1812 Overture

Composed by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, performed by the Societat Musical d’Algemesí


These are not songs but flash mobs by professional orchestras and choirs and I am addicted to them. On rare occasions, orchestras and choirs leave the formal settings of concert halls, to play unannounced at public squares, malls, train stations and on the metro. The musicians dress casually, there are few stands for music sheets, no ban on mobile phone cameras and children, even small ones, are welcome.

I do not watch just for the music but also for the ambient noise of announcements and public chatter. I love the perfectly-timed entry of musicians and vocalists from different spots, some dragging large instruments like a drum or a harp. I watch for the moment the public realises that first bassist or drummer was no ordinary busker and starts gathering around the orchestra coalescing at the centre.

I watch for the children’s reactions. A comment in response to the last video on this list said: “This should happen every hour, somewhere in the world.” I agree. Here are four of my favourites:

The denouement of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture by the Societat Musical d’Algemesí has the same bracing effect as three espressos taken together. It contains church bells, cymbals and cannon-shots. Once I got past the disappointment of not having cannons in this much-abridged version from Algemesi, Spain, I found all the elements that got me hooked to these flash mob videos in the first place. A woman stirring her coffee suddenly perks up at the opening strains (0:54); a part of the brass section appears on the terrace (3:10); the member on the tubular bells must also manage her bag (5:03) and a percussionist has to hold his music on a slip of paper because there are not enough stands for everyone (4:52).


Composed by Maurice Ravel, performed by the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra


Maurice Ravel’s Bolero is a popular choice for flash mobs. It is also eminently hummable – keep repeating the tune, a little louder each time, you can go on for hours. Having treated a long-suffering friend to my vocalised renditions many times before, I was already a fan when I discovered this video from the Copenhagen Central Station. In it, a family, perhaps realising it is in for a treat, settles down on the ground (1:05); the orchestra must contend with public announcements (1:54); and after it finishes, its members disperse by simply melting back into the crowd.

Ode to Joy

Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, performed by the Vallès Symphony Orchestra, the Lieder, Amics de l’Òpera and Coral Belles Arts choirs.


Ode to Joy, the final part of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Symphony No 9, is similarly popular for flash mob performances. The two I have seen both have a member of the orchestra pretending he is busking but I picked this video of a performance in front of a bank in Sabadell, Spain, for containing the best crowd reactions. Heads turn (0:47); a child, who would invariably be excluded from the venue of a formal performance, climbs a lamp-post (1:59); the conductor strolls in casually (2:18) and soon has practically every kid imitating him, vigorously waving air-batons (3:21); all customers of an outdoor café rise as dozens more orchestra-members issue from the building; the choir starts (3:07) and soon has the crowd singing along (3:49).

O Fortuna

Composed by Carl Orff, performed by the Orchestra of the Vienna Volksoper


Their instruments may give the musicians away but choir members are harder to detect in a crowd. For this performance of Carl Orff’s O Fortuna at the Vienna West Station, a flautist arrives on a scooter (0:34) and a woman browsing at a flower shop suddenly breaks into song, alarming those around her (0:47). Trying to figure out who among the dozens wearing backpacks, wheeling suitcases, reading, speaking on mobile phones or generally wandering around with cameras is about to break into song is half the fun.