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The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, also known as the CBSO, is a British orchestra based in Birmingham, England’s second largest city.

The Orchestra’s principal concert venue is Symphony Hall, a 2,262-seat concert venue located in the centre of Birmingham and widely considered to be one of the finest concert venues in the world. The CBSO is the only professional symphony orchestra based between the town of Bournemouth on the south coast of England and Manchester in the north west of England. The CBSO’s current Music Director is Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla who was appointed in 2016. The CBSO’s current Chief Executive, appointed in 1999, is Stephen Maddock.


1920 – 1978

Founded by Neville Chamberlain in 1920 as the City of Birmingham Orchestra, the first public performance took place in September conducted by Appleby Matthews, the orchestra's first Music Director. A symphonic concert followed in November when renowned English composer Sir Edward Elgar conducted a programme of his own music in Birmingham Town Hall. In 1924 Sir Adrian Boult became Principal Conductor for six years until 1930 with English composer and conductor Leslie Heward replacing him until 1943. The CBSO became a full-time organisation in 1944, changing its name to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 1948. Principal conductors since then included George Weldon (1944-1951), Austrian-born Rudolf Schwarz (1951-1957), Polish composer and conductor Andrzej Panufnik (1957-1959), a returning Adrian Boult, who re-joined the orchestra for one season between 1959-1960 following Panufnik’s sudden resignation who was succeeded by English conductor and violinist Hugo Rignold (1960-1969) and French-born Louis Frémaux (1969-1978). During this time the orchestra made recordings and gave regular concerts.

1980 – 1998

The CBSO began to gain greater international renown after the discovery of young British composer Simon Rattle in 1980 who became the Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the CBSO until 1988. At the time of his appointment Rattle was the UK’s youngest Principal Conductor. Under Rattle’s leadership, the Orchestra increased its profile and reputation with highly acclaimed concerts, extensive international touring schedules, a number of award-winning recordings and appearances in television documentaries. The Orchestra became one of the leading ensembles in Europe, and gained a name for its interpretations of late romantic and 20th century works, especially those of Sibelius and Gustav Mahler. Rattle was named Music Director of the CBSO in 1990. Also in 1990, the post of Radcliffe Composer in Association was created with Mark-Anthony Turnage filling the role. In 1995 Judith Weir became Fairbairn Composer in Association, followed in 2001 by Julian Anderson. Throughout Rattle’s 18 years with the CBSO he won nine Gramophone Awards, honours bestowed on recordings in the classic record industry, including three in 1995 as well as Artist of the Year in 1993. Rattle was appointed CBE in 1987 and knighted by the Queen of England in 1994. Rattle’s tenure saw the orchestra move homes in 1991 from Birmingham Town Hall to a new venue, Symphony Hall, inside the International Convention Centre (ICC). It also saw the foundation of the CBSO Youth Chorus, a youth choir which performs alone, or in association with the CBSO with the aim of providing the CBSO with a chorus for pieces of symphonic music that require young people’s voices. Open to girls in school years 9-13, it is now established as one of the country’s leading youth choruses.

1998 – 2008

In 1998 Sakari Oramo was appointed Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the CBSO, and succeeded Rattle as Music Director in September 1999, a position he held until 2008. In the same year as Oraro’s appointment, the CBSO Centre was established to complement the performance facilities at Symphony Hall. It became the home of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and its partner organisation Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. A converted factory, the CBSO Centre houses management offices, rehearsal facilities and is a concert venue in its own right for more intimate performances. Six years later, in 2004, the CBSO Youth Orchestra was founded. The amateur symphony orchestra for young people, managed by the CBSO, is based at the CBSO Centre but performs at Symphony Hall. The orchestra recruits young orchestral musicians in the 14-21 age range and performs two concerts annually under the direction of the CBSO’s Music Director or one of the CBSO’s regular guest conductors. In line with the CBSO programming policy, the Youth Orchestra has a policy of performing music that is outside of the standard repertoire and often more ambitious than that usually associated with youth orchestras. In 2008, the CBSO’s recording of the complete Saint-Saëns Piano Concertos with pianist Stephen Hough, released on the Hyperion Label in 2001, was named the best classic recording of the last 30 years. The recording won the ‘Gold Disc’ at the Gramophone Awards, the best of the 30 Records of the Year selected since the awards were launched by Gramophone magazine in 1978. Oramo stepped down as Music Director in 2008 and took the title of Principal Guest Conductor for the 2008-2009 season.

2008 – 2015

Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons took over as the CBSO’s 11th Principal Conductor and Music Director effective with the 2008-2009 season. Nelson had an initial contract of three years which was further extended until the CBSO announced the conclusion of his tenure at the end of the 2014-2015 season. Nelsons’ time at the helm saw the CBSO’s busiest touring season on record for the 2012-2013 season with more than a quarter of its 140 concerts performed overseas. One concert, performed in Tokyo, was voted as the country’s best orchestral performance of 2013 in a poll of music critics by Japanese classical music magazine Ongaku no Tomo.

2015 – present

In July 2015, Lithuania-born Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla first guest conducted the CBSO and returned for an additional concert in January 2016. In February 2016, the CBSO named her as its next Music Director of the CBSO. Gražinytė-Tyla conducted her first concert as CBSO Music Director on 26 August 2016. She is the first female conductor to be named Music Director of the CBSO. At the CBSO, Gražinytė-Tyla’s artistic plans will range from Mozart and Haydn to 20th Century classics and works by living composers. She will also lead opera projects in Birmingham and will work closely with Simon Halsey CBE on projects with the CBSO’s internationally renowned choruses. The CBSO’s most recent Principal Guest Conductor was Edward Gardner. He began the post in September 2011 with an initial contract of 3 years, for 3-4 weeks of concerts per season. He concluded his tenure as CBSO Principal Guest Conductor in July 2016. The CBSO’s current Associate Conductor is Michael Seal and the current Assistant Conductor is Jonathan Bloxham, who was appointed in June 2016, replacing Alpesh Chauhan. The CBSO has recorded extensively for labels such as EMI Classics, Warner Classics and Orfeo. The orchestra has also released recordings under its own self-produced label. In December 2016, the CBSO will make their debut tour to China. The China Tour will feature five concerts over the New Year period, starting at Guangzhou Opera House, Changsha Concert Hall, Shanghai Grand Theatre and finishing at the NCPA, Beijing. Vassily Sinaisky will be the Conductor for the tour with James Ehnes as the Soloist. This will be the CBSO’s first tour to mainland China in its 96-year history. 

Key facts

Founded: 1920 (96 years old)

Principal concert venue: Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Number of professional musicians in the orchestra: 95
Average number of concerts a season: 130

Current Music Director: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (appointed in 2016)
Current Associate Conductor: Michael Seal
Current Assistant Conductor: Jonathan Bloxham
Current Chief Executive: Stephen Maddock (appointed in 1999)

Orchestra style and repertoire: Each season ranges from symphonic classics and virtuosic concertos to grand opera and cutting-edge contemporary music, while popular Friday night shows and lively family concertos performed at Symphony Hall in Birmingham offer world-class music making for all tastes and ages.

Next international tour: Mainland China, Friday 30th December 2016 – Thursday 5th January 2017

Chief Conductors and Music Directors

- Appleby Matthews (1920 - 1924)
- Sir Adrian Boult (1924–1930)
- Leslie Heward (1930–1943)
- George Weldon (1944–1951)
- Rudolf Schwarz (1951–1957)
- Andrzej Panufnik (1957–1959)
- Adrian Boult (1959–1960)
- Hugo Rignold (1960–1969)
- Louis Frémaux (1969–1978)
- Simon Rattle (1980–1998)
- Sakari Oramo (1998–2008)
- Andris Nelsons (2008–2015)
- Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (2016-present)

CBSO Centre

Situated on Berkley Street, the CBSO Centre doubles as the administrative and rehearsal base for the Orchestra and Choruses and is also a friendly and adaptable performance space. The Centre is home to Centre Stage – a series of relaxed chamber concerts by CBSO musicians and invited guest artists - and the CBSO’s innovative ‘toddler friendly’ Notelets series – concerts devised specially for the under-5s. The Centre also serves as the offices and performance base of for the internationally-renowned Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG). It’s the administrative home of Ex Cathedra and also hosts regular concerts by Jazzlines, Birmingham’s leading contemporary jazz promoter.

The CBSO tour to China


Friday 30 December 2016, 8.00pm

Guangzhou Opera House



Sunday 1 January 2017, 8.00pm

Changsha Concert Hall



Tuesday 3 January 2017, 7.30pm

Shanghai Grand Theatre



Thursday 5 January 2017, 7.30pm

NCPA, Beijing