Church music draws crowds

The churches of Oslo have been alive with the sound of music this week, thanks to the latest Oslo International Church Music Festival in the Norwegian capital. The churches more often are locked up and seem rather dead, in the midst of another registered decline in attendance at church services. 

The choir "Oslo kammerkor" has been among those performing this week at the 13th annual Oslo International Church Music Festival. PHOTO:  Oslo kirkemusikkfestivalen

Choirs like “Oslo kammerkor” have been among those performing this week at the 13th annual Oslo International Church Music Festival. PHOTO: Oslo kirkemusikkfestivalen

The church music festival, now in its 13th year and running through the weekend, has attracted thousands of people to churches all over Oslo, where they’ve been treated to the likes of singers and musicians including The Tallis Scholars (called “the rock stars of Renaissance music”), the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Nidaros Cathedral’s Boys’ Choir. The festival is billed as “an inclusive forum for church musicians, choirs, orchestras and ensembles, and for people regardless of their faith.”

The common element is the music, from organ recitals to chamber music and Gregorian chants. The festival has featured early music and classics like Handel’s Messiah but also highlights contemporary music and attempts to make it more visible and accessible. Organizers claim they “focus on the diversity of church music as a historical genre,” both preserving the tradition and developing it further.

Organist and Professor Bjørn Boysen planned to conduct a tour on Sunday of several of Oslo's churches that have special organs, with students demonstrating them. PHOTO: Oslo kirkemusikkfestivalen

Organist and Professor Bjørn Boysen planned to conduct a tour on Sunday of several of Oslo’s churches that have special organs, with students demonstrating them. PHOTO: Oslo kirkemusikkfestivalen

This year’s festival has been supported by, among others, the City of Oslo, the embassies of France, Spain and Italy, Norsk Kulturråd and foundations including Fritt Ord and Bergesen. Organizers could happily report packed pews, standing ovations and good reviews as the festival prepared to wind down with a concert in Oslo’s historic Gamle Aker Church on Friday evening featuring the group Nordic Voices.

On Saturday afternoon there would be a special family-oriented concert at Uranienborg Church featuring Vivaldi’s music for children, along with an evening concert at the Oslo Cathedral featuring the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, with Mendelssohn and Bruckner on the program.

The festival was to end on Sunday with music at 11am church services back at the cathedral and Gamle Aker Church and at the Østre-Aker and Helgerud churches. Organist and professor Bjørn F Boysen planned a tour of the organs at various churches around Oslo including Ullern and the Swedish Margaretakyrkan, with music students demonstrating them, and the festival was ending with the Gabrieli Consort on Sunday evening. (For details see the festival’s website – external link)

Church attendance otherwise in decline
While the Oslo International Church Music Festival was attracting audiences, Norway’s state church had to report another decline in overall church attendance at 10 of 11 of its bispedømmer (diocese) around the country last year.

Newspaper Vårt Land, which also supported the festival, reported that after an increase of 3 percent in 2011, attendance fell by 208,916 persons to around 6 million at the 64,100 church services held on Sundays and weekdays. An average of 95 persons took part in church services, also down slightly from 2011, when the terrorist attacks of July 22 are believed to have caused the upswing in church attendance that year.

In the Oslo diocese, total church attendance throughout the year fell by 16,000 persons. In Stavanger the decline amounted to 28,000, and more than 30,000 in Tunsberg, 40,000 in Nord-Hålogaland, and nearly 32,000 in Agder and Telemark. Only the Nidaros diocese, based in Trondheim, registered an increase, of more than 14,000.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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