Concert Hall strikes sour notes

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The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra has built up a strong following outside of Norway, but it’s unhappy over conditions at home. Even famed Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes is now singing the blues over poor acoustics in the Oslo Concert Hall.

“It’s really sad that what’s perhaps the Nordic area’s best orchestra has to perform in perhaps the Nordic area’s worst concert hall,” Andsnes told newspaper Aftenposten while making a brief stop in Oslo recently.

“There have been attempts to to make improvements, but more are needed,” he said.

Andsnes agrees with calls for a new concert hall. There’s a limit, he notes, to what interior modifications can accomplish. “I don’t think the Philharmonic, or Oslo’s entire music scene, will be really good before there’s a new building,” he said.

The renowned pianist, stopping in Oslo during his latest concert swing through Europe, said the Philharmonic hasn’t received enough public support in recent years, compared to other cultural institutions. “I’ve had many good experiences in the Oslo Concert Hall,” he allowed, “but more despite the acoustics than because of them.”Andsnes isn’t the first to criticize conditions inside the concert hall. Former conductor Mariss Jansons battled for years to improve the acoustics and finally resigned in frustration.

“He fought for his elite orchestra and won agreement in wide circles,” wrote the director of the annual music festival in Bergen, Per Boye Hansen, earlier this week in a commentary in Aftenposten . “That was rather un-Norwegian. That type of energy and support is usually reserved only for sports in Norway.”

Despite the traditional rivalry between Oslo and Bergen, Hansen believes the state of the Oslo Concert Hall is “the biggest cultural-political challenge we have today.” The Oslo Philharmonic, he notes, has evolved from being a provincial orchestra into one of the most respected on the international scene. “No other Norwegian institution can even compare,” he said.

Now, he says, “it’s no longer just a matter of special demands from a demanding star conductor, but deficiencies that can hinder artistic development.”

Odd S Gullberg, managing director of the Oslo Philharmonic, hopes the orchestra will have a new home by the time it celebrates its 100th anniversary, 10 years from now. “We have a good orchestra and I don’t see any crisis,” he told Aftenposten. “But we stand at a crossroads and the politicians need to make a decision. Shall we be a local city orchestra, or should we maintain our profile as one of the world’s leading orchestras?”

Given the dependency on public funding for culture in Norway, and the lack of sufficient corporate sponsorships, only those holding the public pursestrings can answer that question.

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