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The BBC Symphony Orchestra is the principal broadcast orchestra of the British Broadcasting Corporation and one of the leading orchestras in Britainmarker.


The orchestra was founded as a full time organisation in 1930, with Adrian Boult as its first chief conductor. He remained chief conductor until 1950, when Malcolm Sargent took over (holding the post until 1957). Other principal conductors have included Antal Doráti (1962-66), Colin Davis (1967-71), Pierre Boulez (1971-75), Gennady Rozhdestvensky (1978-81) Andrew Davis (no relation to Colin) (1989-2000), and Leonard Slatkin (2000-2004). In 2005, the Czech conductor, Jiří Bělohlávek was named the orchestra's 12th Chief Conductor, the first former BBC SO Principal Guest Conductor to become its Chief Conductor. He became Chief Conductor in 2006 with the First Night of The Proms 2006. His contract as Chief Conductor is currently due to expire in 2012.

As well as these principal conductors, the orchestra has had several notable guest conductors, including Arturo Toscanini, who made a series of commercial recordings with the orchestra in Queen's Hallmarker from 1937 to 1939, which were released by His Master's Voice in the UK and RCA Victor in the US. EMI later issued recordings of broadcast concerts with Toscanini and the orchestra. Past Principal Guest Conductors have included Charles Mackerras (1977-1979), Michael Gielen (1978-1981), Günter Wand, Mark Elder (1982-1985), Peter Eötvös (1985-1988), Alexander Lazarev (1992-1995), Bělohlávek (1995-2000), and Jukka-Pekka Saraste (2002-2005). The current Principal Guest Conductor is the American conductor David Robertson, since October 2005, and his contract currently runs to 2011.

The orchestra primarily performed in Queen's Hallmarker until the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, curtailing that year's season of Proms. The orchestra was then evacuated to Bristolmarker, where it was initially left largely unused. Due to Bristol's strategic status as a port it suffered heavy bombing, so the orchestra was relocated to Bedfordmarker in July 1941. The 1940 and 1941 Proms seasons were run without BBC involvement, but the BBC returned in 1942. The Queen's Hall was destroyed by a Luftwaffe incendiary bomb on 11 May 1941, prompting the move of the Proms to their current location in the Royal Albert Hallmarker. Outside the Proms season, broadcast concerts and recordings were then moved to the Bedford Schoolmarker, and after the launch of the V-1 raids in 1944 the remaining broadcast concerts of that year's Proms season were performed at the Bedford Corn Exchangemarker. A memorable 1944 recording of Sir Edward Elgar's Symphony No. 2, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, was later reissued on CD by EMI, along with shorter works of Elgar recorded during the 1930s in Queen's Hall.

The BBC SO is Associate Orchestra of the Barbican in London and gives an annual season of concerts there. The orchestra is the principal orchestra of The Proms, the annual season of concerts played at the Royal Albert Hallmarker, giving around a dozen concerts each season, including the First and Last Nights, the most concerts of any single orchestra during The Proms. All concerts are broadcast on BBC Radio 3, streamed online and available on the BBC iplayer for seven days after broadcast, and a number are televised, giving the BBC Symphony Orchestra the highest broadcast profile of any UK orchestra. Central to its life are studio recordings for BBC Radio 3 at the Orchestra’s Maida Vale home, some of which are free for the public to attend. In addition to these BBC-produced recordings, the orchestra has recorded for several commercial labels, including Teldec, Deutsche Grammophon, and Chandos.

Performing throughout the world, the BBC SO has recently given concerts in Spain, Germany, the Czech Republic and Italy.

The Orchestra is committed to innovative education work. Recent projects include a day of free music for communities across West London, as part of Proms Out+About, and last November the Orchestra cleared its schedule for a week-long celebration of the music and culture of Turkey involving Turkish musicians and people of all ages from across London. Among ongoing projects are the Family Music Intro scheme, introducing families to live classical music, BBC SO Student Zone and the highly successful BBC SO Family Orchestra.

The orchestra frequently commissions works by contemporary composers, and is a particular champion of new British works. Harrison Birtwistle's Earth Dances, Pierre Boulez' Rituel in memoriam Bruno Maderna and John Tavener's The Protecting Veil were all BBC commissions first played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. In 2000, the orchestra appointed its first Associate Composer, Mark-Anthony Turnage. John Adams became the BBC Symphony Orchestra's Artist in Association in June 2003. Composer and conductor Oliver Knussen took up the post of Artist in Association in July 2009.

Chief conductors


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