels, including Naxos, Decca, ABC Classics, and Somm. He released two recordings in 2018: Léo Delibes: Coppélia with the Orchestra Victoria on ABC Classics, and Elgar: The Hills of Dreamland - Orchestral Songs with the BBC Concert Orchestra on Somm. ~ Keith Finke