When I recently received news about the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra, I realized that, for all my years of radio listening, I had never heard of this ensemble. However, upon checking their Wikipedia page, I discovered that they were also known as the Tivoli Symphony Orchestra. That name was familiar; and I do not think I ever encountered a classical station that did not, at some time or another, try to saturate me with the waltzes, polkas, and gallops of Hans Christian Lumbye, just to emphasize that Johann Strauss did not have a monopoly on the “pops” genre. Indeed, the Tivoli Symphony Orchestra was formed in 1843 in conjunction with the opening of Tivoli Gardens; and Lumbye was responsible for providing the musical entertainment. Since then they have been the primary exponent of Lumbye’s music, and in 2004 they released a series of CDs covering his complete orchestral works.
By 1846 the ensemble was giving symphony concerts of a more serious nature, performing under the name Tivolis Orkester. However, Tivoli Gardens was only open during the summer; and in 1848 the orchestra had its first winter season, arranged by the composer Niels Gade. In 2009 the Orchestra moved from the Tivoli Concert Hall to the concert hall of the Royal Danish Academy of Music (formerly the concert hall for Danmarks Radio). It now performs as the Copenhagen Philharmonic in this venue but still performs as the Tivoli Symphony Orchestra during the summer at the Tivoli Concert Hall.
I cite this brief outline to make that case that this is an orchestra that can adapt to different venues with different offerings. On May 2 of this year, the ensemble demonstrated that they can also adapt to the new standards of public performance of the 21st century. They gave a performance of Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” in Copenhagen Central Station; and they organized the event in the flash mob style of “structured spontaneity.”
Shortly after 2:30 PM a snare drummer set up his instrument and conductor Jesper Nordin gave him the beat for the opening statement of the bolero rhythm. As the drum established this pattern, a flutist set up her music stand in time to state the theme at the end of the pattern. A cello arrived to provide the supporting bass line. As the music progressed more musicians arrived, setting up their respective stands and always coming in flawlessly on cue. This was an abridged version, about one-third the duration of the complete score; but it offered a perfectly acceptable “summary” of Ravel’s crescendo to his full-orchestra climax.
This was clearly one of those performances whose visual effect was as strong as (if not stronger than) the musical account. It is therefore no surprise that the Copenhagen Philharmonic decided to document it as a video, prepared by a camera crew tracking both musicians and passers-by heading to or from their trains. This was edited into a video running slightly less than five minutes, and by May 27 it was ready for upload to YouTube. That video is now available for viewing in the left-hand column.
“Bolero” has managed to adapt itself to any number of settings. This one demonstrated that the Copenhagen Philharmonic is prepared to bring it into the 21st century. In this approach it seems to fit most comfortably, honoring the basic idea behind the score without trivializing it as many other adaptations have done.