One of the leading conductors from the U.K., Owain Arwel Hughes has become as well known for his interpretations of Danish music as for British, and he is equally at home in choral works as orchestral. Although Hughes successfully launched his career in England and Wales, he branched out, both in his conducting activities and in his choice of repertory when he accepted the post of principal conductor of the Ålborg Symphony Orchestra in Denmark. Hughes soon became a champion of the music of the Danish composer Vagn Holmboe, recording a dozen or so discs of his orchestral music, including all 14 symphonies (the 13 numbered symphonies and the unnumbered Sinfonia "In Memoriam"). Not surprisingly, Hughes' orchestral/choral repertory includes much British music — works by Elgar, Delius, Vaughan Williams, Bax, Britten, Arnold, and others — and an eclectic array of music by Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Bartók, Shostakovich, Schnittke, and many more. Hughes has made over 50 recordings, spread over many labels, including ASV, BIS, Danacord, Dacapo, Decca, EMI, and Warner Classics.
In 1986 Hughes founded the Cardiff Welsh Proms, a yearly summer festival of music for which he has served as artistic director ever since. In the 1980s Hughes also worked as principal associate conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Hughes accepted the post of principal conductor with the Ålborg Symphony Orchestra in 1994. A stream of recordings on the BIS label followed, including the massive Holmboe cycle and a series of Rachmaninov discs.
Hughes departed his Ålborg post in 1999. In 2003 he was appointed music director of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales. The following year he was awarded the title of Officer of the British Empire and in 2009 he was elevated to Commander of the British Empire. Among Hughes' later recordings is the 2008 Dacapo CD of Danish composer Knudåge Riisager's Benzin and other orchestral works, with the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra.