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 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. 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 players formerly from the BBC Opera Orchestra.
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 regularly on BBC Radio 3, and is a core part of the BBC Proms and Electric Proms. 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.
Composers who have been affiliated with the orchestra have included Anne Dudley and Jonny Greenwood, who was named the orchestra's composer-in-residence 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. The orchestra has recorded commercially for the NMC Recordings label.