26 YEARS OF CHAMBER MUSIC IN NORWAY’S CAPITAL CITY



26 years ago I wrote the following lines in the first programme for the Oslo Chamber Music Festival:
«I have great pleasure in welcoming audiences and musicians to Oslo’s very first chamber music festival. At the heart of the project is a group of music lovers who have long wanted to arrange a festival to celebrate chamber music, which in this part of the world has undeservingly been overshadowed by other forms of music.
We know that many composers have created some of their best works in the form of chamber music, and we will do our utmost to keep and pass on some of this rich heritage.”
A few months previously I had written a letter (this was before e-mails) to the Minister of Defence, Johan Jørgen Holst, humbly requesting permission to hold some concerts at Akershus Fortress. I received an extremely pleasant reply which said “Of course you can have concerts here. If there is any one thing the Army should defend, it is culture”.

Chamber music thrives in intimate spaces, and when the Army opened the doors to Akershus Castle and made Olavshallen and the Fortress Chapel available to us, a unique cultural setting was created. We started with an empty bank account. But the belief that we were doing something important for culture in Norway carried us through the difficulties that inevitably arose. We had done nothing like this before. No one had done this before in Norway. But I had performed at similar festivals in Europe and the USA and knew that they justified their existence.

The enthusiasts who started this rash project were Kristin Sørdahl, newly qualified lawyer; Geir Aasen,financial director of The Norwegian Theatre, Lars Buer, director of Volvo Norway, and myself. Other good allies joined us later, not least in recent years when August Albertsen and Håvard Gimse have become much appreciated colleagues.
In the first year we decided to focus on Danish music and Danish musicians; this was mostly due to our historically close, if somewhat reluctant, ties with Denmark, but I must admit that it was also due to my own acquaintance with Danish music and musicians through my five years of study at the Royal Danish Music Conservatory.
However, the first notes played at the opening concert in Olav Vs Hall at Akershus Fortress on Friday 4th. August 1989 were Bach’s. His Suite nr.4 for solo cello was performed by the 28-year-old rising star Truls Mørk. After Bach came pieces by two young Nordic composers: Norwegian Rolf Wallin and Danish Hans Abrahamsen. The concert ended with Grieg’s unfinished string quartet, played by the newly-founded Vertavo Quartet.

The second day displayed a whole stream of talented young Norwegians: Ole Edvard Antonsen, Lars Anders Tomter, Atle Sponberg, Terje Tønnesen, Stephan Barratt­Due, Soon­Mi Chung in duets with the more established and slightly older Kjell Bækkelund, Einar Steen­Nøkleberg, Stig Nilsson, Iver Kleive, Jan Garbarek, Erling Bløndal Bengtsson, Frans Helmerson and Håkan Hagegård.
Later in the week we really showed off with a stage performance of Stravinsky’s Story of a Soldier, with Espen Skjønberg as a truly infamous devil.

Thanks to the enormous generosity of artists, volunteers, the media, concert venues and our first brave main sponsors, Aftenposten and Volvo as well as Bang&Olufsen, Elkem, UNI Forsikring, IBM, Aker, SAS, STEINWAY and STATOIL, we emerged more or less safe and sound from this risky first year, and threw ourselves into planning the next year. And in this way the years passed, and here we still are after 26 years.
H.R.H. Crown Prince Harald was our first patron, and after his accession H.M Queen Sonja became our festival patron.The King and Queen have always had an important role in the Festival, nationally and internationally.

I asked Jakob Weidemann if he would consider making posters for us, and he needed no persuasion. He painted pictures especially for the Festival until his death. Interested sponsors like Norol, Oslo­ banken and Procordia (Sweden) joined our faithful supporters from the first festival. Over the years we were also supported by Oslo City Council, The Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Norwegian Cassette Fee Fund, The Norwegian Fund for Performing Artists, and Concerts Norway. The sponsors may not have been too sure what they were sponsoring, but I did my best to explain the importance of creating an arena for international music, old and new, performed by Norwegian musicians, young and old, together with leading musicians from all over the world.

For the first year or two I had to explain both to the press and the sponsors what chamber music is. I no longer need to, because very soon other chamber music festivals began popping up in other parts of Norway. Truls Mørk and Lars Anders Tomter had taken part in our first festival in Oslo, and the following year they started their own festivals in Stavanger and Risør, with great success.. And chamber music fever spread over the whole country; new festivals were started every year, and now there are over twenty in Norway, from North to South and East to West, all with their own local and musical profile.

The four of us who started Oslo Chamber Music Festival in 1989 are proud to have played a part in creating this important contribution to Norwegian culture. We would like to thank all those who have followed us through thick and thin: musicians, composers, music institutions, reviewers, concert venues, the press, radio and TV, sponsors, the state and local authorities – and not least our large and enthusiastic public. THANK YOU ALL!

Welcome to Oslo Chamber Music festival!

Arve Tellefsen