We celebrate the orchestra’s 100th anniversary with music from the "celebration” years, 1919 and 2019, with Lise Davidsen, Truls Mørk and Leif Ove Andsnes
1919 was a productive year in the history of music. The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra was established in this year, and Edward Elgar and Maurice Ravel wrote music which is still played every week, all over the world. Norwegian music life has come a long way since 1919, and today we can be proud of having produced some of the world’s leading classical musicians. Three of the greatest of those are with us tonight, on the orchestra’s anniversary, in order to celebrate the power of music through a century.
“A new chapter in the history of Norwegian music is being written today”, it was written in Morgenbladet on 27 September 1919. The subject was The Philharmonic Association’s inaugural concert, which was held in a packed auditorium in Oslo’s Gamle Logen. Despite “considerable debate, dark predictions and much questioning” (Nationen) along the way, a permanent, full symphony orchestra had been successfully established in Oslo. This was an occasion to be celebrated. King Haakon VII and Queen Maud were present in the audience and Norway’s anthem Ja vi elsker was sung twice before the official programme. The evening consisted of treasured national works: Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto and his Landkjenning, Johan Svendsen’s Festival Polonaise and Christian Sinding’s Symphony in D Minor. This was in every way an important day for Norwegian music life.
It goes without saying that the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) should be included in the programme of the orchestra’s centenary concert, just as it was at the inaugural concert in 1919. No Norwegian composer has succeeded in achieving greater and more enduring popularity than Grieg, and none of his works are more popular than his Piano Concerto in A Minor. The dramatic swirl of the timpani leading the listener from total silence to the explosive music in the first movement is arguably one of the most effective and famous musical openings ever. Many might envisage mountains and fjords when they hear this piece, although Grieg himself was actually gazing out on a completely flat Danish landscape when he composed it, and was possibly more inspired by Robert Schumann’s completely un-Norwegian Piano Concerto from 1845. Still, his Piano Concerto became wildly popular, and has remained so ever since its first performance in Copenhagen in 1869.
A Norwegian composer who was the most apparent heir to the National Romantic tradition after Grieg and Svendsen, was Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935). In addition to being a composer, he was also a violinist and conductor of the National Theatre’s Orchestra for thirty years. He was one of the most instrumental figures in the establishment of the Philharmonic Association in Oslo in 1919, and was a clear leader in Norwegian music life throughout half a century. In 1919 he put together three Norwegian folk melodies — a springar, a halling and the folk tune I went so lately to my bed - to create Norwegian Rhapsody No. 1. The work, coloured by Halvorsen’s colourful writing for orchestra, is deeply National Romantic, and was an immediate success when the brand new Philharmonic Association performed it in January 1920.
While Halvorsen continued to build on Norwegian Romantic heritage, another Norwegian composer was more interested in what was going on in French culture and music life. Pauline Hall (1890-1969) went to Paris to study in 1912 and was influenced by the newest French music by Debussy and Ravel. This was reflected in her own music — especially in her Verlaine Suite, inspired by texts by the French poet Paul Verlaine. In 1919, Hall had already started working with with Verlaine’s texts, beginning to form orchestral movements which, ten years later, in 1929, were to become her Verlaine Suite. One of these movements, Nocturne Parisien, was performed by the Philharmonic Association already in 1922. Not only was Hall a central composer and critic in Oslo through many years, but she was also an initiator of the association “New Music”, which she led for twenty-two years.
While in Paris, Hall is sure to have heard the music of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). In 1919, he composed one of his most unique and successful works — La Valse. The musical obfuscation of the waltz fragments in the opening reveals the French composer’s unique powers of orchestration and his ability to conjure up certain moods and visions by using carefully selected and subtly interconnected sound colours and playing techniques. The melodic, harmonic and dynamic retelling of the waltz tradition is so vibrant that one might be led to believe that one is in Johann Strauss’ Vienna of the 1800’s, before the music breaks off into the musical innovations from Paris of the 1910’s and 1920’s.
While Ravel were exploring the possibilities of Modernism in Paris, the English composer Edward Elgar (1857-1934) composed one of his most powerful and personal works — his Cello Concerto. This is Elgar at his best; here he produces copious dark, elegiac melodies, and at the same time a Romantic pathos and clear self-scrutiny. Although the concerto has a personal expression, and might seem introverted, it was written as a reaction to uiversal destruction; more precisely, the First World War, which had recently caused an unfathomable amount of unhappiness and death. In this concert, we present the grandiose, but dark, melancholic Finale from his Cello Concerto, which received its world premiere in London in 1919.
A century after Pauline Hall, Ravel, Elgar and others were pursuing new means of musical expression, composers are still seeking new ways to express themselves through sound. One of the leading Norwegian composers of today is Therese Birkelund Ulvo (b. 1982). She has made her mark in recent years with a string of innovative and challenging works. The installation 13 Ways to Tame a Beast was first performed during the Ultima Festival in 2018. Here, it isn’t only sound which is examined, but also its spatial dimension, by that the orchestra is taped by 32 channels and the invdividual voices are spread around the room. Ulvo was recently chosen to take part in KUPP, a national talent programme for young Norwegian composers. In addition to the installation, which will be presented in the Little Hall of Oslo Concert Hall, the orchestral work In the Cage from 13 ways to tame a beast will get its world premiere in the concert.
The installation opens one hour before the concert in the Little Hall of Oslo Concert Hall.
Henrik Hellstenius (b. 1963) is a composer and professor of composition at the Norwegian Academy of Music, and a prominent and influential voice in the Norwegian music scene. Hellstenius describes his new work, written for the 100th anniversary of the Oslo Philharmonic, a "compositional interpretation" of Edvard Grieg's “Landkjenning” for choir and orchestra with a text by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. Hellstenius made a similar interpretation of Robert Schumann's song cycle Dichterliebe in 2015, while he was the Oslo Philharmonic's composer profile of the season. This way of reinterpreting classical works is inspired by the German composer Hans Zender, and the idea is to breathe life into the works, make us hear them afresh and feel that the music is relevant. It can be compared to how old texts are reinterpreted in the theater, where the text may be changed and new text is added.
The text of Landkjenning is about Olav Tryggvason, coming to Norway to Christianize the country. In Bjørnson's text, national and religious conceptions merge. This combination isn’t as strong today, and Hellstenius has changed the end of the text. Here it describes unity with nature instead of a turn toward God. Musically, Hellstenius begins the interpretation in the midst of Grieg's work, and gradually lets it spread. Grieg's heroic opening as Olav Tryggvasson steps in from the North Sea is gone − instead, the choir sings weakly and unanimously. Grieg and Bjørnson, in line with the religious and national romantic ideas, composed a highly dramatic end to Landkjenning, where the choir sings with full force and religious conviction "... filled with Him!". In Hellstenius' new version the play ends with an opposite character, soft and inquiring, and chorus, percussion and harp instead repeat an incomplete line of text that ends openly: "... filled with ...".
Another central figure in current music life in Norway is the composer Øyvind Torvund (b. 1976). He has written a new work for orchestra in honour of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra’s centenary. The work bears the working title “Music from our own time” and seeks to reflect on music from prehistoric times, via current times, and towards a futuristic vision. Torvund is one of Norway’s most important composers with a large and unique body of work to his name, and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra is proud to present this new work for orchestra. Torvund’s work will be performed on several occasions in the course of the anniversary season.
As a reference to Stravinsky’s Greeting Prelude — a special version of Happy birthday — we have asked one of our more established composers, Rolf Wallin (b. 1957) to compose a fanfare inspired by Stravinsky’s own showstopper.
Welcome to this special celebration concert!
(Text: Thomas Erma Møller; Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa)Read more
- Adult: 290 - 540 NOK
- Senior: 260 - 455 NOK
- Student: 220 - 345 NOK
- Child: 200 NOK
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