Jon Øivind Ness - The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra’s profile composer during the 2012-2013 season
Photo: Lisbeth Risnes

Oslo Philharmonic residencies

Jon Øivind Ness chosen as The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra’s first profile composer.

Beginning with the next concert season, The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra will launch a new practice by focussing on a profile-composer and –soloist. Cellist Truls Mørk is confirmed as the inaugural profile-soloist while composer Jon Øivind Ness is awarded the profile-composer title. The Oslo Philharmonic states that the profile-composer will remain Norwegian throughout the programme’s duration, while featured soloists could also be international performers. The orchestra has already unveiled the names confirmed for the 2013-2014 season: violinist Janine Jansen and composer Ørjan Matre.

The fact that Jon Øivind Ness has been chosen as the orchestra’s first profile composer should not come as a surprise for those that have followed the orchestra for some time. Ness has been performed by The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra on a number of occasions. His 2007 work Low Jive commissioned for the orchestra has seen a number of performances and has been featured on the OPO’s international tours. The recording of the same work earned the orchestra and composer a Spellemannspris, the Norwegian equivalent to the Grammy, in 2009.

Says the orchestra on why Ness was selected: - Jon Øivind Ness is presently one of Norway’s most productive composers. He is well-established as a composer, but cannot be labelled ‘senior’ nor ‘up-and-coming’. His music is easily identifiable with its distinct sonorous approach, strong instrumentation and clever use of paraphrasing.

-Being chosen as OPO’s first profile composer is more than anything very flattering, says Ness.

The composer is awarded four performances by the orchestra, one of which will be of a commissioned work. In addition to this, one of Ness’ works will be premiered as part of the orchestra’s chamber music concert series.

Beginning in 1999, Ness has worked closely with the orchestra on a number of occasions, how does he view his relation to the orchestral institution today? –I feel much more confident today, says Ness. Some years ago I asked the horn players to tune their instruments to quarter tones; I was really scared and braced myself for the players’ reactions. No need to – these players are really emphatic and utterly professional. Ness says that the breakthrough of micro-tonality has left music in a unique position among the arts, as the composer has at his disposal a new and rich sonic palette, a tool that one has barely begun to explore.

How do you go about to tune a horn to quarter-tones?

-You simply pull the instrument’s valves a bit. We do that with all of the brass instruments.

And the other instruments?

-The string players need only to slightly adjust their positions on the fingerboard. The woodwinds can employ alternate positions – you’ll find guides on how to do so on the web.

Jon Øivind Ness has been an active figure on the Norwegian music scene for more than two decades, and has reaped acclaim for his strong works with distinctive titles: Dandy Garbage, Zap Francescos Phoney Pony, Dead Kitten in the Trash etc. The domestic Edvard prize’s Work of the Year award has been bestowed on him on two occasions. In later years, Ness has altered his aesthetic expression by simplifying rhythms and texture. –It leads itself to a better end result, technically as well as performance-wise, but perhaps equally as important is the aesthetic aspect: for a number of years I worshipped complexity, but now I’m more of a fan of a simplistic approach.

In OPO’s general programme notes, Ness talks on his approach to composing: -One has to put oneself in the shoes of the listener and write accordingly. Who else are going to like it? I’m a guy with pretty cool tastes in music; it is my hope that there are likeminded souls out there that like the same cool stuff as me. I want the audience to like what they hear, maybe not initially, but having listened to the works a couple of times I really want them to experience something.

Ness frequently uses quotes and paraphrases from some of his favourite bands, most notably Swans, as heard in his latest work for OPO; Swan Foetus (2011), and Culture Club as used in the 2010 Ultima Festival premiere of War Song featuring singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/writer Jenny Hval and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra.

The four works to be performed by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra next season, spans from early work Schatten to a new work titled 22.07.11. The latter is not to be viewed as a description of last year’s act of terrorism in Oslo and at Utøya, rather it intended to be a work concentrating on the aftermath and reactions to the tragic event. Or to paraphrase Ness: -The sound of a thousand splintered church bells, but with elements of some degree of consolation and reconciliation – at the end… I was caught by the shockwave of the blast in Oslo. For the first weeks after I could not think of anything else; all I could do was to hike and contemplate. And as there was little else I could do, I created this work.

The work George Gets a Makeover, subtitled Misreadings of Gershwin offers a glimpse into Ness’ multi-faceted, chopped-up sonic world with its quotes and pseudo-paraphrases of George Gershwin. February 2013 will also see Low Jive be performed.

When questioned whether a commissioned work written specifically for profile soloist Truls Mørk is in the works, Ness replies: -No, it’s not in our plans right now. But fate would have it that Truls Mørk was the very first musician to call me and suggest a commissioned work from me. I was young and foolish enough to turn him down back then, replying to him that I simply couldn’t find time to do it!

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Jon Øivind Ness - The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra’s profile composer during the 2012-2013 season


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