Born in Dordrecht, The Netherlands, in 1856, Willem Kes had already established a successful musical carreer as violinist and conductor when he was appointed conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1888. His appointment also marked the beginning of the orchestra’s history. Within a short period of time, he was able to create a good ensemble, earning himself considerable praise.
Willem Kes distinguished himself through great musicality combined with the gift of common sense, which prevented him from lapsing into overly-sentimental Romantic interpretations. These were the years when both the young orchestra and its Amsterdam audience still needed to be ‘brought up’ to fit into modern orchestral practice. The result, however, was well worth the effort. When Kes left the orchestra in 1895 (to conduct in Glasgow), his replacement, Willem Mengelberg, inherited an orchestra ready for the big move onto the international stage.