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The sound of Oslo

The vitality of the Oslo music scene must be experienced first hand to be fully appreciated. Imagine yourself standing in the centre of town at Youngstorget, with 30 of the most important venues to be found within a five-minute walk; in a city where there is more live music than anywhere else in Scandinavia – only rivalled by metropolises like London or New York.

Where does one begin to explain the synergies of music in Oslo? Where music as diverse as jazz, pop, classical, rockabilly, death metal and rock have found a home? Where entrepreneurs and purists have worked together in transcending musical borders and creating a veritable Garden of Eden? One good place to start is with the Artistic Director of the coming Pop Center (Popsenteret) Paal Ritter Schjerven, who finally can see the dreams of such a centre coming true after six years of hard work.

Schjerven has long been an active figure on the music and cultural scene, and the scene has never been more active than in Oslo at the present time. According to Schjerven, “Oslo has a music environment that must be experienced to be believed. Literally all music genres are represented; there are a lot of places to arrange gigs. Music enthusiasts really do have a wide range of excellent music to choose from on any given day, all through the year. The main reason for this is that there are a lot of enthusiasts who live and die for making live music events at smaller and bigger clubs, festivals and events! And now Oslo works hard to make facilities for music rehearsal, recording and performing easily accessible.”

The latest addition to the music scene in Oslo has been the November 2009 establishment of “The Association of Music Interests in Oslo”, also known as “Oslo Music Metropole”. With the support of Oslo Teknopol, the major music stakeholders in the city have established this organization in recognition of the importance live music has upon the urban life and ongoing development of the city. Oslo Music Metropole will play a central role in the future of this “Live Music Capital of Scandinavia”.

Kriss Kross will make you Jump! Jump!
© Richard Eriksen

A Musical Village
There are several projects that have been close to the heart of Schjerven’s activities over the years, the most recent being the establishment of a Pop Center in 2010 that will complement the Rehearsal Hotel opened in 2009, both parts of the Cultural Brewery. The Rehearsal Hotel is, like The Pop Center, managed by the Oslo City Agency of Cultural Affairs, and is available for literally everyone who is in need of rehearsal space.

Schjerven continues, “It is the vision of the music environment and the Oslo government to create a musical village within the city, one that will attract musicians, tourists, and of course the local population to a creative and artistic environment.”

The Pop Center will include exhibits, interactive activities and a deep and entertaining look into Norwegian popular musical history. Outdoors, there will be a restaurant and stages featuring local, national and international artists.

The active participation and support of the city government has been noticed and much appreciated by musicians and music lovers alike, as Schjerven indicated, “The City of Oslo showed vigour and determination to build a much-needed housing for the preservation, dissemination, exchange and development of all genres in popular music! And there is a lot of enthusiasm in the music industry and among interested audiences regarding these projects.”

The Festival City
The Øya (Island) Festival is a yearly mega-music fest held in the medieval park adjacent to the ultra modern Opera House. The event was a huge success again in 2009, drawing well over 60,000 people on hand to see hundreds of bands over a five-day period. Thousands of volunteers and a seasoned organization committee are on hand to assure the smooth running of this multi-venue event, which will be held again in 2010 from August 10th to the 14th. Oslo summer at its best and music all day and all night at the 2010 Øya Festival is something that should not be missed.

Øyafestival, Norway’s biggest music festival is held every August by the seaside at Bjørvika. On stage Arctic Monkeys in 2009.
© Erik Moholdt/Øyafetivalen

Oslo is host to musical festivals spring, summer, autumn and winter, and there perhaps is no better reason than to visit Oslo during long winter twilight than by:Larm, a yearly Norwegian music conference and festival held for the first time in 1998 in Trondheim. In 2009 more than 500 separate “gigs” (concerts) were staged in addition to the conference that included workshops, seminars and keynote speakers. Held every year in February, it is Scandinavia’s largest music convention. by:Larm is a festival that began in other cities of Norway, but now has found a home here in the capital city, with plans to keep it here for at least two more years.

The event spans three days and consists of seminars, lectures and workshops during the day and concerts in the evenings. The concerts include new and upcoming but as of yet still unknown bands – and the result is always a breakthrough for a number of bands who perform at by:Larm. The conference itself is attended by nearly 1,000 people from both within and outside the music industry.

Approximately 800 business people from Norway, the rest of Scandinavia and other countries took part in the 2009 event. One new aspect of the event is the awarding of a scholarship made possible by a grant from StatoilHydro. The grant of approximately EUR 100,000 aims to give young talent a better chance to market themselves and to make an impact internationally. The 2009 recipient, Mathias Eick, is from the Garbarek “School of Jazz” – a mainstay in the new jazz generation and a victor in this competition over pop and rock musicians – again showing the diversity of talent and cultures in this musical city.

According to Festival Manager Joakim Haugland, “The export of new Norwegian bands and artists to the international market is always an important focus for by: Larm, in addition to working with the Norwegian music industry to continue to strengthen the ‘bridge’ to the international environment. The by: Larm festival makes this possible by setting the stage for upcoming artists and bands to show their talents to the music business industry.”

Something for Everyone
In October and November each year, the Oslo World Music Festival brings international stars to the city. The popular festival shows the international flavour of the city, and includes some of the city’s most popular venues, including Rockefeller, Sentrum Scene and the Nasjonal Jazzscene.

Rock and metal are extremely popular throughout Scandinavia, and the heaviest of heavy metal and rock bands – many of which hail from Norway – visit the Easter “Inferno Festival”, The summer festival “Norwegian Wood” also feature well-known names and international music stars.

Jazz lovers are often overwhelmed by the possibilities on offer in Oslo. From small, specialist record stores and cafes, such as the popular “Bare Jazz” café in the city centre, to larger concert venues and annual festivals, including the six day jazz extravaganza, the Oslo Jazz Festival, held in August each year. Jazz is an important part of Oslo life, with many young and established artists based in the city. The Oslo Jazz Festival is also famous for the wide range of related musical genres, including electronica, gospel, blues and latin jazz. Jazz parades through Oslo’s centre and concerts especially for children are also featured as part of this city’s musical offerings to all ages.

The annual multi-venue music celebration Music Day Oslo takes place on the first Saturday in June and has its background in the French event Fête de la Musique, which is also held each year in June. As with the other nearly 100 music days worldwide, Music Day Oslo mainly takes place at outdoor venues – and everything is free to the public. The size of the event has grown dramatically in recent years from 10 in the late nineties to almost 40 different venues in 2009.

The outside roof is also a well used and popular space at the Oslo Opera house.
© Den Norske Opera og Ballett/Erik Berg

Classically World-Class
Oslo’s classical music scene has always garnered respect the world over. The opening, in 2008, of one of the world’s finest new opera houses was greeted with international acclaim. “I am confident that through international cooperation the new opera house and its many artists and professions – onstage and backstage – will increase interest in Oslo and Norway,” said Norwegian Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre. There is little doubt that he is right – already the opera has proved a sell-out attraction, with people coming from around the world to see productions such as Verdi’s Don Carlo and Bizet’s Carmen.

The Opera House is also becoming well-known for a different type of event – absolutely free to the public. Keep your eyes open for cultural music events on the roof of the Opera House – an experience not to be missed.

Another musical experience to be taken in is the Café de Concert. Here the aim is to present classical music to a larger audience by creating a more relaxed atmosphere. The idea behind Café de Concert is that classical music can once again become a main vein of popular music, as days gone by. For more information, see www.cafedeconcert.no

Oslo itself is host to a number of respected international ensembles and artists. The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra tours worldwide, as well as performing regularly at the Oslo Concert House, and has won awards including the Grand Prix du Disque and the German Classical Music Award. The Oslo Chamber Music Festival showcases the best Norwegian artists, including jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek, cellist Truls Mørk and a number of ensembles including the Norwegian Baroque Orchestra. One of the most exciting string quartets of recent times, the Leipzig String Quartet also visited Oslo during the 2009 festival.

The bottom-line is that when you are in Oslo – or when you have a chance to be in Oslo – make the most of that opportunity and take in one or more of the 5,000 yearly musical events here in the city.

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