NCO was founded in 1978 to provide younger musicians with the opportunity to develop their talents in a national symphonic orchestra.

NCO is the only organisation that operates on a national scale in the UK catering for children in the 7-14 years old age group who show an early spark of musical talent and potential.

We are parents of a child who has attended many youth orchestras and two of the UK's specialist music schools. In our view, the NCO is quite simply the most outstanding of all British youth music institutions.

NCO Parent

NCO offers unique and life-changing opportunities for young musicians in six National age-banded Orchestras.These meet throughout the year on residential courses during the school holidays:

  • Main Orchestra
  • Under 13 Orchestra
  • Under 12 Orchestra
  • Under 11 Orchestra
  • Under 10 Orchestra
  • Training Orchestra (for young string players)

As well as the National Orchestras, members can join one of six NCO Regional Orchestras in their local area. These meet monthly around the country and are a brilliant chance for members of all ages to meet with other NCO musicians from their local area and rehearse exciting new repertoire.

To ensure as many young musicians have the chance to play with NCO as possible we also offer Associate Membership of Regional Orchestras to players who narrowly miss out on a place at audition.

Artistic excellence

NCO concert performances have a well-deserved reputation for extraordinary musicality and technical accomplishment, at standards generally expected of adult professionals. Repertoire is varied and challenging and drawn from Classical, Romantic, 20th and 21st century music as well as film scores. NCO has commissioned and premiered new pieces by contemporary composers such as Matthew Curtis, and from time to time collaborates with other well-known ensembles such as the Bristol Choral Society.

NCO orchestras continue to delight and inspire audiences with exhilarating concerts of outstanding musicianship:

It was incredible, we had the enormous privilege to be there, see and hear the incredible talent on display. It is one evening that my husband and I and my inspired girls will never forget. Thank you all so much for coming to Glasgow.

Audience member

Social and emotional wellbeing

Achieving these high musical standards is the result of much more than just the provision of world-class tuition. Since its foundation in 1978 NCO has built up unparalleled body of experience in working with the UK’s youngest musicians and in providing a nurturing and warm environment in which they can be encouraged to give of their best. Many children on our courses have never stayed away from home before. A considerable number find that they are the only child in their school with an interest in playing an orchestral instrument. Rather than a source of pride, this can be an isolating experience. For many of our members, NCO is the only place where they are able to engage with other children who share their interest and passion.

It is well recognised through academic study that sharing fun and exciting musical experiences supports children's social development and emotional wellbeing. Opportunities to perform and share that experience with their peers builds personal confidence, raises aspirations and widens horizons.

The NCO has given me more than I could ever have hoped for - great friends, some really useful skills, musical and otherwise - and this incredible confidence in myself and what I can achieve.

NCO member

Opportunity and diversity

“I attended an NCO concert a few years ago and what was even more noticeable on this occasion was the greater diversity of the orchestra members in terms of ethnic backgrounds. This orchestra really does reflect the multi-cultural society in which we now live.” - Press coverage (Summer 2015)

An important principle of NCO’s mission has always been to welcome all children with musical talent from all areas of the UK, irrespective of background or financial circumstances. Thanks to annual fundraising initiatives, it remains possible to join the NCO for free.

I really can’t begin to thank you enough for your support in getting this bursary for my son. Being with other NCO children who feel the same way about their music is what he lives for, and I regularly tell people that being part of NCO has been the making of him.

NCO Parent