2020 has been an unexpected and challenging year for the world, including the arts. But despite cancellations and postponements, there has been a rise of digital content, concerts and innovation. We asked our Norwegian Arts contributors to round up two of their best cultural moments from 2020, and one thing they’re looking forward to in 2021. Here’s what they had to say!
Jazz by Fiona Talkington
In March 2020 everything was ready for the Punkt Festival to come to Birmingham. We all know what happened next. But, as the year unfolded, disappointment turned to determination and creativity. An inspired series of ‘webinars’ by the European Jazz Network brought speakers together from many countries, including Jan Ole Otnaes, managing director of the Oslo venue Victoria, whose energy and positivity provided a glimmer of hope.
Moldejazz festival, on the west coast of Norway, streamed several concerts this summer, and while there’s nothing quite like the atmosphere of a summer festival, having Ane Brun, Arild Andersen, Karin Krog and Trio Moskus in my living room was something special. And when Maja Ratkje and Stian Westerhus included settings of Shakespeare in their brilliant, intimate set, it was as if I was there. A real highlight.
The Punkt Festival in Kristiansand has been my September home since it began in 2005. It’s always a pleasure to stand on the stage and introduce the concerts. What an unexpected joy it was to do it again, this time filming my introductions to each musician, so that I could be there. The brilliance of Team Punkt rising to the challenge.
Next year? Well, I’m looking forward to those first hugs, those first notes of music and just being back in Norway.
Fiona Talkington is a broadcaster, writer and presenter on BBC Radio 3
Fine Art, Photography & Literature by Richard Lowkes
At the beginning of the year, I visited Ekebergparken on a trip to Oslo. Situated on a hill overlooking the city above the fjord, the site’s strong artistic associations appealed to me. It was here that Edvard Munch felt the crisis which led him to paint The Scream. Thanks to businessman Christian Ringnes, since 2013 it has hosted a sculpture park, displaying works by Norwegian and international artists. Louise Bourgeois’ The Couple, suspended high up among the trees, is unmissable. My colleague had booked us a sunset session in James Turrell’s Skyspace: a transcendental, perception-altering experience. Coming out into the landscape, I felt like I was in a Harald Sohlberg painting.
While preparing to interview Heidi Morstang for Norwegian Arts, about her work in Svalbard, I came across Christiane Ritter’s A Woman in the Polar Night, her account of a year living in the Arctic wilderness. Written over 80 years ago, the book feels amazingly fresh and vivid. I sense it is ripe for rediscovery, not only as a powerful account of survival through an isolated polar winter, but also as a feminist-environmentalist text.
I’m looking forward to seeing Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul in London at the Royal Academy, after watching a Sotheby’s panel discussion with Emin and curator Kari Brandtzaeg. And it will be even better to see the show in its expanded version at MUNCH in Oslo, when the museum opens next spring.
Richard Lowkes is a specialist in European paintings at Sotheby’s London
Literature & classical music by Boyd Tonkin
You won’t need to be reminded that 2020 put a brake on our physical journeys. We could still travel in the imagination, though, and for me no trip proved more rewarding than a return to the harshly lovely shores of Nordland with novelist Roy Jacobsen. Following The Unseen and White Shadow, Eyes of the Rigel once more traces the adventures of his heroine Ingrid Barrøy, as she and her baby daughter go in search of the child’s father across the war-ravaged Norwegian landscapes of 1946. Jacobsen’s writing, ably translated again by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw, unites lyricism and compassion with a fiercely unsentimental grasp of the damage left in the aftermath of conflict.
Conductor Edward Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra – which he has led since 2015 – have together released some of the finest classical recordings of recent years. Their version of Benjamin Britten’s great opera Peter Grimes (Chandos) is spellbindingly good, as the Bergen players – and chorus – thrillingly summon the wild waters of the North Sea’s other coast.
For 2021, I’m delighted to see that the wise, funny, stubbornly original Per Petterson will grace British bookshops with his new novel Men in my Situation (translated by Ingvild Burkey; Harvill Secker).
Boyd Tonkin is a journalist and author of The 100 Best Novels in Translation
Pop music & design by Cheri Amour
I had to triple check this actually happened this year as it seems like forever ago now but one of the joyful (and now quite precious) moments of 2020 was definitely attending Ja Ja Ja at The Lexington back in February. I caught a mesmerising performance from Norwegian rising artist Red Moon who I had spoken to for an NA Meets earlier this year as well. Dagny‘s long-anticipated full-length release and speaking with her about the process from her home in Oslo was another highlight. She’s just pop majesty.
In the brief window we were able to leave the house, I also revelled in dining at London’s New Nordic Destination: Pantechnicon. The birch sap bubbles were a particular highlight, so much so we’ve stocked up for Christmas!
Cheri Amour is a freelance writer, editor, and broadcaster with a strong focus on women in music, writing for Oh Comely and The Line of Best Fit amongst others.
Find the other recommendations in Part I.