A string quartet on the Pulpit rock, 600 steep metres above the Lyse fjord near Stavanger. The picture can serve as a symbol for the chamber music festival in Stavanger: totally surprising, and magnificent.
The cellist in the photo is Truls Mørk, who together with the oboist Gregor Zubicky created the festival almost immediately lifting it up to an international top level, and led it through 13 years. In 2004, the Grieg Trio took over as artistic leaders: Sølve Sigerland, violin; Ellen Margrete Flesjø, cello; and Vebjørn Anvik, piano. In 2010, they passed the torch to the clarinetist Martin Fröst and pianist Christian Ihle Hadland.
Truls Mørk wanted to make the festival into an oasis for busy musicians. Here, they live together for an entire August week, forming an extended family where they work, eat, and play together. Their joy in the inspiring togetherness shines out to the concert goers. Participants soon began to acknowledge the chamber music festival in Stavanger as one of the world’s best chamber music festivals; this appraisal was confirmed in 1996, when the organization of Europe’s leading festivals, European Festivals Association, invited us in.
The history of the festival
The listeners have learned
Many of the great composers have created some of their very best works in the chamber format. Throughout these years, the public in Stavanger has learned to appreciate this rich repertoire, and its power to move deeply when it is interpreted by outstanding artists. The festival has expanded the knowledge of classical pearls, opened for meetings with less well-known music, and in addition nurtured a culture where contemporary music has its natural place. The result is a public which immediately appreciates the superb moments. The exchange works both ways, as the musicians feel the listeners’ intensive attention and appreciation.
Each year, at least 20-30 artists participate. Truls Mørk brought in mostly soloists, creating ever-new groups. The Grieg Trio chose more ensembles, at the same time continuing the tradition of creating new combinations. In contrast to the polished interpretations of the permanent ensembles such groups can create a strong feeling of the spontaneous, the unique just-here-and-now.
“A shining future”, said Lutoslawski
Already Witold Lutoslawski, who was the active festival composer at the first festival in 1991, predicted a shining future for the festival. After him followed festival composers such as Edison Denisov, Isang Yun, George Crumb, Henri Dutilleux, Krzysztof Penderecki, and Magnus Lindberg. This enabled the listeners to experience leading composers close by, and hear their works interpreted by brilliant artists. Through the years, the festivals participants have included the pianists Martha Argerich, Jean-Jacques Thibaudet, Boris Berezovsky, Lars Vogt, Stephen Kovacevich, Kathryn Stott, Yefim Bronfman; the violinists Sergei Stadler, Leila Josefowicz, Leonidas Kavakos, Renaud Capuҫon; the singers Stephan Genz and Dietrich Henschel; the flautist Patrick Gallois; the clarinetist Michael Collins – most of them more than once. The world’s foremost viola players have all been here: Yuri Bashmet, Tabea Zimmermann, Nobuko Imai, Kim Kashkashian. These artists have played together with young talents, among them the violinist Priya Mitchell and the pianists Alexander Melnikov and Mihaela Ursuleasa.
Each year, at least one string quartet participates, and the list spans from the sparkling and adventurous young ones to the veterans Borodin – who also returned, the next year. “Of all the places we have visited, this is one of the most bewitching” declared the Russian quartet. “The nature, the culture, the closeness to the water, the boat trip – everything is a great experience.” The artists come here for the companionship, working intensively for an entire week for lower fees than many of them otherwise receive for one single concert. “The festival is full of charm, we meet so many great musicians, and the chamber music repertoire is enormous” said Kovacevich. “Chamber music is a short cut to getting to know each other. You play without make-up, have nothing to hide behind, are much more open and vulnerable” declared Argerich.
Opens for young talent
Clearly, the chamber music festival is happy to receive artists who want to come back, but also finds it important to bring in names that are new in Norway – at the same time, always including some of the foremost young Norwegian talent. For several of these musicians, the festival has served as jumping-off ground for new collaborations and international engagements. Since 1996, the festival has also contributed in another way to the growth of new talent: young musicians from all over the world attend the master classes of ISA, our International Summer Academy, to learn more about music and dance, working for a fortnight with experienced practitioners. In addition to their classes they can attend all concerts and experience their models at close quarters.
One important element when Truls Mørk chose Stavanger was the framework that the town and its surroundings offer. Domkirken, the Norman-Gothic cathedral from the late Middle Ages, seats 700 and at the same time gives the impression of charming intimacy. The late-evening concerts in the cathedral have become a beloved concept for both artists and listeners.
20 minutes’ drive from Stavanger lies Norway’s only remaining monastery from the Middle Ages. The acoustics of Utstein Kloster’s chapel were created for the singing of the monks, and continue to impress and charm our artists and our listeners.
In Bjergsted, centrally in Stavanger, the splendid new concert house provides a generous frame for the gala concert of the festival. Here, the participants themselves come up with ideas inspired by the week’s companionship, and the only problem is usually to limit the programme to four hours.
A large, and by now extremely experienced and skilled corps of volunteers, “kammertjenere”, keep all wheels well lubricated, reacting fast and efficiently to any wishes and needs with the one clear goal in sight: helping the musicians be able to communicate the entire range of the music’s riches.