Words by Olivia Haughton
Photos: Frode Inge Helland / Navinder Tatter
I’ve just got back from a month in Norway and am easing myself back into the bustle of London life. Oslo, at less than a tenth of the size of London, has a very different feel to it and I was keen to find out how vibrant the city’s music scene is.
The Hardanger fiddle
While there, I spent a lot of time at NRK, Norway’s national TV and radio broadcasting corporation. Many of the building’s walls are lined with pictures of musicians and cabinets displaying historical TV and radio artifacts, modern Norwegian art and, most interesting to me, musical instruments. My eye was caught by the intricately decorated Hardanger fiddle, the country’s traditional instrument.
On first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking it is an ornate type of violin, but, as I came to appreciate, they two are very different beasts. Anne Hytta, a folk musician and Hardanger fiddler, explained that while you may be able to play the the instrument so that it sounds a little like a violin, traditionally it has a different kind of quality. “It is focussed on harmonies, which is very important in creating its full sound; kind of like an orchestra in one instrument.” I asked Hytta if she would play something for me, and as she did I immediately felt the instrument’s full sound. It’s not surprising really since it has five extra strings which resonate in sympathy to the main four. Having only heard recorded Hardanger fiddle music, I was struck by the wall of sound that enveloped me in such an intimate setting.
One of the best places to hear traditional Norwegian music like this is at a new venue in Oslo called Riksscenen. The purpose-built building houses three stages of different sizes, designed specifically for folk music and dancing. We found ourselves in the smallest of these rooms, which seats about 40 people at café tables, for a concert by local ensemble, Novgorod [pictured]. Led by accordionist Gabriel Fliflet, the quartet played a stomping set and had the audience in fits of laughter throughout. Even with my non-existent Norwegian, I grasped some of the jokes and couldn’t help but laugh at the double-bassist’s attempt to play, dance and sing while stood on top of a speaker. It was a very intimate space and a wonderful performance that really brought the music alive.
If you’re planing a trip to Oslo this spring then make sure you catch Hytta perform with her trio Slagr at Riksscenen on 16 March.
The Norwegian Radio Orchestra
On my search for the city’s alternative musical beat, I was told that NRK’s own Radio Orchestra might be of interest. Hearing them rehearse Brahms was beautiful, but it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. Chief Executive of the orchestra, Rolf Lennart Stensø, set me straight with his stories of the orchestra’s recent collaborations. As well as regularly performing traditional classical material, the musicians often team up with artists from other cultures.
Before Christmas a collaboration with Bhangra musicians was hugely successful, I’m told, as was their performance with Iranian musician Javid Afsari Rad. Even a concert with Norwegian black metal band, Dimu Borgir proved rewarding, which might seem hard to believe but, having listened to the recording, I have to concede that it works. The Opera House, where the orchestra sometimes perform, is a stunning piece of design and well worth a visit with, or without, a concert booked.
Oslo World Music Festival
Oslo is home to its very own World Music Festival, which, last year, hosted the likes of Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal, Balkan Brass Battle and Sezen Aksu. The festival has been growing since its conception in 1994 when it began as part of a movement to counter a growing sense of racism in the country that was adjusting to its new multiculturalism.
Oslo World Music Festival is now well established on the international scene and provides a great round off to the festival season. I don’t know about you, but the warmer weather of the last few days has got my festival anticipation going already!
If you can’t make a trip up north to get a feel of Norway’s music culture then perhaps you can tune into the airwaves instead. Listen out for Jungeltelegrafen, NRK radio’s weekly world music programme (with regular features in English) to get a feel of world music from a Norwegian point of view. Presenters Sigbjørn Nedland and Arne Berg have recently returned from a trip to Zanzibar, so I’m guessing there’ll be some interesting content to come.
I’m already day-dreaming about my next trip back to Norway and when I get there again, the music scene is one of the first things I’ll check out. Locals and regular visitors will, I’m sure, tell me that I’ve missed out vital venues or musicians, but this was my musical taste of the city and I’m already hooked.