Blast from The Past – Part Three
Summers at the Holmenkollen
I hadn’t planned on blogging this week as I have been going through a bit of writer’s block these past two months as well as being quite busy. However, in my daily perusal of the Internet and YouTube in particular, I came across a new link to the NRK TV archives which included links to the Holmenkollen concerts of the 1980s and 1990s! Yet another blast from the past, and one just sharp enough to loosen this writer’s block a little to enable me to post this short blogpost.
In 1983, the Norwegian Broadcasting Company (NRK- short for Norsk Riks Kringkasting0 and the Skiing Association (Norsk Skiforeningen) teamed up with the Oslo Philharmonic to produce a series of concerts at the famed Holmenkollen Ski Jump situated not far from downtown Oslo. The concerts were to be played and broadcast in the month of June, and they were to be an annual event, meaning one concert a year. There was a lot of preparation that went into them and it while it would be too expensive to do more than one, the organizations involved put their “shoulders to the wheel” so to speak, and made each concert an event, with short balletic presentations, appropriate orchestral selections (mostly light and medium classical selections) and the hiring of international guest soloists as well as native Norwegian soloists and artists. The first concert was played and broadcast in June of 1983, just before I took up my position with the orchestra. (I started with the orchestra in September of 1983).
Mariss Jansons was the conductor and he returned to preside over the event in 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987 and 1988 and again in 1993, which was the 150th anniversary of the birth of the composer Edvard Grieg. Other conductors included Gregor Nowak, Vernon Handley, Rafael Frübeck de Burgos, Heinz Wallberg, among others. Soloists included Ragnar Ulfung, Issac Stern, Dame Kiri Ti Kanawa, Leif Ove Andsnes, Elise Båtnes (now the orchestra’s concertmaster), Maurice André as well as others. The ballet ensemble Carte Blance participated, and if I am not mistaken the Norwegian Opera Ballet also appeared in some of the productions.
Weather in Norway is always iffy, as rain is predominant in the Oslo area. The weather authorities were consulted and after determining that early June offered the best chance for clear weather, it was decided to give the concert in June and call it “The Summer Concert at the Holmenkollen.” (Sommerkonerten I Holmenkollen).
Preparations for the concert plus the concert took up the last eight days of the season just ending. We would rehearse the selections, and if any of those was to be performed as a ballet, we would record it for the performers (much of this was done one year in advance – the would actually be for the following season’s concert), and then it was up to the Holmenkollen for rehearsals on the Friday before the concert – the concert were on Sundays. On the Sunday, we would do a complete run-through in place – dressed for the concert – for the benefit of audio and video (much of the camera work was done from boats floating in the basin at the bottom of the ski jump). After the dress rehearsal, we had a half hour to relax before getting back into position and concert usually began on the stroke of 2:00 pm local time.
I personally enjoyed playing the concerts, but there was the fact that despite the advantage of a huge tent covering the orchestra, weather was still a factor. We were generally lucky with the weather. There was only one concert that was cancelled due to weather, and that was after we had played the general rehearsal. This was in 1990. We had just finished the rehearsal (things were starting to look doubtful while we played) and it started pouring rain. That put paid to concert (the 1989 concert was rebroadcast) and Vernon Handley, scheduled to conduct the canceled 1990 concert was re-engaged for 1992.
The only other concert that proved problematic was the 1994 concert, with Heinz Wallberg conducting and Dame KiriTi Kanawa as soloist. We played the concert in good weather, but because of an NRK strike, only the audience at the Holmenkollen saw and heard it as it was not broadcast.
Other than that, the concerts went on until about 2000, when the Skiforeningen and NRK decided to end their collaboration. In a way, it was sad as a lot of people looked forward to the broadcasts and may enjoyed the concerts up at the Holmenkollen in person. Happily, the Oslo Philharmonic plays several outdoor concerts each season so the tradition continues, just in a different way.
Enjoy the links! Particularly the 1988 concert. We played a gallop by H.C. Lumbe (called the Danish Johan Strauss II) called the “Jernbanegalop”. The whole percussion section wears train conductor’s caps, and my colleague Per Erik Thorsen is in charge of the train whistle!