I t’s been 20 years since festival director and artistic leader Bente Johnsrud held the first church music festival in Oslo. Two decades later, the festival is bigger than ever, with this year’s theme being human rights, and with a special focus on Beethoven to mark 250 years since his birth.

The human rights theme is an important element throughout the festival. Spanish violinist and philanthropist Jordi Savall’s Orpheus XXI ensemble brings together refugee musicians who are not able to perform in their own countries.

“In many areas plagued by war and conflict, there is a rich cultural heritage, which is in danger of being wiped out. By playing their music and sharing their knowledge with young refugees, they prevent their traditions from disappearing,” Johnsrud says.

Previous themes have included the climate, slavery and the place of women in the world today. The festival is not afraid of putting these themes on the agenda. “We want, through music, to channel our voice into something good and raise the issue of abusive behaviour through religious practices,” Johnsrud explains. The festival strives to provide high quality in everything it does. “I often say that we give the audience what they don’t know they want, and that we try to bring Europe closer to Oslo,” she adds.

Human rights and Beethoven Oslo International Church Music Festival | Scan Magazine

German Hagen Quartet, Italian Accademia Bizantina and Belgian Bl!ndman Sax are a few of the thousands of musicians who perform each year at the festival. The festival – which takes place over ten days in March, with concerts being held in churches around Oslo – welcomes around 15,000 visitors each year.

As it’s 250 years since Beethoven was born, the festival also plans to mark this with several events throughout, the first being the opening concert with Missa Solemnis performed by Le Cercle de l’Harmonie from France and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir.
“Beethoven didn’t write much church music, but Missa Solemnis is one of the main reference works in this genre,” Johnsrud says.

She also points out that Beethoven fits well into this year’s theme: “He was a child of the French revolution and believed in music’s ability to unify people – he believed in humanity and the individual,” she explains.

As well as presenting music from the Middle Ages up to our time, the festival has commissioned more than 100 pieces throughout its 20 years. “For the jubilee festival, a new St Matthew Passion has been written by one of the most recognised composers of our time, Danish Bent Sørensen. This piece will be premiered by the Norwegian Soloist Choir and Ensemble Allegria under the direction of Grete Pedersen during our closing concert,” says Johnsrud.

Human rights and Beethoven Oslo International Church Music Festival | Scan Magazine

The festival will take place on 13 to 23 March.
Web: oicmf.no

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