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BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

The BBC Philharmonic, based in the city of Salford in northern England's Greater Manchester county, is one of the most important orchestras in the United Kingdom, distinguishing itself by its sheer visibility and solid commitment to contemporary British music that has included the establishment of a composer/conductor position. Its home concert venue is Manchester's Bridgewater Hall. The people of the Manchester area and the north of England are rightly proud of their radio orchestra. With so much British culture and finance administered in London, there is an independent spirit driving the culture of the north. The BBC Philharmonic has not only survived, but it has thrived. It has developed a character distinct from that of the larger BBC Symphony Orchestra, based in London: more populist, perhaps, but also more adventurous and -- with the orchestra's large recording catalog, generous outreach programs, and international tours -- more entrepreneurial. The BBC Philharmonic's history is rather checkered, for it has had to endure numerous crises. In 1922, prior to the official establishment of the British Broadcasting Corporation, Manchester had a radio station known as 2YZ, housed on the premises of the Metropolitan Vickers Electrical Company. Early on, a small orchestra was established for broadcasts; it concentrated mainly on light music but expanded on occasion for performances of symphonic repertoire and opera. The station gained a reputation for broadcasting British music, including the first radio performances of music by Edward Elgar, Gustav Holst, and William Walton. When the BBC was established in 1927, the 2YZ orchestra was renamed the Northern Wireless Orchestra; later, it became the BBC Northern Orchestra. Its existence was always precarious, but the group's size and repertoire increased. During World War II, the orchestra gave concerts in various communities around the region, bringing it to a wider public. The BBC Northern Orchestra continued to gain a strong reputation for performing and broadcasting British music, particularly works by living composers who were often invited to conduct the orchestra. In 1961, the BBC Northern Orchestra made its first appearance at the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts under the direction of George Hurst. The regional identity of the ensemble began from that point to evolve into a national and international one. After a difficult strike in 1980, the BBC committed to supporting a full orchestra in Manchester, and in 1982, the ensemble was given its current name. Its principal conductor at that time was Edward Downes, who was succeeded in 1991 by Yan Pascal Tortelier. The ensemble's reputation for adventurous programming has expanded to an international scope as well, as composers from various countries have come to conduct the orchestra. In 1991, the post of composer/conductor was created, with Peter Maxwell Davies being the first appointment. Davies composed several works for the orchestra, including several symphonies culminating with Symphony No. 7, which premiered in 2000. Along the way, he has also recorded a number of his orchestral works for release. Composer James MacMillan was named his successor in 2001. The following year, Gianandrea Noseda was named principal conductor (the title changed to chief conductor in 2006). HK Gruber followed MacMillan as composer/conductor in 2009. In 2011, Noseda was named conductor laureate, and Juanjo Mena became the chief conductor. In 2015, the BBC Philharmonic changed the title of the composer/conductor role to composer in association and appointed Mark Simpson to the position. Mena served as chief conductor until 2018, and Omer Meir Wellber, following a successful guest conductor performance, assumed the chief conductor position in 2019. John Storgårds was named the orchestra's new chief conductor in 2023 after serving as chief guest conductor since 2017. The BBC Philharmonic has a vast recording catalog comprising hundreds of albums, with the majority of them being on the Chandos label. It has also recorded for Naxos and Albany, among many other labels. In 2023, under conductor Rumon Gamba, it was heard on a recording of orchestral music by Malcolm Arnold, which also featured clarinetist Michael Collins, on the Chandos label.
© James Harley & Keith Finke /TiVo


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