The BBC Concert Orchestra is a British orchestra based in London, one of the British Broadcasting Corporation's five radio orchestras. With around fifty players, it is the only one of the five BBC orchestras which is not a full-scale symphony orchestra. The BBC Concert Orchestra is the BBC's most populist ensemble, playing a mixture of classical music, light music and popular numbers. Its primary role is to produce music for radio broadcast, and it is the resident orchestra of the world's longest running live music programme, Friday Night is Music Night on BBC Radio 2.
The parent ensemble of the orchestra was the BBC Theatre Orchestra, which was formed in 1931 and based in Bedford. The orchestra also did opera work and was occasionally billed as the BBC Opera Orchestra. Stanford Robinson was the principal conductor from 1931 until 1946, but others included Walter Goehr, Spike Hughes, Harold Lowe and Mark Lubbock. In August 1949, the ensemble was formally renamed the BBC Opera Orchestra. In January 1952, the BBC Opera Orchestra was disbanded and the BBC Concert Orchestra was formed from its players.
Until 1972, the orchestra was based at the Camden Theatre. From 1972 to 2004, the orchestra performed regularly at the Golders Green Hippodrome. It also appears regularly at the Royal Festival Hall and The Proms in London, as well as venues around the United Kingdom. As well as its performances on BBC Radio 2, it also performs on BBC Radio 3 and the BBC Proms and was a core part of the BBC's Electric Proms, now discontinued. As well as light classical music, it also plays pop music, jazz, opera, operetta and much of the popular repertoire previously the mainstay of the disbanded BBC Radio Orchestra. It links, from time to time, with the BBC Big Band for concerts and broadcasts.
Gilbert Vinter served as its first principal conductor. Barry Wordsworth, principal conductor from 1989 to 2006, now holds the title of Conductor Laureate. In August 2010, the orchestra announced the simultaneous appointments of Keith Lockhart as its seventh principal conductor, with immediate effect, and of Johannes Wildner as principal guest conductor. Lockhart concluded his principal conductorship of the orchestra at the end of 2017, and now has the title of chief guest conductor, effective January 2018. In November 2017, the orchestra announced the appointment of Bramwell Tovey as its next principal conductor, effective January 2018, with an initial contract of five years. In November 2019, the BBC CO announced the appointment of Anna-Maria Helsing as its next principal guest conductor, the first female conductor ever named to the post, and the third female conductor to be named to a titled post with a BBC orchestra.
Composers who have been affiliated with the orchestra have included Anne Dudley and Jonny Greenwood, who was named the orchestra's composer-in-association in 2004. In January 2013, the orchestra announced the appointment of Guy Barker as its new Associate Composer, replacing Greenwood, with an initial contract of two years. In 2017, Dobrinka Tabakova was appointed the BBC CO's new Composer-in-Residence.