Norway: the Oslo Philharmonic

Last year the Oslo Philharmonic invited a group of schoolchildren into its home venue, the city’s Konserthus, to perform a challenging, experimental programme of music. ‘We thought it was great,’ says CEO Ingrid Røynesdal. ‘But afterwards, the teachers said next year we should just perform a ‘simple’ Tchaikovsky symphony.’

Despite Oslo’s vibrant classical and contemporary scene, with a wealth of concerts and shows available on any given day, the Oslo Philharmonic is uniquely placed to provide a powerful and immersive symphonic experience. So Røynesdal’s strategy for the orchestra’s educational outreach is to keep things simple – unusual at a time when many arts organisations are relying on increasingly experimental, cross-disciplinary and inventive tactics to impress their young listeners.

‘For me it’s about self-confidence,’ Røynesdal says. ‘When this orchestra plays a huge symphonic work, it’s fantastic and we should really believe in that, and believe that it will also work for younger people. I’ve talked to so many young people who have said it’s amazing to be exposed to this music, and that they’ve never experienced anything like it before.’

This uniqueness is also the reason why the philharmonic invites students into the concert hall, rather than visiting schools across Oslo. ‘Instead of going out there, and being part of the city’s very rich chamber music environment, we really want to bring children into the hall and provide a special experience. We find that very few young people have ever set foot in the hall; it’s important for us to invite them here to see the hall and the large orchestra.’

‘Petrenko’s motivation and charisma is taking the philharmonic to a new level’

A straightforward approach when it comes to outreach does not seem to extend to Oslo Philharmonic’s main programming and touring, which under chief conductor Vasily Petrenko, has been increasingly ambitious in the past year. ‘The orchestra has a wonderful relationship with Petrenko, whose motivation and charisma is taking the philharmonic to a new level,’ says Røynesdal. ‘He also gives so much of himself in performances, he’s a great communicator with our audiences.’

Petrenko has also caught international attention; the orchestra has recently returned from a demanding two-week tour of Japan. ‘It’s difficult to read their reviews because I don’t read Japanese,’ laughs Røynesdal, ‘but the tour seems to have been very well received, and we were happy with how it went.’

Meanwhile at home, the orchestra continues its intensive support of composers – both established and emerging. The orchestra’s composer-in-residence scheme commissions one of Norway’s well-known composers for a year’s residence, which includes four concerts; several chamber pieces and one major premiere for the orchestra. ‘The programme is for an established composer whose work has the potential to be part of our standard repertoire,’ says Røynesdal. ‘We build a relationship and give them a situation where they can write consistently for an orchestra for a whole year.’ The composer-in-residence for the 2014-15 season, Henrik Hellstenius, will write a major piece of music to celebrate 200 years of the Norwegian constitution.

The Oslo Philharmonic’s Young Composers Programme provides opportunities for budding composers still in high school. ‘They’re coached by professional composers, have workshops with the musicians, and then have a public concert of their pieces,’ says Røynesdal. ‘That brings in a lot of families and supporters who aren’t part of our subscriber base. It’s really fun, there’s a lot of creativity.’