The Royal Danish Orchestra is considered the oldest orchestra of it's kind, tracing its origins back to 1448 and the Trumpet Corps at the royal court of King Christian I, who was crowned to an accompaniment of brass and percussion instruments. The Danish name for the orchestra - Det Kongelige Kapel - reveals that it was, in origin, an ensemble geared to supplying the music for court events, such as providing musical assistance to a visiting Italian opera company.
It was in this context that the renowned musician Christoph Willibald Gluck not only led the Royal Danish Orchestra, but also composed the music for special occasions – a notable example being the celebration of the birth, in 1749, of the later King Christian VII.
Over the years, the orchestra moved out of the court and settled down in the pit at the Royal Danish Theatre. A growing number of engagements saw an increase in the size of the orchestra, and when Johan Gottlieb Naumann carried out his reforms in the 1780’s, the ensemble numbered 46 members. It is relevant to mention here that it was at precisely this time that the Chorus of the Royal Danish Opera became permanently assigned to the Royal Danish Theatre.
Like all other ensembles, the Royal Danish Orchestra has had its ups and downs over the years. Some milestones worth mentioning are composer F.L.Æ. Kunzen’s introduction of Mozart in the 1790’s, Claus Schall’s prolonged period as conductor of the orchestra, and H.S. Paulli’s similarly lengthy sojourn on the podium.
The arrival of Norwegian conductor Johan Svendsen in 1883 was of no small significance. The years that followed marked a period of growth and development for the orchestra, including Svendsen’s introduction of major symphonic works in a series of concerts by the Royal Danish Orchestra that gradually became – and still are –a tradition in the world of Danish music, while the major symphonies became the domain of the orchestra.
Over the years, many great conductors and composers have collaborated with the Royal Danish Orchestra, including such prominent 20th century names as Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein and Sergiu Celibidache.
Carl Nielsen served with the orchestra for many years, partly as 2nd violin and partly as conductor. The musically talented monarch Frederik IX enjoyed a particularly close relationship with the Royal Danish Orchestra, pursuing with its members his interest for the art of conducting.
The activities of the orchestra have been many and varied; there have been CD recordings and New Year’s concerts, to name just two. One particularly important function of the orchestra is that of representing Danish music overseas. The orchestra has undertaken a host of concert tours abroad, and a very special occasion was in 2002, when the Royal Danish Orchestra, under Musical Director Michael Schønvandt and with violinist Nikolaj Zneider, performed works by Carl Nielsen, Sibelius and Jakob Gade at Vienna’s famous Musikverein.
The opening of the new opera house in Copenhagen, Operaen, presents a new platform of acoustic excellence for the orchestra’s concerts. Their two annual chamber orchestra concerts are held at the Main Stage of the opera house, and the intimate experimental stage Takkelloftet is the venue of their chamber concerts. During the season of 2006-2007, the orchestra’s four annual symphonic concerts will be held at the Tivoli Gardens Concert Hall and the Danish Radio Concert Hall, the latter of which is set to become the fixed venue of the orchestra and their traditional concerts as of the season of 2007-2008.