The BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BBC NOW) is the only professional symphony orchestra organisation in Wales, occupying a dual role as both a broadcasting orchestra and national orchestra. The BBC NOW has its administrative base in Cardiff, at the BBC Hoddinott Hall on the site of the Wales Millennium Centre, since January 2009. The BBC NOW is the orchestra-in-residence at St David's Hall, Cardiff, and also performs regularly throughout Wales and beyond, including international tours and annual appearances at the Royal Albert Hall in London at 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 records many soundtracks for BBC television, including Doctor Who, Torchwood, Human Planet, and Earthflight.
The precursor ensemble of the BBC NOW was the Cardiff Station Orchestra, which was founded in 1928. Funding problems resulted in the disbandment of this orchestra in 1931. In 1935, the BBC Welsh Orchestra was established as a 20-member ensemble, but the orchestra was dissolved in 1939. After World War II, the BBC Welsh Orchestra was revived as a 31-member ensemble, with Mansel Thomas as its first principal conductor. In 1947, the BBC Welsh Chorus was founded as the affiliate chorus of the orchestra. The orchestra's ensemble size increased steadily, reaching 44 musicians in the 1960-1961 season, 60 musicians in 1974, and 66 musicians in 1976, until it reached a full symphonic complement of 88 players in 1987, when the orchestra's name was changed to the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra. In the 1970s, a new chorus to supplant the former BBC Welsh Chorus, the BBC Welsh Choral Society, was established. 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. In parallel, the chorus was renamed the BBC National Chorus of Wales. Both the orchestra and the chorus engage in outreach work through their Education and Community Outreach department, which creates access to the players and singers for Welsh schools, groups, communities and musicians of all abilities.
Tadaaki Otaka, principal conductor from 1987 to 1995, is currently the BBC NOW's conductor laureate. Richard Hickox, principal conductor from 2000 to 2006, was the orchestra's conductor emeritus until his death in November 2008. In July 2011, the BBC NOW announced the appointment of Thomas Søndergård as its 14th principal conductor, effective with the 2012-2013 season, for an initial contract of 4 years. Past principal guest conductors have included Jac van Steen. François-Xavier Roth was the past associate guest conductor of the BBC NOW. B Tommy Andersson is the BBC NOW's current Composer-in-Association, as of 2014. Adrian Partington is the current artistic director of the BBC National Chorus of Wales. In addition to its recording work for the BBC, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales has an extensive commercial discography with such labels as Chandos and Hyperion. These include recorded cycles of music of Lennox Berkeley and Michael Berkeley, Frank Bridge, and Edmund Rubbra.