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BBC Philharmonic (Symphony Orchestra)

Founded: 1922 - Manchester, England

In the Beginnings

The first Manchester radio station was housed in the premises of the Metropolitan Vickers Electrical Company, Manchester. The company secured a licence for a station which officially began transmitting in 1922, with the call-sign 2ZY. The station manager, Dann Godfrey Junior, created an orchestra of 12 players known as the 2ZY Orchestra, together with a chorus and opera company. There began an impressive variety and range of regular live music broadcasts.

Many works, particularly by British composers, were given their first broadcast performances by the 2ZY Orchestra, such as Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations, Gustav Holst's The Planets and E. Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius.

In 1926 the 2ZY Orchestra was renamed the Northern Wireless Orchestra. In 1930, the BBC decided to establish a national orchestra, in the form of the London based BBC Symphony Orchestra and reduced its commitment to regional orchestras. As a result, the NWO was disbanded in March 1931 - to much public protest. In its place Manchester maintained a nine-piece ensemble, known as the Northern Studio Orchestra.

In 1933 the BBC realised that the Symphony Orchestra alone could not meet the demand for serious broadcast music and that a solution to this would be to re-expand the regional orchestras. First rate, live orchestral music made a welcome return to Manchester in the form of the BBC Northern Orchestra.

Throughout the war the Orchestra played its part by moving out of the studio to give concerts to members of the forces. It was a strange life for the players during those wartime years; sometimes concerts were accompanied by air-raid sirens and visits to cities such as Huddersfield and Sheffield often meant long journeys over the moors in the blackout.

After the War

The Orchestra came under threat of disbandment many times in its first 60 years. The '60s was a period of great growth - not just in terms of numbers, but in terms of musical excellence and public recognition.

This became evident as the Orchestra was invited to perform at increasingly prestigious public concerts. These included the first of many Henry Wood Proms in 1961, under George Hurst - a man who played an extremely important part in the development of the Orchestra.

In 1982 it was announced that the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra would be augmented over two years to a playing strength of 90, and that it would in future be known as the BBC Philharmonic.

Over the years the Orchestra has had many concert venues in Manchester, including Houldsworth Hall, the Town Hall and for many years the Free Trade Hall, which was Manchester's main concert venue until The Bridgewater Hall was opened in September 1996.

For much of its history its rehearsal base was the Milton Hall, until 1980 when the Orchestra moved to its current home, Studio 7 Concert Hall in the BBC's New Broadcasting House in Manchester. Here it records 10 CDs a year for Chandos Records under an exclusive contract, and many hours of music for broadcast on BBC Radio 3, as well as performing public concerts.

The many distinguished conductors the Orchestra has worked with include Sir Charles Groves, Raymond Leppard, George Hurst, Bryden Thomson, Jiri Belohlavek, Sir Georg Solti, Neeme Järvi, Paavo Järvi and Sir Charles Mackerras. Gianandrea Noseda is currently Principal Conductor and Yan Pascal Tortelier is Conductor Laureate.


The Orchestra's policy of introducing new and adventurous repertoire to its programmes has meant that a large number of composers have also worked with the Orchestra as conductors, among them Luciano Berio, Copland, Penderecki, Tippett and William Walton.

In 1991 Sir Peter Maxwell Davies became the BBC Philharmonic's first ever Composer/Conductor and in this position wrote works for the Orchestra culminating with the Symphony No.7, premiered at the 2000 Orkney Festival. James MacMillan was appointed as his successor in 2000.

The BBC Philharmonic's Education and Community Department takes its work all over the country and has initiated projects in numerous academic and community settings, the Cheltenham and Chester Festivals, the Proms and international work in Oman, Prague and Bahrain. Thousands of people of all ages have attended the BBC Philharmonic's rehearsals in Studio 7 Manchester, whilst its Professional Access Scheme enables instrumentalists from the RNCM to gain valuable training and performing experience with the Orchestra. Over the last few years the Orchestra has built a special relationship with the Blue Peter children's television programme including the annual Blue Peter Prom.

Principal Conductors

Charles Groves (1944-1951)
John Hopkins (1952-1957)
George Hurst (1958-1968)
Bryden Thomson (1968-1973)
Raymond Leppard (1973-1980)
Edward Downes (1980-1991)
Yan Pascal Tortelier (1992-2002)
Gianandrea Noseda (2002-2011)
Juanjo Mena (2011-Present)

Source: BBC Music Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (August 2004, February 2016)

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




Matthias Ramert


Movements from BWV 208, BWV 478, BWV 4 - arranged for orchestra by Leopold Stokowski

Recordings of Bach’s Instrumental Works




Edward Downes


Bach-Respighi: 3 Chorale Preludes for organ, transcribed for orchestra, P. 167

Gianandrea Noseda


Bach-Respighi: Prelude & Fugue in D major, BWV 532, transcribed for orchestra, P. 158

Recordings of Arrangements/Transcriptions of Bach’s Works




Yan Pascal Tortelier


Bach-P. Hindemith: Rag Time (wohltemperiert), for orchestra, Op. 20

Links to other Sites

BBC Music: BBC Philharmonic (Official Website)
OrchestraNET - Symphony Orc. in the UK: BBC Philharmonic
BBC Philharmonic Biography (Chandos)

BBC Philharmonic @ Bridgewater Hall (Manchester Online)
BBC Philharmonic: The History (Aspen)
intermusica: tours & projects

Biographies of Performers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Explanation | Acronyms | Missing Biographies | The Sad Corner


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Last update: Sunday, May 28, 2017 16:29