Tuesday 8 February 2022

Celebrating the BBC orchestras and the BBC Singers

Sir Adrian Boult & the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1932 (image from a Pathe newsreel)
Sir Adrian Boult & the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1932
(image from a Pathe newsreel)

There is sometimes a general tendency to take the BBC's performing groups for granted, only really taking notice of them when their existence is threatened. But across the country, they do amazing work, both live and broadcast, supporting a wide range of contemporary composers from Jonny Greenwood to Sir Harrison Birtwistle, and providing a core backbone of performance that it is sometimes easy to take for granted. This weekend (11-13 February 2022), the BBC is celebrating its centenary with BBC 100 and as part of that is celebrating its performing groups, with each one being broadcast in a celebratory performance. And there is plenty of excitement ahead too, as Ryan Wigglesworth has been announced as the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra's next chief conductor.

They have a long history (though interestingly, the oldest broadcasting orchestra in the world is in Japan). But the majority of the performing groups have their origins in the 1920s and 1930s. There have been losses, the BBC Northern Singers for instance, but the track record is strong. 

In 1922 the 2ZY Orchestra, the precursor to the BBC Philharmonic, gave its first performance on the 2ZY radio signal in Manchester, one of two frequencies used to launch the BBC. The BBC Wireless Singers, who later became the BBC Singers, were formed in 1924 and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales gave its first performance in 1928. The BBC Symphony Orchestra came into being under the direction of Adrian Boult in 1930, whilst the BBC Concert Orchestra traces its roots back to the BBC Theatre Orchestra formed in 1931 and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra was established in 1935.

The BBC Wireless Singers in 1934 (Photo BBC)
The BBC Wireless Singers in 1934 (Photo BBC)

So there are concerts from each group over the weekend: 

  • Semyon Bychkov conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a programme that includes the UK premiere of Bryce Dessner's Mari and Richard Strauss' Burleske with soloist Kirill Gerstein
  • Ryan Bancroft conducts the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in a concert that includes music by Sebastian Hilli and Grace Williams' Elegy for String Orchestra
  • Anna-Marie Helsing conducts the BBC Concert Orchestra in a programme that ranges from RVW, Eric Coates and Malcolm Arnold to Anne Dudley and Xia Sloane, with vocalist Claire Teale
  • Omer Meier Welber conducts the BBC Philharmonic in music by Hindemith and Tippett plus the UK premiere of Aziza Sadikova's Marionettes and Schumann's Piano Concerto with  Eliso Virsaladze
  • Andrew Gourlay conducts the Ulster Orchestra in a programme that combines Sir Hamilton Harty's Piano Concerto (which the composer premiered as soloist with Sir Thomas Beecham conducting the Halle Orchestra) and Conor Mitchell's Democracy Dances
  • Howard Goodall conducts the BBC Singers in RVW's Mass in G minor plus music by Judith Weir, Melissa Dunphy, Roxanna Panufnik, Philip Cooke, Errollyn Wallen and the European premiere of Goodall's Unconditional Love
  • Ryan Wigglesworth celebrates his forthcoming role with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra by conducting them in a programme of Strauss and Berg, plus his own Five Waltzes with soprano Katherine Broderick and viola player Scott Dickinson

Ryan Wigglesworth takes over as chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in September 2022. He returns to Glasgow in May 2022 to conduct the orchestra in a programme of Mozart (directed from the piano) and Jörg Widmann (the orchestra's artist in residence). His debut with the orchestra as chief conductor will be on 22 September 2022.

Full details from the BBC website.

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