Anders Koppel

b. 1947



Anders Koppel grew up surrounded by music. His father, Herman D. Koppel, was one of the most significant Danish composers and pianists of his generation, and he shared his love of music with his children.

Koppel is widely known as founder of the successful rock band Savage Rose, founded in 1967. Together with his brother Thomas, he played with the band until 1974. Following this he formed Bazaar, a trio whose Middle Eastern and European folk-based performances anticipated the world music movement.

Koppel also has a prolific career as a film composer which began in the mid-1970s, and in the 1980s he became a much sought-after ballet composer. Since the early 1990s, he has worked primarily as a composer in the classical world. Influenced by jazz, rock and Latin American music, Koppel’s music is often highly virtuosic and many of his works feature challenging solo parts, as is evident in his many concertos.

Critical Acclaim
...Koppel's music uses jazz harmonies and turns of melody but dresses them in extremely skilfully handled classical instrumentation and classic concerto form - J Scott Morrison, freelance reviewer

...His music [...] is consistently well-crafted, colourful and full of lively rhythms - Hubert Culot, Musicweb International


For Anders Koppel the experience of a group of musicians and an audience coming together for a concert represents the pinnacle of our civilization. The synergy arising from the interplay between the musicians on stage and the listening audience is nothing short of fantastic; it is ”mankind in their Sunday clothes”, as Koppel puts it. Since his concert debut at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in 1962 as a 14-year-old clarinetist, his artistic life has revolved around the concert. At first mainly as a performing musician, however later as composer of numerous groundbreaking works written in a contemporary musical idiom in which especially world music and contemporary pop music fertilize the European classical music tradition.

As the son of composer andpianist Herman D. Koppel (1908-98), Anders Koppel grew up in a musical environment: in his childhood and early youth he played piano and clarinet, and right away became thoroughly familiar with scored music and instrumentation. At the same time Koppel was an active participant in the musical experiments that were part of the youth revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. During the years 1967-1974, as an organist and lyricist, he was a mainstay with the rock group Savage Rose; one of the most prominent and innovative bands on the Danish rock scene. Since Koppel left Savage Rose in 1974 he has been increasingly immersed in the creation of contemporary composition music. 

Alongside his work as a composer Anders Koppel has been an active musician in among other contexts the group Bazaar, who for close to 35 years has cultivated a unique musical idiom based on improvisation, Balkan music and Koppel's own compositions. Since 1996 he has also played with his son, saxophonist and composer Benjamin Koppel,in the trio Koppel-Andersen-Koppel, recently releasing the album Everything is Subject to Change in 2012 . In addition, Anders Koppel has composed music for roughly 200 films, plays and ballets, which has helped hone his musical vocabulary, which besides the classical forms also comprises a thorough knowledge of Latin American styles such as tango, samba and Cuban music.

His experience as a performing artist is a constant reminder to Koppel about the importance of making music that is meaningful to the audience. The result is a music based on a classical perception of tonality, which at the same time is decidedly outgoing and engaging. Rather than employing a particular compositional technique, Anders Koppel’s music is highly undogmatic and closely related to the free-flowing nature of improvised music. And based on an exploration of - and love for - the expressive potential of the individual instruments, Koppel’s music is often distinctly virtuosic. And thus he inscribes himself in a long tradition going all the way back to the solo concertos of the baroque era, while at the same time distancing himself from modernism’s at times rigid concepts of virtuosity.

His real breakthrough as a composer of concert music came in 1990 with Toccata for Vibraphone and Marimba ; a work in which virtuosic and technically challenging sections alternate with dreamlike passages of truly enchanting beauty. Here Anders Koppel has forged a highly personal idiom that allows the musicians to give a high-standard performance that still appeals directly to the audience.Koppel is somehow able to endow the central instrumentalist with both intimate human emotions and supernatural power and passion, a quality he has later sublimated in a long series of concertos for soloist and orchestra in which the direct identification with the soloist seems to take place in a fantastic dimension.

Among the approx. 30 works for instrumental soloists and orchestra, the four concertos for marimba and orchestra are especially significant. Anders Koppel earned a place in the marimba-canon already with Concerto no. 1 for Marimba and Orchestra (1995); a virtuosic game between the limber marimba and the timbrally imposing classical symphony orchestra. Today,the concerto has been performed more than 300 times and is virtually mandatory for young soloistically gifted percussionists. In Concerto no. 3 for Marimba and Orchestra (2002-03), which has been performed at both the Wiener Musikverein, Carnegie Hall, New York and the Berlin Philharmonic, Koppel conjures up a music of great symphonic breadth as the play on genres and styles is toned down in favor of a more classical idiom. And in Concerto no. 4 for Marimba and Orchestra (2005) - commissioned by WienMozart2006 on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, and carrying the subtitle”In Remembrance of the Transitory” - Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca is woven into the virtuosic marimba voice. The Turkish-inspired Mozart piece is particularly appropriate as it testifies to Koppel’s ingrained belief that music – and our culture as such – is enriched when different traditions meet.

Mozart’s presence is also felt in Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra (1998) and Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola, Clarinet,Bassoon and Orchestra (2007). In the double concerto for flute and harp, the elegance and poetry are closely related to Mozart’s classic concerto for the same instruments; however the tonal language is – with its impressionistic timbres and sensually dancing nature – Anders Koppel’s own. And in Sinfonia Concertante , in which the orchestra consists of only strings and timpani, a space is created where the four solo players can focus on the contrapuntal interplay between the individual voices and thus, by means of the changing harmonies, create a powerful alternation between light and shadow.

Among Anders Koppel’s countless concertos, most are written for solo saxophone. The instrument’s unusually wide tonal and dynamic range makes it the ideal conveyer of Koppel’s expansive musical language. Its sound can be modulated from the most delicate and lucid to the downright aggressive and raw. Both extremes are represented in Koppel’s musical aesthetic; and like the saxophone’s rare ability to move freely between the classical and popular music idioms, Koppel discovers new musical directions in the meeting between traditional genres.

Another plausible explanation for the saxophone featuring so prominently in Anders Koppel’s works is the composer’s close artistic collaboration with Benjamin Koppel, who is one of the most diverse saxophonists of our time. Benjamin Koppel possesses a rare ability to effortlessly alternate between tightly composed passages and freely fabulating improvisations; a skill which is heavily in demand with Anders Koppel in e.g. Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra (1992), Concerto no. 2 for Saxophone and Orchestra (2003), Concerto for Saxophone, Piano and Orchestra (2006), Triple Concerto for Mezzo Saxophone, Cello, Harp and Orchestra (2009) and Concerto for Recorder, Saxophone and Orchestra (2010).

In the first saxophone concerto Anders Koppel makes ample use of the extensive sound palette of the symphony orchestra. In addition to its highly inciting rhythmic passages inspired by both hard-grooving rock rhythms and Bach-inspired fugato, the concerto contains magical night moods in which a celeste and a deep-sounding alto flute are joined by layers of gentle strings. All of Koppel’s concertos include passages which – especially for the saxophone – inspire improvisation. As such, Koppel bridges the gap between modern musical practice and musical practices of the past in which improvisation was integral to the concerto form.

In his double concerto for recorder and saxophone, premiered by Odense Symphony Orchestra with Michala Petri and Benjamin Koppel as soloists, Anders Koppel has staged a magnificent meeting between two instruments that are rarely seen in close contact. However, in close interaction with a symphony orchestra, which at times bursts into full bloom as a raging big band, the two instruments embark on a musical ride allowing the two soloists ample room to create a veritable fireworks of tonal cascades in between the instruments’ intimate advances.

Anders Koppel’s flair for exploring the nature of the individual instrument and finding new ways of expression has resulted in a number of concertos for instruments that are rarely allowed to perform solo. This is the case in Variations for Bass Trombone and Orchestra (1997), Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra (2003) and Concerto Piccolo (2009) for accordion and strings. Inthe tuba concerto the result is superb. As another Don Quixote, the tuba – the orchestra’s deepest brass instrument – fearlessly and in good spirits embarks on a dangerous and unusual journey. The fanfare-like eruptions and oddly strutting rhythms signal that the concerto is a tribute to Dionysian arrogance, and the fact that the concerto is written for a full orchestra places great demands on the tuba’s soloist presence. The instrument is exposed in all registers, from the lowest depths – where the tuba is the uncrowned king of the orchestra – up to softly sounding top notes in the higher regions normally populated by other,more nimble instruments.

His Concerto Piccolo is strikingly subdued, however tremendously intense. In an almost minimalist manner, Koppel allows the string orchestra to create a powerful suspense by means of a muted rhythmic ostinato over which the accordion forges evocative soundscapes that amply demonstrate the instrument’s natural disposition for expressing wistful sadness.

Finally, Anders Koppel’s long series of orchestral concertos also includes three concertos for solo strings; Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra (2000), Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (2006) and most recently Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (2010), which is characterized by a seriousness similar to what we find in some of Sjostakovitj’s string concertos.From a gloomy minor third the solo viola unfurls an elegiac song that later reappears in the guise of a funeral march in which trombones and timpani create a solemn musical setting. Yet, despite its somber mood, the viola concerto becomes an infectious homage to life when the solo instrument is allowed to play the part of the irresistible, giddily dancing fiddler.

Among Anders Koppel’s many chamber works the two string quartets occupy a central position. His String Quartet no. 1 (1997)confronts the traditional ensemble with a rhythmically bold and harmonically intense music kept on a tight rein. The expression is marked by clarity and stringency, and the innumerable sonorities and dynamic possibilities of the four string instruments clearly speak to Koppel’s ebullient imagination while the inspiration from classical masters such as Beethoven and Bartók is evident.In String Quartet no. 2 (2008), cosmicexperiences and conceptions play a crucial role. With this work - which is loosely based on Kepler’s ancient principles of planetary motion - Koppel has created a music that rises above the conflicts of the earthly world.

Anders Koppel has added a new dimension to the string quartet with his Le Balajo (2011) for four cellos; a tightly crafted work for four musical equals, already from the first note professing to the warm romantic tone inherent in the nature of the cello as well as a bittersweet pain. Add to that an element of wanton French café atmosphere in the dance sections inspired by experiences in the now-defunct Parisian night club Le Balajo.

Recently, Anders Koppel has continued his work with the classic chamber ensemble in the weighty Piano Quintet (2011) containing both passages of Mozartian lightness as well as hard-hitting percussive sections fulfilling the huge dramatic potential of the interplay between the piano and the four strings, and giving the pianist ample opportunity to shine as a true soloist.

Anders Koppel’s vocal works play a special role. In the cantata Saving Every Word (1998), written for choir, brassband and organ in memory of the Battle of Fredericia, the concertante elementis absent. Instead the music is permeated by an inwardness finely attuned to the text, whose content, taken from old soldiers’ letters, offers thought-provoking insight into the great human costs of the war for the individual soldier. It is quite a different matter with the opera Rebus (1999-2000), which is a parodic mosaic of modern man’s inner conflict between supercharged self-satisfaction and existential crisis. Here Koppel, with inspiration from Dadaism and Fluxus, has composed for both rock/jazz and classical singers as well as the crossover ensemble Mad Cows Sing, together creating an ebullient musical image of a questing, transitional humanity at the turn of the millennium.

In the cantata for soprano, choir and harmony ensemble, Danmarks Have (Garden of Denmark) (2011),composed on the occasion of HM Queen Margrethe II’s 40th government anniversary, Anders Koppel has created a lyrical portrait of Denmark with newly written lyrics by Niels Brunse. Without indulging in a pompous royal celebration Koppel has managed to compose a music that is at once lush, festive and mild, and which leaves room for reflection in its quietly flowing musical stream. The music is in deep harmony with the lyrics’ humanist statement that ”Trust and free speech / Keep us together in peace and diversity / Otherwise, the soil would have been laid to waste long ago”.

Due to its great stylistic diversity, Anders Koppel’s music is in its own way a resounding confirmation of the belief that diversity is no obstacle to concord and harmony; actually, it is quite the opposite. In this light, Anders Koppel’s music is highly life-affirming. It is both an artistic and social manifestation of the fact that we, the people, still have good things to offer one another.                                                                                                                      
Esben Tange



4th November 2024

John Kruse, clarinet
Royal Danish Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra
Max Artved
Royal Danish Academy of Music, Copenhagen, Denmark