Thu 8th of September marks the start of one of Oslo’s cultural highlights this autumn; the Ultima Festival.
The Ultima festival for contemporary music is one of the cultural highlights of the autumn season in Norway. This is due to the impressive standard the event has reached, both musically and as vital forum for debate and conceptualization. This elevated status is a product of focused collaboration between eighteen central institutions of Norwegian music; a joint undertaking that has developed over the course of seventeen years. Ultima’s significance has been steadily rising, and today the event appears as a major cultural happening, viewed as important to Norwegian contemporary art in general.
Writes the festival in this year’s opening press statement. - A keyword for this year’s festival is morph, or transformation. The Greek word morphe means form. In the field of linguistics we understand morphology as the study of how words are composed of morphemes, while in the field of biology it refers to the study of different forms of living organisms. The modern sense of the word, i.e. an image that gradually transforms into another, is also related to the word metamorphosis.
Much of our everyday life, our understanding of culture and society, is founded on the certitude that we know who we are. Throughout history, we have regarded ourselves as the root for the way in which we are described in literature and art. But we would also maintain that it is difficult to precisely describe the time in which we live, to see ourselves from the outside. Yet, during the Ultima Contemporary Music Festival you will hear and see many attempts and approaches to do so.
In our time, life changes faster than ever before, and we of course change along with it. Do we manage to keep up? Do we know who we are? At the concert given by Telemark Chamber Orchestra and POING, a sinfonia by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach will be performed between first performances of works by Bent Sørensen and Olav Anton Thommesen. We look forward to seeing the effect on the audience and our self; whether or not we are still the same people we have heard about and compared ourselves with throughout history. Has evolution transformed our species into something which, when viewed from a recent historical perspective, appears alien and disturbing, without us being aware of it ourselves? Have we mutated into monsters with the help of our digitized everyday life? Exploring these frontiers, vocalist Tone Åse uses electronic effects to convey personal and human stories. We will experience a range of electro acoustic lounges – one of them juxtapose archive recordings of folk music with found sound objects of classic electro acoustic music – and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra performs music by Tristan Murail for orchestra and electronics.
And what about the cultural aspect? It is an established fact that people in our time migrate faster and to a greater extent than ever before, and that they create societies in which new attitudes and values foster new expressions. From a historical perspective, we will hear what the ancient music of the Bedouins of Egypt sounds like in interaction with the Greek composer Iannis Xenakis’ desire to recreate the archaism and brutality of Greek antiquity as it is expressed in Kassandra. Cellist Tanja Orning’s renderings of music by Helmut Lachenmann, perhaps today’s most renowned living composer, are presented as musical dialogues with Zeng Xiaogang, who plays thousand-year-old pieces written for the guqin, a Chinese string instrument for which Confucius himself composed! The political upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa inspired us to look towards those regions in connection with this year’s program, and we therefore have musicians and composers from Egypt, Palestine, and Tajikistan, as well as from the Sámi community, China, Japan, USA and the whole of Europe.
In POING we feel most at home when we’re actually playing music ourselves, and we endure to take an active part in Ultima, joining the many other exciting musicians who can be heard at various concerts. We have ventured into what is new and exciting territory for us, such as collaborations with Lars Lillo-Stenberg, Farangis Nurulla-Khoja, Lasse Marhaug, flamenco-inspired music and much, much more. But we are of course just as excited about all the fantastic artists we have invited, and the numerous premieres that will be taking place.
There will be lots of concerts, but there will also be films, acrobatics, opera performances, master classes, installations, lectures, and debates. We are presenting legends and world-class artists alongside talented students and indie artists. The festival will be taking place all over town, from the Opera House to the Oslo National Academy of the Arts, from Gamle Logen to Taxi Take Away