Of the five orchestras maintained by the British Broadcasting Company, the BBC Concert Orchestra is the most oriented toward light music, popular music, and jazz.
The orchestra's name is somewhat inaccurate: although it does often perform live concerts, the group's most important tasks are connected to radio broadcasting.
The BBC Concert Orchestra grew out of the BBC Theatre Orchestra, which was formed in 1931 and was later renamed the BBC Opera Orchestra. In 1952, that group was reorganized as the BBC Concert Orchestra. The following year, it became the house orchestra for the BBC program Friday Night is Music Night, which as of the late 2010s, remained on the air as the world's longest-running radio program. The orchestra performed a variety of other light music on BBC programs, accompanied popular singers, sometimes teamed with the BBC Big Band, and at times performed operatic and symphonic works. For two decades, the group gave live concerts at London's Camden Theatre, moving to the Hippodrome in North London in 1972. The orchestra's first conductor was Gilbert Vinter. Subsequent conductors have included Charles Mackerras (1954-1956), Vilem Tausky (1956-1966), Marcus Dods (1966-1970), Ashley Lawrence (1970-1989), Barry Wordsworth (1989-2006), Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart (2010-2017, remaining as the principal guest conductor), and Bramwell Tovey (2018-). Composers associated with the BBC Concert Orchestra have sometimes been associated with popular music spheres; they include Radiohead guitarist and keyboardist Jonny Greenwood, who became the orchestra's composer-in-association in 2004. The orchestra's other responsibilities have included recording jingles for BBC News programs.
The BBC Concert Orchestra has a large catalog of recordings, many of them covering British light music, film music, and symphonic music that has not been recorded elsewhere. Many of their recordings have appeared on the Bainbridge, Excalibur, Dutton Laboratories (which has issued a lengthy series of light music/easy listening recordings), Chandos, and Somm labels. In 2019, the orchestra issued an album on Regent of music by its new composer-in-residence, Dobrinka Tabakova.