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The LPO, Minis, and an Olympic afterglow

This is my last blog on the music and TV broadcasts for the 2012 Olympic games — I promise. But I just saw a new video ad that I must share.

In my last blog post, I noted the remarkable feat of the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO), who under the baton of Philip Sheppard, recorded the national anthems of all 205 participating nations in the Olympic games in a little under 52 hours of studio time. These recordings, of course, were to be used during the 305 medals ceremonies at the games. According to Sheppard, who wrote new arrangements for each of the anthems and then conducted the groups for the recordings, the orchestra players had about 12 minutes to read and record each anthem. Not all 205 anthems were played, but all were recorded — just in case. It turns out that only 54 anthems were actually played for medals ceremonies, that is, for the countries that won the gold medal for the event. Of the 54 anthems, 19 of these were played only once.

Sheppard explained that each of the 205 recordings had to have a unique arrangement created for the Olympics for two reasons: “one is artistic – to create a faithful (version) but redesigned with a fresh spin,” and the other is legal — “you don’t want to replicate a previous arrangement.”

The anthems will also be used for the upcoming Paralympics, also held in London.

But the London Philharmonic isn’t finished with its Olympic media exposure just yet. A video ad for the British car Mini Cooper was unveiled recently that had members of the “horn” section of the orchestra step into a string of red, white, and blue 2012 Minis. This time, under the direction of conductor Gareth Newman, the players performed a rendition of “God Save the Queen” using nothing but the car horns of the Minis to play the tune, sometimes with harmony.

The ad is a brilliant marketing ploy to keep the orchestra in the media limelight. With dwindling audiences and sagging revenues for orchestras around the world, the LPO has shown it can adapt to 21st century British pop culture, and in a comical, clever way. The orchestra took a back seat to Brit pop groups in the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, but the Mini ad puts the orchestra (or at least the LPO “horn” section) at the forefront of a TV audience’s attention.

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