On September 28th the Ultima festival for contemporary music opens in Oslo. The program is more extensive than ever, with names and events that prove Ultima’s coming of age as a festival of international magnitude.
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 fifteen 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.
To juxtapose different contemporary expressions and investigate and display the current underlying artistic notions is an expressed goal for the festival. This is manifest in the broad-scoping and very extensive program. Lately the festival has also become more and more noticeable in the media as well as physically; in the streets of Oslo, and it has procured the status of “Hub-Festival,” entailing high national and regional priority and thus long-term financing.
The theme of Ultima 2006 is “Music as memory.” As the program expresses it, the festival wishes to focus on the properties of music as a vehicle for sustaining and transporting impressions and “contemporary truths” through time. Music has the ability to constitute a core around which a whole zeitgeist, the complex of human time-specific understanding comes to revolve in retrospect.
In light of this theme, the festival wishes to emphasise on our ability to understand the past, i.e. specific periods or events, by way of music which is intimately related to that period of event.
Is it not the case that the profound attunement that music entails sets the scene for grasping other aspects and levels of a certain period’s spirit?
-And further: how does this property of music capture our own time and our own understanding of it? And what about the near-past, which is not cut-off, but rather merges with the present?
These questions Ultima will set forth through an array of different perspectives. One string of concerts will focus on IRCAM and that French institution’s position as a musical mouthpiece of “contemporary Europe.” And the focus on IRCAM interweaves with the chief focal point, namely this year’s festival composer, Luca Francesconi. The Italian composer has worked extensively at IRCAM and is undoubtedly one of leading forces in European contemporary music. Francesconi will, in addition to performing chamber music, also give master classes in composition, supervise workshops, contribute in debates, and discuss the issue of “music as memory," which is the topic of the annual "Ars Nova conferance" arranged by the European Festivals' Association (EFA), Norsk Komponistforening (Association of Norwegian composers) and Ultima.
In addition to the musical and theoretical aspects Ultima will also feature extra-musical co-contemporary expressions such as dance, theatre and film, the inclusion of which underlines Ultima’s make-up as a festival and forum of contemporary art as such.
The rising status of Ultima, and the exiting promise of this year’s program, is a telling indication of the general well-being of contemporary music in Norway and Europe. Over three weeks from its kick-off on September 28th more than 30 world premiers will take place, and a plenitude of audacious and original constellations and performances will have reached the public. Norway’s contributions include winners of last year’s Nordic Council music prize, Cikada, and the performance of Ruben Sverre Gjertsen’s Circles, which premiered just a few weeks ago in Luzern. The program is very extensive, and for anyone interested in contemporary music and art, the causes for anticipation are innumerable.