Photo by Eyal Hareuveni
Oh Norway, that rich land of subsidized culture, where I feasted on art like a queen—but could only afford to eat like a college student. During my three-month residency in Kristiansand last summer, I did some research into funding for Norway’s improvised music. A bit of that research went up at NPR earlier this month.
My initiation into Norway’s arts funding culture was as bracing as a dive into a Nordic lake. I’d only been in the country for a couple days when I grabbed a train up to the Kongsberg Jazz Festival. One major event at the Kongsberg Festival is the annual “Thank You For The Prize” concert. Per tradition, in 2012 trumpeter Arve Henriksen put on a concert to thank the Kongsberg Jazz Festival for the DnB NOR Award he’d received the previous year. And Henriksen had much to be thankful for: at about $50,000, it’s the biggest jazz prize in Norway.
Henriksen alternated between playing the trumpet and singing wordless improvised lines. There was a dancer onstage. Sometimes Henriksen played in response to the dancer’s movements. A guitarist and an electric soundscape artist joined Henriksen and the dancer onstage, along with two percussionists, neither of whom had any interest in keeping time. Moments of beauty came when the ensemble's challenging mix of sound and movement found harmony—sometimes by design, often by chance.
I marveled at Henriksen’s audacity in delivering such a wildly experimental multidisciplinary show in gratitude for a $50,000 prize. But I seemed to be the only one marveling. Around me the audience projected calm interest. And the musicians themselves lacked the anxiety of reception that comes with the avant-garde territory in the States. Henriksen and his colleagues performed their expensive and esoteric experiment as casually as a folk singer might play old traditionals for tips at a house party.
Heading out the door, I ran into a woman who works for a Norwegian music organization.
“Wasn’t that great?” she asked.
“Ambitious,” I said. “But I’m not so sure it all came together.”
“That's not the point,” she said pleasantly. “The point is he got a chance to try it.”