BBC National Orchestra of Wales

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BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Radio Symphony Orchestra

• Founded 1928

Biography

The BBC National Orchestra of Wales is an integral part of Welsh culture, giving frequent premieres of works by Welsh composers. The orchestra is often active beyond Wales, recording a variety of material that includes many BBC television soundtracks.

The origins of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales lay in the Cardiff Station Orchestra, which was founded in 1924. In 1928, it was renamed the National Orchestra of Wales. This orchestra dissolved under funding pressures in 1931 but was revived as the BBC Welsh Orchestra in 1935. Wartime restrictions led the orchestra to disband in 1939, but after the war, it was revived once again and grew consistently, from 31 members to 66 members by 1976, when it was renamed the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra. The group now has 78 members. It took its present name in 1993, and an associated chorus was also named the BBC National Chorus of Wales. Notable among the orchestra's performances have been some 50 world premieres, most of which have been of music by Welsh composers, including more than 20 by Alun Hoddinott, whose namesake Hoddinott Hall now houses the orchestra's administrative offices (its concerts mostly take place at St. David's Hall in Cardiff). The orchestra and chorus also gave the world premiere of Arvo Pärt's In spe in 2010. The orchestra has helped nurture several international conducting careers, including those of Richard Hickox (principal conductor from 2000-2006), Thierry Fischer (2006-2012), Thomas Søndergård (2012-2017), and Xian Zhang (2017-2020, the first female principal conductor of any BBC orchestra. Ryan Bancroft was named principal conductor in 2020; Lisa Tregale was named artistic director, becoming the first woman to hold the post.

The orchestra has a large catalog of more than 65 recordings that is by no means restricted to the music of Welsh composers. That total does not include BBC television soundtrack recordings for, among other programs, Doctor Who. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales has recorded for the Hyperion, BIS, and Chandos labels, as well as for Linn, where it released a complete cycle of Sibelius symphonies. The year 2014 saw the release of no fewer than seven recordings by the group. In 2020, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales was heard on Beethoven Reimagined, an album by composer/DJ Gabriel Prokofiev.

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