This month the BBC Symphony Orchestra marks its 90th birthday. This pioneering orchestra has been at the heart of British musical life since it was founded in 1930 by Adrian Boult [pictured], with almost every note it plays broadcast on BBC radio or TV. As well as playing a central role in the BBC Proms, and presenting an annual season of concerts at London’s Barbican Centre (where it has been Associate Orchestra since 2000), the BBC SO records 20–30 studio sessions each year, producing many hours of music for broadcast of the highest standard, appreciated by audiences the world over.
The BBC SO’s long association with new music, championing living composers across the globe has seen it give world premieres of works by composers ranging from Boulez, Britten, Delius, Lutyens, Maconchy, Messiaen, Villa-Lobos and Walton to more recently Adams, Beamish, Grime, Knussen, Saariaho, Tavener and Turnage, to name a few.
On the very day the BBC SO is 90 – 22 October – the orchestra celebrates with an afternoon on BBC Radio 3. In a live concert from Maida Vale Studios led by Principal Guest Conductor Dalia Stasevska and featuring baritone Roderick Williams, BBC Symphony Orchestra at 90: Dalia’s Mixtape is a programme of time-travel through Finnish and British music inspired by the BBC SO’s first international tour to Sweden, Norway and Finland in 1956 under Malcolm Sargent.
Weaving through the programme is Sibelius’s patriotic Scènes historiques, part of which was played during the orchestra’s 1956 tour at one of two concerts given at the Sibelius Festival in Helsinki honouring the 91-year-old composer. The following day, Sibelius invited conductor Malcolm Sargent and some of the players to his home, cementing a relationship between his music and the orchestra that is still felt today. Interspersed among these musical scenes from Finland’s history are British works spanning four centuries – from Purcell through Vaughan Williams, Finzi and Britten, to today’s Master of The Queen’s Music, Judith Weir.
Framing the live concert are recordings by the BBC SO with works by Finnish composers Einojuhani Rautavaara and Lotta Wennäkoski, and a performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring from the orchestra’s 80th-anniversary concert at the Barbican in 2010, conducted by David Robertson. Marking the BBC SO’s long association with music from the United States is a recording of George Walker’s Lyric for Strings conducted by Dalia Stasevska.
Dalia Stasevska, Principal Guest Conductor, says: “The time-travel idea was inspired by 90 years of glorious history and accomplishments of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and also by Sibelius’s Scènes historiques. We’re celebrating not only the history of the BBC SO, the history of British music and the close friendship the UK has with Finnish music. See how a unique combination of music communicates with us, how pieces communicate with each other through time and what kind of story they tell us.”
Sakari Oramo, Chief Conductor, says: “Very often in these strange times my thoughts go back to a miraculous few days in 2012, when all of a sudden I found the most exciting artistic partnership of my life – the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The programme featured ‘Tintagel’ by Arnold Bax, Sibelius’s Third Symphony and vocal works by Sibelius and Kaija Saariaho with my dear Anu Komsi. What a quintessentially BBC SO-like programme that was – and yet probably one that hadn’t been dreamt of before.
This is the very strength of the BBC SO programming concept: strong on content, always looking for purposeful combinations of masterpieces old and new, well known and, above all, less familiar. The ability of this miraculous orchestra to transform itself according to the music they play (literally ANY music) – and their warm-hearted supportiveness, instinctive brilliance and ability to capture the essence of what makes a great musical performance – make them unique. From our Studio Concerts and recordings, through to our Barbican concerts, performances on tour in the UK and abroad and of course at the BBC Proms, including three editions of the Last Night of the Proms, I have relished and enjoyed every single performance together. May there be many more in the future, and may the BBC SO continue to blossom as London’s, the UK’s and the world’s beacon for artistic inventiveness.”
Paul Hughes, Director, says: “When I joined the BBCSO in 1999 I was aware of its reputation for commissioning and premiering new music which excited me then as it does now. Over more than 20 years it has been my privilege to reinforce and develop that reputation to the point where the output of the orchestra is more distinctive and diverse than ever, and its place in the landscape of national and international music making clearly defined.
I am particularly proud of our BBCSO family of conductors with whom we’ve reached larger and more diverse audiences than ever before, always looking forward whilst mindful of our heritage and our core mission. My personal musical passions are reflected in the award-winning opera performances and recordings, and an innovative series of events with leading authors and unexpected collaborators including Professor Brian Cox and Lianne La Havas, and so many of the world’s leading artists who love the BBC SO as much for its warm-hearted, open-minded attitude as for the brilliance of its music making. The commitment of the BBC to the orchestra has never been stronger and we look forward to the move to Stratford and a whole new range of relationships in that exciting, diverse community.”
Full details of BBC Symphony Orchestra at 90: Dalia’s Mixtape here