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Music in Norway

Tuesday, 20 March 2012 , ora 11.04
At the end of last year, at the invitation of The Royal Norwegian Embassy in Bucharest, I went on a documentary trip to Oslo. Among the different interest points, music, of course, was the first priority. I visited the Philharmonic, the Opera House and the Music Information Centre Norway, I conversed with people capable of providing me with information regarding the activity of these institutions and, of course, I had the pleasure of going to concerts and shows. I wanted to talk about all of these to the listeners of Radio Romania Music.

The Oslo Philharmonic

The symphonic orchestra of the Oslo Philharmonic was created in 1919, but the ensemble had been already active since 1870 by the initiative of Edward Grieg. It is a state institution, 85% of its funds being awarded by the Norwegian government, which annually gives 130 million krones. The rest of the budget is comprised of revenues from selling tickets and from sponsors' contributions. Thus, a budget of 150, 160 million krones is gathered, which signifies a substantial sum, the equivalent of over 20 million euro. The repertoire is specifically organized to offer the audience only the greatest symphonic scores from the international repertoire and which complement the strength of the orchestra, composed of 110 members.

'We have firm responsibilities to a diverse audience, to whom we have to satisfy all its wishes, to the best of our abilities. Among these is that to perform as much Norwegian music, classic or contemporary' tells us Mr. Odd S. Gullberg, the director of the Oslo Philharmonic, who also adds:

'We like to think of ourselves as the first orchestra from the Northern space - and I am referring to its quality. In the '80s and 90's we had an extraordinary period, when at the head of the symphonic orchestra of the Oslo Philharmonic was, for more than 20 years, conductor Mariss Jansons. I can state now, looking back and without minimising the input of the other conductors, that maestro Jansons actually built this orchestra which he transformed into an internationally competitive musical ensemble. I would also say that this orchestra helped Mariss Jansons to become the maestro that he is today. It was a long artistic process and mutually beneficial.'

After Mariss Jansons, André Previn was the head of the orchestra for a few years, then the Finnish Jukka Pekka Saraste, who is also the conductor of the German radio orchestra in Köln. Another internationally renowned musician, Vasili Petrenko, the Russian who is the Chief Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society, will follow Jukka Pekka Saraste and will come to Oslo in 2013.

The ensemble has a certain stability, which is especially important and which is actually the guarantee of the artistic performance. An instrumentalist is hired for an endless period of time, practically for life. Ten - fifteen years ago, almost all the instrumentalists were Norwegians. Today, about 30% of the Oslo orchestra's members are not Norwegians, but East-Europeans, Swedish, Germans, English... about twenty nationalities.

I asked Mr. Odd S. Gullberg, the Oslo Philharmonic director, about the activity of the institution whose manager he is: 'We have tried an overview perspective for three, four or even five seasons, so as to be able to keep a balance between old and new, between international creations and Norwegian music. We pay a special attention to our younger audience, children and teenagers. We have a project through which we manage to get all the children around ten years of age from Oslo to come to the Philharmonic for at least one concert. Nearly every day there are groups of children who visit the Philharmonic, stay at the rehearsals, listen to the descriptions of the instruments, visit the wings, talk to the instrumentalists. We then have five, six concerts a year for teenagers, specifically designed for them, where we present the pieces, the music, with information about the composers. We focus and invest a lot of time in our projects for the young. We believe this to be very important because, if you were to look into our concert hall - and this is something that happens all over the world, not only in Oslo - you will see a lot of grey heads. We have to think about the audience of tomorrow. And we always have to be in line with the times. Demographically speaking, Oslo is rapidly changing and its population rises especially with the large number of immigrants from a lot of countries. If the city is changing then so must we always change our way of addressing the audience who is constantly different.'

The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet

'... the building resembles either an iceberg or a ship, because it practically rises from the waters of the Oslo fjord.'

The Norwegians are great lovers of opera; that is why the project to build a new and modern building for opera and ballet shows enjoyed a great support. The new building of the Oslo Opera House opened in 2008 and quickly became one of the main touristic attractions of the Norwegian capital both because of the fantastic opera and ballet shows and of the absolutely spectacular and original architecture envisioned by the firm Snøhetta. The new Oslo Opera House is the first one in the world that allows its visitors to reach the roof of the building. The Opera House has three stages with 1369, 400 and 200 seats respectively, and is equipped with the latest sound technology. The acoustics of the Main House was made after the Semperoper model in Dresden. During the 2011-2012 season the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet offers a bill of 336 of opera, ballet and concert nights. There is also an opera project for children, that takes place in a tent pitched in the middle of the foyer. Sometimes - for example, during the winter holidays - the children's choir sings during interludes, in the foyer, among the spectators and these are thrilled. Often, during the summer, on the roof of the Oslo Opera House building, popular symphonic concerts or of pop music are scheduled - these are also held by the Opera's orchestra. Up to 8500 people come to these concerts - although the declared capacity is only of 7000 people. I had the pleasure to watch in the Great Hall 'The Nutcracker' ballet by Tchaikovsky and an opera performance of 'Il Barbiere di Siviglia' (The Barber of Seville) by Rossini and I was delighted by the ballet dancers and the singers' performance, but also by the imagination, originality and the humour of the scenic design. Mrs. Anne Gjevang, who at the moment of our discussion was casting director and artistic director ad interim, had the graciousness to speak to me for a half an hour. She talked to me about the off-stage activity of the Oslo Opera House. First, I asked her to please define the position: casting director.

'All those who go to the theatre or who watch movies can read at some point, on the playbill or on the screen, the name of the one who made the casting, that is to say the one who selected the performers for that particular production. This is what I do here at the Oslo Opera House; I search, listen and choose the right interpreters for the roles in our performances. I have to find the most suited voices for so different roles, I have to find the right personality, the right appearance... and for that I closely work with the directors and conductors. I find my work extremely interesting and I love doing it.

The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet has 638 employees. Among them, there are twenty one soloists, fifty five ballet dancers, fifty five in the choir and about 100 instrumentalists in the orchestra. There are also about 100 stage technicians and machinists, and there are others who work in the studios, in administration and in other organizational departments. In Norway, opera soloists retire at fifty two years old. The Oslo Opera House has twenty one soloists. Fifteen of them have lifetime employment. Six singers are also part of the company on a long term basis, but they have contracts signed for a two-year period. And there are also four... young apprentices for which special funds are received from the Norwegian state. They are familiar with the work and with the stage, they are given small, appropriate roles and are groomed for any opportunities to play leading roles on any stage in the world. Periodically, our regular cast is joined by Norwegian guests or foreigners. The performances in which they participate are considered important events.'

MIC - Music Information Centre Norway

For over 30 years, MIC has promoted in Norway, but especially abroad, Norwegian music and its performers. The Centre was created by the Norwegian Ministry of Culture but, especially for the projects of international strategic cultural politic, it has the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a direct partner. Also its budget is based on two financial resources: the Ministry of Culture contributes with 8 million krone to which the sums offered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are added (2.800.000 krones in 2011) which exclusively cover the transport and housing expenses of the artists when they have concerts abroad.

MIC has thirteen employees and it runs smoothly. There is an immense database which is basically updated daily. Are you looking for a concert soloist with a certain repertoire? Are you looking for a musical group you want to perform at an international festival with a certain profile? Are you looking for a Norwegian orchestra for a tour? Are you looking for a score for an ensemble with a peculiar structure? MIC will immediately come up with the right answer.

Because of the activity of the centre, the Norwegian composers are increasingly played and appreciated. The Oslo symphonic orchestra has concerts around the worldand, to stay in the sphere of symphony, young Norwegian instrumentalist are starting to be known and, especially, recognised at the highest level.

Listen to the five episodes dedicated to Musical Norway in the Drivetime programme, daily, Monday to Friday, at 6:10 p.m. starting with 26th March.

Cristina Sârbu
Translated by Florina Sămulescu and Elena Daniela Radu
MTTLC, Bucharest University