Risør Kammermusikkfest: 30 years of chamber music
Text: Alyssa Nilsen | Photos: Liv Øvland
On the south-eastern coast of Norway, amongst the idyllic surroundings of the Norwegian archipelago, you’ll find the town of Risør. Once a year, the town known as ‘the white town by the Skagerrak’, due to its white wooden houses and its location by the Skagerrak Sea, plays host to acclaimed Norwegian chamber music festival, Risør Kammermusikkfest.
Founded in 1991, Risør Kammermusikkfest has grown from a small festival for local classical and chamber music fans, to a beacon amongst its kind, drawing classical music fans from all over the world. 2020 will see its 30th anniversary, and big celebrations are in order!
“The festival started as a bit of a crazy idea,” laughs general manager Eirik Raude. “Risør is a tiny town, which isn’t exactly full of fitting concert venues, but the initial organisers had a vision of making the best festival in Norway, and potentially one of the best in the world. They really felt like they’d made it in 2002 when the New York Times named it one of the most exciting festivals of Europe.”
The intimate vibe of the festival is something the arrangers, visitors and performing musicians treasure. Raude explains that the combination of Risør’s stunning surroundings, with its quaint, white wooden buildings, along with its short distances, makes it the perfect place for a festival like Risør Kammermusikkfest. With locations scattered around town, all within walking distance of each other, the visitors and musicians get a chance to mingle, get to know each other and make friends on the way to their next concert.
International artists for international crowds
The result has become a festival sought after by acclaimed international musicians, who often request an invitation to come and play. The festival also attracts an international audience, with last year’s festival seeing visitors from several European countries as well as from the US and Japan.
The beautiful Baroque church in the town centre is the festival’s main venue, offering enchanting experiences with magical sound and acoustics. But, for a place like Risør, the outdoors offers more impressive scenery than any venue ever could. The festival uses this to its advantage, building a large outdoor stage by a lighthouse on an island, making the surrounding fjord and archipelago a breathtaking backdrop – particularly when the sun sets late at night.
Festival boats carry the visitors between the island and the town. There’s also a stage in an industrial building downtown, for evening concerts with more of a festival vibe and a broader appeal than the main programme, featuring artists that people not necessarily familiar with chamber music might know.
A big celebration
To celebrate the 30th anniversary, the festival is putting together a brand-new chamber orchestra, featuring Norway’s best string instrumentalists between the ages of 20 and 25. “It’s our anniversary present to ourselves,” Raude explains. “For the first few years of the festival, there was a festival chamber orchestra called Risør Festival Strings, and we’re bringing that back. It ensures the festival much larger opportunities in terms of the programme, having a steady group of that size at hand.”
This year’s festival features famous Norwegian trumpet player Tine Thing Helseth, who has also joined the festival’s artistic management, bringing young classical musicians to the festival. One of those is Japanese-Canadian violinist Karen Gomyo, as well as Norwegian violinists Sonoko Miriam Welde and Ludvig Norum Gudim. Other famous Norwegian names include Kim Rysstad, a traditional folk singer from Setesdal, known from Norwegian TV’s Stjernekamp. The practice of traditional music and dance in Setesdal was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List just before Christmas. Helene Bøksle, known for her participation in Norwegian TV shows Kjempesjansen and Melodi Grand Prix, the national qualifier for the Eurovision Song Contest, is another famous musician visiting the festival in 2020. Bøksle was nominated for a Hollywood Music Award in 2008, and has several best-selling albums in Norway.
About Risør Kammermusikkfest: - A classical music festival founded in 1991 - Arranged annually at the end of June - The 2020 festival takes place on 23-28 July - Famous pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and violinist Christian Tetzlaff are among previous artistic leaders - Named one of the ten most important events in classical music by the New York Times - Attracts some of the world’s best musicians every year - Celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2020 The official programme for the festival will be released on 27 February. Web: www.kammermusikkfest.no Facebook: risorkammermusikkfest Instagram: @risorkammermusikkfest
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