Ultima under the sign of pluralism

Our own times take centre stage and world premieres appear like beads on a string. It is time for the Ultima festival, northern Europe’s largest celebration of contemporary music and related art forms.


The 18th Ultima festival opens in Oslo’s new opera house with Melancholia, a new opera by festival composer Georg Friedrich Haas and libretto by Jon Fosse. The subject of Melancholia is the life and work of the Norwegian artist Lars Hertervig. The Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas, known for his carefully thought out approach to the field of microtonality, has always been fascinated by the relationship between textures, colours and images. In his new opera he embraces the stream of consciousness and ritornellos of Jon Fosse, a leading voice among writers today. Stanislas Nordey, stage director of Melancholia, received the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award for best new opera production in 2008.



Festival composer with dark undertones

Ultima is proud to present the Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas as this year’s festival composer. He is considered to be one of the leading European composers of today, and his music is regularly performed all over the world. Melancholia is his fourth opera.


Melancholia recently had its premier performance in Paris; the work is the result of a collaboration between the Opéra National de Paris, Den Nye Opera, Stavanger2008, the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet and the Ultima festival. The Norwegian took place in Sandnes on 12 September as part of the Stavanger2008 programme. The opera will play in Oslo on 1, 3 and 5 October before performances in Bergen on 12 and 14 February 2009. Melancholia is supported by the Troll fund and is part of the national opera production network AdOpera! Den Nye Opera is responsible for the production in Norway.


Norwegian, new, and thought-provoking

Tekstboks: The festival also offers a Norwegian world premiere in the new opera house – Cecilie Ore’s chamber opera Dead Beat Escapement which is based on the last words of condemned prisoners on death row and their requests for their last meal. Cecilie Ore has created a work in which the question of the rights of the individual in relation to the needs of society are explored in a highly original way. Dead Beat Escapement provides food for thought, but it is also burlesque and entertaining and poses the question of how much we have really achieved in our process of civilization.

©Knut Bry/tinagent,com


Six singers, six dancers and a master of ceremonies, all men, perform on stage. Nursery rhymes, poetry, gospel songs, moving documentary texts and a keen musical sense combine to push the boundaries of conventional opera as epic melodrama.


Tekstboks: Opera as an art form has always mirrored its own times through references to history and mythology. “Power, revenge, betrayal and lust are some of the vital ingredients of opera throughout history, and with the help of these ingredients opera as a form of drama explores the deeper ethical dilemmas which individuals and society encounter,” says the composer, Cecilie Ore. Dead Beat Escapement conforms to this tradition.


“What does it mean to be civilized? This was a question which presented at an early stage of working on Dead Beat Escapement, and it was fundamental to my choice of theme and for the further development of textual material for the opera,” explains the composer. “I wanted to address a topic which was both current and which had strong roots in our history. I chose corporal punishment as my theme, with all the implications this method of punishment has for the individual and for society.” Dead Beat Escapement was commissioned by the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet and received its premier performance on 17 October 2008 during the Ultima festival.


Cecilie Ore ©Elin Høyland


Tekstboks: Other powerful stories

In collaboration with the Italian concert organizers Musica per Roma Ultima has helped develop a music project at the Palestinian music school Al-Kamandjati which, under the guidance of Ramzi Aburedwan, teaches music to Palestinian children in refugee camps. “Their first wish was to involve a Norwegian partner in the project, because of the role Norwegian diplomacy has played in this part of the world,” explains Geir Johnson, director of the Ultima festival.


The project is based on the story of Ramzi Aburedwan who at the age of eight through the stone which triggered the intifada in 1987. Ramzi became a professional musician and later returned to his home country where he started a music school for young refugees. Many of Aburedwan’s young pupils perform in the new stage production Al Kamandjati, which also features new music by Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, a leading Muslim composer. The production received its premier performance in Rome in November 2007, and was presented in Ramallah in April this year. The first Norwegian performance took place this summer in Trondheim, Ramallah’s sister town, followed by a performance in Bodø. The Ultima performance marks the end of the Norwegian tour. The Hebrew texts by Amira Hass have been translated into Norwegian for the performances here and are read by the Norwegian actor Bjørn Sundquist. The project has received support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the City of Trondheim.


Europe seen from the outside

This year’s Ultima festival offers several transcultural projects in addition to Al Kamandjati; among these are the Ensemble Al-Kindi which performs erotic court music from Persia, and Kim Ngoc, a Vietnamese multimedia artist.


Ultima has invited two composers, both of them women, whose background has given them the opportunity to observe the European musical avant-garde from the outside, while they at the same time have learnt its techniques.


Tekstboks: Kim Ngoc studied in Hanoi before travelling to Cologne on a DAAD grant to study with Johannes Fritsch. Here she also took a course in electronic music with Karlheinz Stockhausen. Both prior to her stay in Germany and afterwards she studied traditional Vietnamese music. Ngoc is a performer and vocalist, and has developed her own singing techniques. The music theatre project Kim Ngoc brings to Ultima is entitled What makes the spider spin her web. This is a line from an old Vietnamese song which often appears as a quotation in other songs and stories in Vietnamese culture.

Kim Ngoc ©SonX

“This sentence has both an element of questioning and an element of sadness about it. It always affects me and makes me think of women, of what ties them down, the journey they share, all women in all ages,” says Kim Ngoc about her work.


Frangiz Ali-Zadeh has written the music to the Ultima production Al-Kamandjati about conditions for the young in Palestine during the intifada. Ali-Zadeh herself comes from Azerbaijan. Critics have commended the ability of her music to reach out to specialists as well as the general public. Ali-Zadeh studied in Baku in the Soviet Union. She is a pianist and gave several Soviet premieres of works by Cage, Crumb, Schnittke and Gubaidulina.


She has previously lived in Turkey and the USA and now resides in Berlin. Since the early 1990s she has tried to combine avant-garde concepts of timbre and structure with orally transmitted traditional music from the Middle East. Following a portrait concert featuring Ali-Zadeh’s music at the Berlin festival Ultraschall in 2000, a music critic from the Berliner Morgenpost wrote “Regardless of ‘language’ she [Ali-Zadeh] succeeds, with a rare directness of expression, in producing music which is at the same time personal and universal, something which is hardly to be found, and may never be found, in ‘our’ composers.” “In our confused and cynical times humans have lost one of their most important qualities: emotional purity and health,” as the composer herself puts it.

Tekstboks: New works, and Stockhausen’s ultimate

Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) was perhaps the composer in the West most closely associated with the development of electroacoustic music. Through his work he arrived at compositional methods which, more than ever before, rationalized the artistic process. In recent years Stockhausen’s music has been discovered and appreciated by the younger generation of electronica artists.


Balance, the last work Stockhausen completed before his death at Christmas in 2007, was commissioned by ensemble recherche in collaboration with WDR Köln, the Ultima festival and Musica – festival international des musiques d’aujourdhui de Strasbourg. It was given its premier performance on 23 August in Cologne, and receives its Norwegian premiere in a performance by ensemble recherche at this year’s Ultima festival.




37 world premieres in 19 days

Ultima’s audience can as usual look forward to hearing some of the finest international ensembles, musicians and soloists of today in performances of familiar and unfamiliar masterpieces of the 20th and 21st centuries. No fewer than 37 new works receive their premier performance in the course of the festival!


In addition to the numerous concerts there is a special focus on stage art. As part of this focus Ultima and Norske Festivaler will host a two-day conference from 16 – 17 October entitled ‘Are opera and dance on the way up in Norway?’


There will be a packed performance weekend offering innovative music theatre and installations at Black Box Teater, and new productions at Dansens Hus.

 Tekstboks: Dance and music are inseparably linked. Musician Mari Boine and dancer Liv Hanne Haugen examine this interaction in a performance at the intersection between concert and dance entitled ‘Jesus said: Go now, Mary, I cannot bear much more…’ This performance is a meeting of two women from the north of Norway who represent two different cultures. What gestures, what music will arise in the spaces in between?


The second production at Dansens Hus, Signum Axis, is an encounter between one of Norway’s most renowned choreographers, Sølvi Edvardsen, and the famed Danish trumpeter and composer Palle Mikkelborg.


Composer Marcus Paus has been commissioned by Oslo Camerata to write a 40 minute work for string quartet, narrator and painter. The work is intended as a multimedia performance for families and children from the age of 6 or 7, based on Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Canterville Ghost’.


Young audience members are also invited to experience the Ultimachine at the Henie Onstad Art Centre on Saturday 11 October. Ultima’s sound and soul will be fed into the Ultimachine – an open web mixer located at The ElektrOpus sound competition for the young will be launched with a concert by Båndvidda and school children. The best Ultimachine mix 2008 will be selected.


We are also proud to present an exciting art project by Rom for Dans – arena for dansekunst I Oslo: Absolutt virkelig – a dance performance in 3 acts. This production marks the conclusion of Project Isadora, a 3 year dance development project for children from 4 to 16 and professional dancers. The project has been led by Camilla Myhre and Caroline Wahlstrøm Nesse.


And for the very young: Trio Brio presents a performance in the Blårollinger series at Parkteatret on Sunday 5 October, a concert with narrator, wood sounds and note-sawing.


This year’s Ultima Festival takes place from 1 – 19 October at venues all over Oslo. Visit for a detailed programme.


New works, new operas, new stage art, electronica, installations, seminars, meet the composer, and family performances.

Experience history in the making.

Welcome to the festival!


Contact information/press photos:

Beate Styri, Head of Information, , mobile: +47 90 60 66 51

"...Ultima, a unique collaboration between 18 Norwegian institutions, is best in our part of the world at refl ecting contemporary music and sound art. Not to mention the art of performing .."
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