London is arguably the classical music capital of the world. With five permanent orchestras calling London home, those who live in the big smoke, or indeed find themselves frequenting the city, may have been lucky enough to catch one or two of these musical groups in action.
If, however, you’re unfamiliar with the orchestras, we’ve put together a guide to each to help you decide which you’d like to see first!
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Possibly the most popular, the London Philharmonic Orchestra has a long history of producing some of the finest classical music ever made. Founded in 1932 by Sir Thomas Beecham, it has been headed by some of the most famous conductors, including, Sir Adrian Boult, Bernard Haitink, and Kurt Masur, to name but a few. After a few years stumbling as a result of a lack of funds, the orchestra is now recognised the world over, and as such, tours the world playing to millions every year.
BBC Symphony Orchestra
A national institution, the BBC Symphony Orchestra has been at the forefront of British music for more than eight decades. Pushing boundaries, the orchestra is known for its exciting performances and wide-ranging music. The pillar of the well-known BBC Proms, it performs at the Proms every year, as well as at an annual season of concerts at the Barbican – where it is Associate Orchestra. Still going from strength to strength, it works with some of the most well-regarded names in the industry.
Perhaps less-well known than the aforementioned to the average music fan, Philharmonia Orchestra is different. Known for its pioneering approach and modern take on the traditional orchestra, it aims to bring the classical into the 21st century. Looking to challenge the status quo, inspire individuals, and engage those who may feel disconnected from music – or just classical music – it plays around 160 concerts per year and records music for films, video games, and commercial audio releases. Made up not just of musicians, but songwriters and composers, the orchestra has gained a loyal fan-base for those wanting something different.
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
In its 70th year, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is still at the forefront of music-making. Performing regularly at some of London’s most famed venues, the orchestra also takes centre stage around the world, including the USA, Europe, and the Far East. However the orchestra may be most well-known for leading the way and launching its very own record label. Coined in 1986, it aimed to innovate and be seen as a pioneer of fresh music. Proving to be a great success, the RPO also launched its own online radio station almost 30 years later – in 2015. Entitled The Sound of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, it broadcasts via the website and RPO TV, which is written, directed, and filmed by the musicians.
London Symphony Orchestra
The oldest of London’s symphony orchestras, the LSO was founded in 1904 by a group of players who left Henry Wood’s Queen’s Hall Orchestra. Having started strong, it went into decline during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, often regarded inferior to the new orchestras popping up all over the capital. However by 1960, it was back on top form. Now one of the most famous orchestras in the world, it plays more than 120 concerts per year, and has been named by Gramophone as one of the top five orchestras in the world. Boasting an incredibly talented group of musicians, it continues to lead the way for others to follow.
If you have the opportunity to catch one of these orchestras while you’re in London, we really do recommend you jump at the opportunity. There really is nothing like seeing (and hearing) one of the capital’s most famous orchestras in real life.