BBC National Orchestra of Wales

The BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BBC NOW) (Welsh: Cerddorfa Genedlaethol Gymreig y BBC) is a Welsh symphony orchestra and one of the BBC's five professional orchestras. The 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, when the orchestra's name was changed to the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra. It reached a full symphonic complement of 88 players in 1987 before being reduced to its current level of 78 players in 2014 as part of BBC savings delivered by its current Director, Michael Garvey. 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.[1][2] In February 2016, the BBC NOW announced the further extension of Søndergård's contract as principal conductor through "at least 2018".[3] Søndergård formally concluded his tenure as principal conductor in July 2018.[4]

Past principal guest conductors have included Maris Jansons, James Loughran and Jac van Steen. François-Xavier Roth was the past associate guest conductor of the BBC NOW. In December 2015, the BBC NOW announced the appointment of Xian Zhang as its next principal guest conductor, effective with the 2016-2017 season, with an initial contract of 3 years. She is the first female conductor named to a titled post with any BBC orchestra.[5] Past Composers-in-Association have included B Tommy Andersson. Huw Watkins is currently the BBC NOW's Composer-in-Association, contracted for the period of 2015-2018. 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, Hyperion and Linn.[6] These include recorded cycles of music of Lennox Berkeley and Michael Berkeley, Frank Bridge,[7] and Edmund Rubbra. Selections of the BBC NOW's discography include:

  • Tippett: The Rose Lake; Ritual Dances from The Midsummer Marriage [CHSA 5039][8]
  • 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][9]
  • Parry: Works for Chorus and Orchestra [CHAN 10740]
  • Stravinsky: Ballet Russes
  • Holst: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1 [CHSA 5069]

World Premieres

Works premiered by the orchestra include:

Principal conductors

Composers in association

Resident composers


  1. "BBC National Orchestra of Wales announces new Principal Conductor" (Press release). BBC. 12 July 2011. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  2. Peter Collins (12 July 2011). "Great Dane to be chief BBC National Orchestra Wales conductor". Western Mail. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  3. "BBC National Orchestra & Chorus of Wales' Principal Conductor Thomas Søndergård extends his contract" (Press release). BBC. 15 February 2016. Retrieved 2016-02-18.
  4. Tim Ashley (2018-07-23). "BBCNOW/Thomas Søndergård review – bowing out in style". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-07-24.
  5. "BBC National Orchestra & Chorus of Wales appoints Xian Zhang as Principal Guest Conductor" (Press release). BBC Media Centre. 2015-12-01. Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  6. Fiona Maddocks (2015-04-12). "Sibelius: Symphonies 2 & 7 CD review – intense and rigorous". The Observer. Retrieved 2016-02-18.
  7. Andrew Clements (1 November 2002). "Bridge: The Sea; Dance Poem etc: BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Hickox (Chandos)". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  8. Andrew Clements (30 September 2005). "Tippett: The Rose Lake; Ritual Dances, BBC National Orchestra of Wales/ Hickox (Chandos)". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  9. Andrew Clements (25 March 2005). "Walton: Christopher Columbus - A Musical Journey; Hamlet and Ophelia, Glover/ Carragher/ Rigby/ Randle/ Williams/ Ogden/ BBC National Chorus and Orchestra of Wales/ Hickox (Chandos)". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2011.


  • "The BBC National Orchestra of Wales: A Celebration", Peter Reynolds (BBC, 2009)
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