One of Britain’s most experienced conductors on the international platform, Howard Williams has covered a formidable range of work both in the opera house and concert hall, with a quite exceptionally large and broadly-based symphonic repertoire and over seventy opera titles to his credit.
In the UK, he has conducted the London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic and BBC Symphony, as well as the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Royal Scottish National, Bournemouth Symphony and Sinfonietta, English Chamber Orchestra, City of London Sinfonia, London Sinfonietta, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Concert Orchestra and the Ulster Orchestra. He has conducted at the BBC Proms and at the Edinburgh, Leeds, Bath and Brighton Festivals, as at festivals in Budapest, Hong Kong, and throughout France and Spain. In Europe Williams has appeared in the concert seasons of - amongst other orchestras - the Austrian Radio Symphony, Bavarian Radio Symphony, Swedish Radio Orchestra, Belgian Radio Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Symphony and Chamber Orchestras, Slovak Philharmonic, Hungarian National Philharmonic (formerly State Symphony), Hungarian Radio Symphony, Budapest Philharmonic, Orchestre Nationale de Lyon, Orchestre de Strasbourg, Orchestre Symphonique de Montpellier, Orchestre de Picardie, RTE Symphony Orchestra, Dublin and the Portuguese National Symphony Orchestra.
After initially studying the piano with Ronald Smith and the violin with Clarence Myerscough, Howard Williams read music at Oxford and Liverpool Universities and entered the Advanced Conducting class at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London. Joining English National Opera as repétiteur and then Chorus Master he went on within a short while to conduct eleven operas for ENO, including four new productions and the world première of Iain Hamilton’s Anna Karenina. At the same time he conducted David Freeman’s Opera Factory in its opening London seasons, firstly with the sensational new production of Birtwistle’s Punch and Judy and then to première the reduced orchestration of Tippett’s The knot garden, both televised by Channel 4. His subsequent premières have included his own completion of Bizet’s largest opera, Ivan IV, (now recorded on the NAïVE label), Brian Howard’s Inner voices, David Ward’s The snow queen, Bernard Stevens’ The shadow of the glen (available on ALBANY) and the première recording of Frank Bridge’s The christmas rose for PEARL.
With the English Bach Festival Baroque Orchestra he has conducted productions at Covent Garden of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, Purcell’s Fairy Queen and Dido and Aeneas and Handel’s Oreste. With them he also took to Madrid a production with historical instruments of Rossini’s Le siège de Corinthe. Williams’ work in the theatre has also included guest appearances with the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, as well as with the Dutch National Ballet, Netherlands Dance Theatre and Hamburg Ballet.
Following his appointment in 1989 as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Pécs Symphony Orchestra, making him the first British conductor ever to hold such a position in Hungary, Howard Williams devoted a significant amount of his time to working with the leading symphony orchestras in that country, including frequent appearances with the National Philharmonic, Hungarian Symphony Orchestra and Hungarian Radio Orchestra. His work with the Pécs Symphony quickly placed it in the forefront of Hungarian orchestras, and with it he created a broad and adventurous repertoire, ranging from Stravinsky and Mahler cycles to many world premières. For his services to new Hungarian music, Williams has been the recipient of an Artisjus award, and in 1997 was honoured with the Bartók medal for services to Hungarian music abroad.
On leaving Pécs in 2000, Williams was created Permanent Guest Conductor by the orchestra - now renamed the Pannon Philharmonic. In the same year he was appointed to the new post of Head of Conducting at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, as well as becoming Artistic Director of the Oxford Orchestra da Camera. His subsequent six years’ at the RWCMD enabled Howard to explore and develop his attitude to the teaching of conductors, while at the same time training student orchestras. He has frequently worked with student orchestras and conductors at conservatoire and university level in the UK, Europe and the USA.
In the concert hall Williams has conducted world premières of works by Tippett, Holloway, Schurmann, Cowie, Roger Smalley, Ligeti and Balassa among many others. From his very comprehensive conducting list in the concert hall certain preferences can be seen - for instance, the symphonies of Haydn, the works of Stravinsky, Bartók and Messiaen, and a large amount of the oratorio repertoire.
Through his close involvement with singers and singing he has developed a strong and continuing association with choirs both with and away from the orchestra. The list of those would be too long to summarize, but includes the choirs of Austrian Radio and of Bavarian Radio, the Hungarian State Choir, French Army Male Voice Choir, Leeds Festival Chorus and BBC Singers. In 2001 the new London-based Choir of the 21st Century (CC21) was formed with Howard as its Principal Conductor.