The sound created by the Oslo Chamber Choir is a bit like a delectable cream cake where each layer enhances the next. What you put in between those layers can dramatically change the flavor. That's what artistic director Hakon Daniel Nystedt discovered when he first heard the Oslo Chamber Choir, whose newest recording, titled Strid, or struggle, blends traditional Norwegian folk music with classical music. According to Nystedt, the common denominator between religious folk tunes and classical church music is that both are about longing. While classical music attempts to describe the object of longing, folk tunes seek to describe the longing itself. As the music gels, something lets go, creating a magical musical experience.
Hakon Daniel Nystedt is the grandson of renowned Norwegian choral composer Knut Nystedt. Hakon looked to his grandfather for musical inspiration and to his teacher Grete Pedersen, the founder of the Oslo Chamber Choir. Hakon says being selected to follow in her footsteps as artistic director four years ago was a tremendous honor, "[Ever] since I was young I had this dream of working with Norwegian folk music in choir, and then I heard the Oslo Chamber Choir do it and I thought, Wow, this is exactly it! This is what I was thinking about! And I was in a concert and I was so amazed by it. And when we started to know each other, this contact, I have not experienced with another ensemble."
On their new recording, the Oslo Chamber Choir sings traditional folk music, classical music — and then there are times when the two combine in the same piece, to fulfill the idea of longing. Soloist Liv Ulvik opens a piece which combines a traditional ballad, Sir Ole, with a song of mourning by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, "The folk music song is about a man called Ole that is getting a message about his girlfriend who is dead, and he is going away to attend the funeral and in the end he actually dies of sorrow. And this Grieg is about the funeral of a young wife and about the husband standing and weeping so it's extremely tragic, both of them."
Anton Bruckner was an Austrian composer, a talented organist, and a devout Catholic. He composed a motet for the consecration of a new church called Locus Iste, which means, "This place was made by God." As the Oslo Chamber Choir sings that motet, soloist Sondre Bratland sings the psalm, "O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus." This was the first piece Hakon Daniel Nystedt put together for the ensemble, and he was wondering what the reaction might be. "Because the folk music tune is in e minor," he explains, "and the Bruckner is in C major. Of course you can move the folk tune in every key you want. But I think it is very interesting with these two together."
When My Eye, Tired by Toil, is a traditional Norwegian song. Hakon Nystedt explains how it grows into an expressive orchestral arc as the ensemble sings of a longing for the next world, "It is a religious folk song and the text is by an author called Hans Adolf Brorson, who has written many texts about this longing for heaven and how hard it is on earth. It starts down here on earth when my eyes are heavy with tears but I'm looking upwards. And then during the song, it goes up and it's almost like you're in heaven already. But in the last verse you remember, No, I am still down here. And the last verse ends with, When will you get me from here?"
On their new recording titled Strid, or struggle, Hakon Daniel Nystedt and the Oslo Chamber Choir explore what folk melodies and classical music have in common — a sense of longing, which will leave you longing to hear more.
From this week's featured album, Strid by the Oslo Chamber Choir: O The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus (Right click and select "Save As", to download.)