Founding of the Friends’ Association

The Philharmonic Association’s first three decades were musically harmonious, but financially tempestuous. The following decades saw some improvement, and some of the funding challenges was made easier when the Friends of the Philharmonic Association was founded in January 1952.

On the inaugural day, 7 January, the Association had 211 members. The following year, the number had increased to 411, and the Association now had members both from other cities and countries. During the 1990’s, the number of members increased to over 2000, and in the last decade the figure has been around 1000.

The first Chairman of the Friends’ Association was Nicolai A. Andresen, the grandson of the founder of the Oslo Philharmonic, A.F. Klaveness, and he kept his position until 1998.

The Friends’ Association quickly grew to be an important financial ally, and already in the same year the Association supported the orchestra’s regional tour to the north of Norway. Another important project which received support was the Youth Concert Series, held in the University Aula in the 1950s and 1960s.

Since its inception, the Association has also had a hand in supporting other efforts which have been a part of enhancing the reputation of the orchestra. During the 1950s and 1960s it supported engagements of conductors and soloists who were considered to have been too expensive for the orchestra.

During the 1980s, the Association contributed to touring and recordings with Mariss Jansons. It has also helped to acquire instruments, to better the acoustics of Oslo Concert Hall, with the continuing education of musicians and to purchase new concert attire − something it is also doing in connection with the current anniversary season.

Still, financial support is only one aspect of it − the symbolic role held by the Friends’ Association as ambassador and supporter has also been of central importance. The stated aims of the Association is to contribute financially and to increase public understanding of the orchestra’s cultural significance. Its contribution to encouraging this understanding is as important today as ever.

(Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa)

A New NRK partnership saves the orchestra

The first decades of the orchestra’s existence saw a number of financial ups and downs. One of the biggest dips occurred in 1932, when support from both city and state were heavily reduced. Musicians were forced to accept salary cuts in order to save the orchestra from financial ruin − and this wasn’t the first time. 

Despite reduced salaries, the number of concerts increased in subsequent seasons. In 1934, a player entered the field who ensured a more stable foundation for operations: the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK), which had been established in the preceding year.

The first regular radio broadcasts in Norway started in 1925, and were arranged by the privately owned Broadcasting Compnay. The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation was established on 1 July 1933, and had ninety employees. In the beginning, it broadcast on the radio from 10:00 until 22:45, with a break between 15:00 and 17:00.

In other words, there were many hours of radio which were to be filled every week, with generous space for music. The Oslo Philharmonic entered into a contract with the NRK as a permanent radio orchestra, with the obligation to twenty rehearsal hours and seventeen broadcast concert hours per week, which, combined with the rest of the orchestra work made for a tough schedule. 

While the contract with the NRK rescued the orchestra from financial disaster, the easy access to music on the radio curbed the public interest in attending concerts somewhat. At any rate, ticket sales went down after the radio broadcasts started. In the long run, however, the availability of orchestral music on the radio is bound to have been a positive development. Listeners from far beyond the capital gained access to it, and orchestral music reached much broader targets than it had ever done before.

(Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa)

Founding of the Choir

The Choir of the Philharmonic Association (today the Oslo Philharmonic Choir) made its debut on stage in January 1921, performing Luigi Cherubini’s Requiem, with José Eibenschütz conducting. The choir counted seventy members, and received positive reviews following the concert.

In the beginning, the choir consisted primarily of students from the city’s many vocal training institutions. This led to frequent changes in membership, as many students dropped out after completing their education. The choir was therefore in danger of being closed down not long after its establishment.

At this time, the choir was established as an independent association. Spearheading this was engineer H.A. Hemsen, an important driving force in the first years, who also served as Chairman of the Association for many years.

At the choir’s ten year anniversary, Hemsen summed up its concert activity, which reflects how active it had been: it had performed as many as 124 times, presenting twenty-nine different works. It had performed Beethoven’s ninth symphony as many as twenty-eight times, and this was at the top of the list of the choir’s most frequently performed pieces.

Norwegian music was also high on the list: Olav Trygvason by Edvard Grieg, Voluspå by David Monrad Johansen, and Heimferd by Ludvig Irgens-Jensen.

The most challenging work it had performed was, according to the Chairman, Arnold Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, which he described as follows: 

“No one could understand it; the choir sang in the east and the orchestra played in the west”. 

The tenth anniversary brought another great challenge: orchestra and choir performed Arthur Honegger’s great oratorio King David.

(Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa)