Xenophon Kelsey


A native of Ripon, Yorkshire (but of partly Greek ancestry), Xenophon studied horn, double bass, piano and conducting in Manchester and was principal horn and conducting student on the European Summer Schools for Young Musicians in Vienna, Salzburg and Montreux from 1967-71.


He was the founder and first conductor of the Bowdon Sinfonietta and the Northern Pro Arte Ensemble and he has played horn with the CBSO, Manchester Mozart and Ulster Orchestras as well as various chamber ensembles and other orchestras.  In about 1980 he saw the light and gave up the horn (too much like hard work!) to concentrate on conducting but he can still, occasionally, be found hiding in the double bass section of various orchestras.


As a conductor, he has specialised in working with young musicians and has brought to his many orchestras a remarkable reputation for excellence.  He was appointed Director of Stockport Youth Orchestras in 1975 and was responsible for their development into one of the UK’s leading youth orchestras, undertaking no less than 15 foreign tours and twice winning 1st Prize “cum laude” at the European Festival of Youth Music in Neerpelt, Belgium, in 1983 & 1985.


In 1987 he became Director of the Northern Youth Orchestras Association and, in 1989, of Primavera Youth Chamber Orchestra, Cheshire.  He returned to live in Ripon in 1989, since when he has developed a varied freelance career as conductor, chamber music coach, teacher, lecturer, composer, arranger and performer.


Apart from his work as the founder and director VaCO, he also directs and conducts the nationally renowned St Cecilia Orchestra, the Mowbray Orchestra and Ensemble, Ripon Community Orchestra and the Ripon Youth String Orchestra.  He was a moving spirit behind the establishment of the Ripon Cathedral Concert Society, the St Cecilia Orchestra, Ripon Youth String Orchestra and Ripon Youth Choirs.  His freelance work has included appearing as guest conductor with the Oxford University Orchestra in a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No 5 at the Sheldonian Theatre and as conductor of Opus 1 Opera Company for their first production of Puccini’s La Bohème.


Xenophon is now a long-standing member of the distinguished international jury at the European Festival of Music for Youth, in Belgium.  In May 2007 he was awarded the accolade of “Ambassador of the Festival” in recognition of his services to the Festival and to youth music in Europe.  For more information about this remarkable festival, visit:


In 2008 he was the first winner of the “Jewels of Ripon” award for his contribution to culture in Ripon and, in the 2009 Queen’s Birthday Honours, he was awarded an MBE for his services to music.  Outside music, his main interest is walking and he has completed most of the long-distance footpaths in the UK and scaled most of the summits in the Lake District, the Peak District, Snowdonia and the Yorkshire Dales.  In 2011/12 he walked from John O’Groats to Lands End, partly to raise funds for VaCO and the St Cecilia Orchestra and partly to research into various aspects of music and music education throughout the UK.  His subsequent paper, the “Andante Report” has been read and acclaimed by many.