Even the skateboarders in front of City Hall paused to listen when the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra launched into Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” at a rare outdoor concert Thursday evening. It was an even rarer, perfect late summer evening in the Norwegian capital, where no less than four music festivals are currently spreading joy all over town.
Thousands of spectators milled around the plaza in front of City Hall while the lucky ones found seating on benches in front of the outdoor stage. The crowd was respectfully quiet but smiling as Beethoven’s 9th Symphony reverberated over the plaza, drowning out the skateboarders and the occasional tram rolling by.
Suddenly a few hot air balloons wafted over the city as well, adding to the magic. The Philharmonic held the concert in cooperation with the City of Oslo and it drew fans like a magnet.
The stage used by the orchestra was due to host more musicians throughout the weekend, as the annual multi-cultural Mela Festival got underway on Friday. It drew more than 300,000 people last year and festival organizers were expecting as many or more this year, with ethnic food stands and musicians like Karpe Diem, Mira Craig, Abrar ul Haq of Pakistan and Ale Möller of Sweden on the program. Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, keen on promoting Norway as a multi-cultural country, was to officially open the festival, free to the public and running through Sunday evening.
Not free but wildly popular as well is the annual Øya Festival,which sold out last month and kicked off on Wednesday. It offers well-known and lesser-known bands playing in various locations around Oslo but centered in the outdoor Middle Ages Park in Gamlebyen , the oldest part of the city and site of Oslo’s earliest settlements. Around 15,000 fans were expected every day in the park, to hear such artists as Marit Larsen, the Arctic Monkeys, Röyksopp and Band of Horses.
On a quieter note, the annual Oslo Chamber Music Festival was also getting underway on Friday. Spearheaded by violinist Arve Tellefsen, the festival runs through August 22, with concerts in such special locations as the Royal Palace, the Akershus Fortress, the Opera House, Oscars Hall and on board a boat on the Oslo Fjord. Tellefsen, who will play himself at several of the 27 concerts on the program, said the festival aims to showcase young, new talent as well as international stars.
The Oslo Jazz Festival, meanwhile, has been going on all week after kicking off August 9 and featuring more than 70 concerts throughout its run. Among them was a nationally televised tribute to the late Norwegian jazz singer Radka Toneff, and an outdoor concert by Antony and the Johnsons, with the public filling the roof of Oslo’s Opera House and the stage set up on a barge on the fjord.