Risør chamber music festival turns 20

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Leading musicians from all over the globe will once again be arriving soon in the small Norwegian coastal town of Risør, to take part in the Risør Festival of Chamber Music later this month. This year the festival, long led by famous pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

The midsummer light makes the outdoor concert on Stangholmen island outside the harbour a memorable experience. PHOTO: Risør Kammermusikkfestival/Liv Øvland

Risør, about a three-hour drive south of Oslo, is perhaps best known for its white-painted wooden houses and wooden boats, It also has been able to boast the musical support and affection of Andsnes, one of the world’s most highly acclaimed pianists.

Leif Ove Andsnes is stepping down as co-director, but will be back to play in the festival next year. PHOTO: Sven Goll

Andsnes, nominated for four Grammy awards in recent years, has decided it’s time to move on, though, and will be leaving his role as artistic co-director of the chamber music festival at the end of this year’s event. He was still planning to perform during the festival, but “reluctantly” withdrew because he’s expecting his first child during the actual week of the festival.

Festival organizers have already invited him back to play next year, and viola player Lars Erik Tomter remains as artistic director. From next year, violinist Henning Kraggerud will take over after Andsnes. Kraggerud has spent his summers from childhood next to the sea near Risør.

In ‘exile’ this year
Festival organizers choose a new theme for each year’s program. This year’s theme is “Exile,”  with each of the festival’s 17 concerts bearing a connection to the state of being away from one’s home country.

The festival composer for 2010 is the Australian viola player, Brett Dean. He studied in Queensland before he became part of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. He then returned to Australia to become a freelance musician and composer.

He is joined by among others, Measha Brueggergosman, the soprano who sang during the opening of the Vancouver Winter Olympics.  She will be spending the week  before her 33rd birthday singing a broad selection of music ranging from German lieder to spirituals.

Most concerts take place in the Church of the Holy Spirit, dating from 1647. The ornate interior and moderate size of the church give the concerts an intimate atmosphere. All vacant floor space is used during the performances, including the area behind the musicians by the altar.

An adult crowd often waits for an hour or more under the trees outside the church in order to get a good seat for the performance. North American accents mingle with the voices of the Norwegians in the audience. The Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)  generally offers extensive coverage from the six-day program, which begins June 22.

Views and News from Norway/Sven Goll
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