The BBC National Orchestra of Wales (Welsh: Cerddorfa Genedlaethol Gymreig y BBC) is the only professional symphony orchestra organisation in Wales, occupying a dual role as both a broadcasting and national orchestra. Currently, the orchestra’s conducting team consists of Thierry Fischer (Principal Conductor, since September 2006), Jac van Steen (Principal Guest Conductor), Tadaaki Otaka (Conductor Laureate) and Grant Llewellyn (Associate Guest Conductor). Richard Hickox, following his final concert as Principal Conductor on July 23, 2006, is now the orchestra's Conductor Emeritus.
As Orchestra-in-Residence at St David's Hall, Cardiff, the orchestra gives over 20 concerts each year in the Welsh capital, but also performs regularly throughout Wales and beyond, including international tours and annual appearances at the Royal Albert Hall in London as part of the BBC Proms. Broadcasting work includes studio sessions for BBC radio and television, although the orchestra’s concerts form the bulk of its broadcasts, transmitted primarily on BBC Radio 3 but also on BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru and BBC television. The orchestra performs a wide repertoire including contemporary music, and the post of Composer in Association is held by Michael Berkeley.
From as early as 1928, there were several attempts to create a permanent professional orchestra in Wales. The predecessors of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales were conducted by, among others, Edward Elgar, Thomas Beecham, Henry Wood, Malcolm Sargent and Adrian Boult. Problems with funding and the interruption of World War II meant that it wasn’t until 1946 that the notion of a national orchestra of Wales became sustainable, with Mansel Thomas as its first principal conductor. As it was titled, the BBC Welsh Orchestra grew steadily until it reached the full symphonic size of 88 players in 1987, becoming the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra. In 1993, the orchestra was renamed the BBC National Orchestra of Wales to reflect more suitably its special role as both a national orchestra and a BBC Performing Group.
Since 1983, the orchestra has been able to perform regularly alongside its own chorus, the BBC National Chorus of Wales, an amateur chorus of more than 80 singers whose Artistic Director is Adrian Partington. The chorus is also featured in BBC radio and television broadcasts and performs internationally.
Both the orchestra and the chorus undertake a busy programme of education and community work through their RESOUND/ATSAIN department, which creates access to the players and singers for Welsh schools, groups, communities and musicians of all abilities.
The BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales have now outgrown their base at the BBC’s Broadcasting House in Cardiff, and plans are in place to move to a new, purpose-built concert hall in Cardiff Bay on the site of the Wales Millennium Centre.
The BBC National Orchestra of Wales has an extensive discography including cycles of Lennox and Michael Berkeley, Bridge, Glazunov, Rachmaninov and Rubbra, with the BBC National Chorus of Wales featured on many recordings. In 2005, the orchestra recorded incidental music composed by Murray Gold for "The Christmas Invasion", the Christmas special episode of the science-fiction television programme Doctor Who, produced by BBC Wales. They also recorded arrangements of the programme's distinctive theme tune composed by Ron Grainer, which were used over the closing credits of that episode and into the second series of the show's revival. Subsequently, in early 2006, they recorded further Gold-composed cues for use in the incidental music of the second series. In November 2006, the orchestra performed a concert of Doctor Who music for a BBC television special in support of the Children in Need Appeal; excerpts from this concert were later shown in the Doctor Who Confidential documentary series as a special entitled Music and Monsters; this was later included as a bonus feature when the third series of Doctor Who was released to DVD in late 2007.
Recent CD releases include:
- Tippett: The Rose Lake; Ritual Dances from The Midsummer Marriage [CHSA 5039]
- Elgar: Symphony No 2; In The South (Alassio) [CHSA 5038]
- Sullivan: Trial by Jury; Cox and Box [CHSA 10321]
- Bridge: Orchestral Works, Vol. 6 [CHAN 10310]
- Walton: Christopher Columbus; Hamlet and Ophelia [CHSA 5034]
Principal Conductors (partial list)
- Mansel Thomas (1946 - 1965)
- Boris Brott (1972 - 1978)
- Bryden Thomson (1978 - 1982)
- Tadaaki Otaka (1987 - 1995)
- Mark Wigglesworth (1996 - 2000)
- Richard Hickox (2000 - 2006)
- Thierry Fischer (2006 - incumbent)