In 1972, excavations for what was to become Oslo Concert Hall started in Vestre Vika. The start of this meant that the decades-long debate on where the hall was to be built, could be put to rest. It also meant that a proper concert hall was finally going to be constructed in Oslo, almost 120 years after violin legend Ole Bull started raising funds for the purpose.
The building period was far from free of conflict. In 1964, the estimated construction costs were 64 million Norwegain kroner, but this increased gradually to 258 million, which naturally led to furious discussion regarding the financing. The orchestra had no representatives in the Building Committee, which created friction regarding the following up of the orchestra’s needs in the new building.
The construction process was met with additional challenges. When the opening day drew close, an argument broke out concerning the programme for the inaugural concert. Should this principally consist of new Norwegian music or established classics? After a tough conflict with the Norwegian Composers’ Union, the orchestra accepted the first alternative.
On the morning of 22 March, 1977, the offical opening took place, with the Chairman of the Board of the concert hall, Brynjulf Bull, as the main speaker. “We come late, and we come at a cost − but we are coming, your Majesty!” Bull stated. He went on: “We have not grown poorer, but richer, in investing so much in this building. Future generations will thank us for it”.
In the evening of the same day, the Oslo Philharmonic performed the inaugural concert for a hall filled with celebrated guests, including the Royal Family. Principal Conductor Okko Kamu conducted Klaus Egge’s Symphony No. 2 and two prize-winning works from a composition competition held in honour of the opening: Opening by Oddvar S. Kvam, and čSv by Jan Persen. After the break, former Principal Conductor Øivin Fjeldstad conducted the orchestra in Johan Svendsen’s Symphony No. 2.
The Concert Hall’s inauguration programme continued throughout that week, and in the following weeks, activity in the house remained high. In its inaugural year, every household in Oslo was sent the folder “Come and Listen to our New Home” − a great communications effort for its time.
In the course of the first six months, 120.000 tickets were sold for various arrangements in the hall, and in the course of the first two years, the number of visitors had exceeded 400.000. There were to be numerous long discussions regarding the acoustics and other conditions in the years to follow. But that the hall was a popular success was indisputable.
(Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa)
The story of constructing a new concert hall for orchestral music in Oslo is far older than the Oslo Philharmonic. As early as 1860, Ole Bull, the great violin virtuoso of his time, arranged three concerts with the aim of raising money for a new concert hall in his Christiania.
In 1918, the year before the Oslo Philharmonic performed its very first concert, shipping magnate A.F. Klaveness and his wife Therese donated 500,000 Norwegian kroner to the orchestra, which formed the basis for a concert hall fund. However, the following decades witnessed a string of discussions and decisions which did not yield any concrete results.
In the 1950s, however, things started to change. In 1955, an architectural competition was held in connection with plans for a new concert hall, and in 1957 a winner was announced: the Swedish architect Gösta Åbergh. It was the 10-year anniversary of this competition that the musicians of the Oslo Philharmonic marked with their demonstration in June of 1967.
The demonstration, including 70 musicians dressed in tails, went from the University Square and around the Town Hall, ending in the concert hall site in Vika, which was still a well-filled parking lot. There, they concluded their demonstration with performing the march Hiv ankeret!, and could thereby confirm that they had at least played on of the planned concert hall’s site.
The exercise had a big effect on the debate surrounding the issue. Mona Levin sums up the reactions to the demonstration in the Oslo Philharmonic’s anniversary yearbook from 1994:
“The demonstration was noticed by many, and was fully supported by the public as seen in the press, radio and television. In all years, both before and after the war, the Philharmonic’s administration and musicians have been enduring champions for the building of a new concert hall. Countless articles, chronicles, and comments have been penned and debated, countless reasons have been given for how an improvement of the orchestra’s working situation would benefit the common good. Now, the indefatigable pioneers of our music life can take comfort in the fact that also the general public demands a new concert hall”.
In December 1967, the foundation stone of Oslo Concert Hall was laid.
(Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa)