This year’s nominations for the Nordic Councils’ Music Prize go exclusively to instrumental chamber ensembles. Norway is represented with such fine institutions as Bergen’s BIT20 and Cikada – two of the nation’s most central chamber ensembles in the latter decades.
Writes NOMUS – the Nordic Music Committee – on the two Norwegian ensembles in a press statement:
“In the press material from the Norwegian BIT20 ensemble one can read that the mission of the ensemble is to further "performances of Norwegian and international art music of our time. The ensemble aspires also to promote cultural exchange between diverse cultural groups and peoples, and to help further artistic activity in Bergen." And it must be said that their aim has been amply fulfilled since the BIT20 ensemble was founded in 1989 in Bergen. The ensemble has profiled itself as one of the most significant in the Nordic countries especially as ambassadors for the music of our own time. Every year the BIT20 ensemble gives between 30 and 40 concerts, and since its foundation it has performed more than 300 different works. Something like a hundred of these have been world premieres, often of works written for or commissioned by the ensemble. Lasse Thoresen's Løp, lokk og linjer – nominated for the Nordic Council's Music Prize in 2004 – was written for the BIT20 ensemble. A CD of the work is set for release. The work of the ensemble has been captured on more than 20 CDs, and audiences in many countries have been able to experience the high standards of the ensemble in connection with a number of tours to countries like Austria, Estonia, Russia, England, Italy, Germany and France. Music drama productions are another important area for the BIT20 ensemble, which has appeared in works by composers like Antonio Bibalo, Henrik Hellstenius, Philip Glass, Gisle Kværndokk and Nigel Osborne. Like others among the nominated candidates the BIT20 ensemble also engages in informative work in the form of school concerts and educational projects with children and young people. The great flexibility in the line-up that was formerly a characteristic of the BIT20 ensemble has over the past few years been formalized by the establishment of several BIT20 ensembles: BIT20 Duo, BIT20 Jug Band and BIT20 Percussion.
Cikada too is a name that is known well beyond the borders of Norway. And like most of the other nominees, Cikada has become known for its work to promote contemporary music. The repertoire consists partly of Nordic music, partly of selected works from international modernism. Among composers with whom Cikada has cooperated are Rolf Wallin, Arne Nordheim, Cecilie Ore, Kaija Saariaho, Anders Nilsson and Magnus Lindberg. They have also played portrait concerts with music by among others Iannis Xenakis, Luigi Nono, Morton Feldman and John Cage – the last of these also recorded on CD (Albedo ALBCD 021). It is the stated aim of the ensemble to work to further the newest acoustic music and at the same time to integrate electro-acoustic works in the repertoire. On several occasions Cikada has also worked with other ensembles and artists from the other arts to realize major projects and events, such as the installation performance project Dark Matter with the British composer Richard Barrett, ELISION Ensemble from Australia and the Norwegian visual artist Per Inge Bjørlo. Another configuration was their collaboration with the trombonist Christian Lindberg and the Oslo Sinfonietta in connection with the performance of Bent Sørensen's Birds and Bells. Cikada's ambition to develop their artistic expression constantly is also manifested in the way the ensemble works broadly across the boundaries of different genres. As an example, Cikada has collaborated with leading jazz musicians like Annette Peacock (An Acrobat's Heart. ECM 1733). Not surprisingly, Cikada's experimental profile has resulted in its splitting into several ensembles, just like the BIT20 ensemble. The Cikada ensemble was founded in 1989 and consists of nine musicians under the leadership of the conductor Christian Eggen. Spin-offs are the Cikada String Quartet and the Cikada Duo, each of which also works in a wide variety of configurations.”
The other nominated ensembles are: LINensemble and Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen from Denmark, Axelsson & Nilsson Duo and Stockholm Saxophone Quartet from Sweden, Avanti! Chamber Orchestra and Zagros from Finland, Caput and Reykjavík Chamber Orchestra from Iceland as well as Aldubáran from The Faroe Islands.
The Nordic Council’s Music Prize was established in 1965 by the Nordic governments jointly at the recommendation of the Nordic Council. At first the idea was that the prize should be awarded once every three years. The first prize was thus awarded in 1965, the second in 1968. It was then decided that the prize should be awarded every second year, so the third Nordic prize was awarded in 1970. From the beginning it was intended as a prize that was to be given to w work by a living Nordic composer.
From 1990 the rules for the award were changed and the prize money was increased to € 20 625. From now on it was to be awarded every year as “the Nordic Council’s Music Prize for Creative and Performing Musical Art”. This meant that in alternate years the prize was to be awarded to a Nordic work (as before) and a Nordic performing musician or ensemble. In 1991 the prize was awarded for the first time to a performing musician (the Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen).
The argument for dividing the prize between creators and performers was that this would make it a more ‘living’ music prize with a broader appeal, a prize that could help to arouse wider public interest in the Nordic musical world.
Whereas an external adjudicating committee had been appointed before, it is t present NOMUS (the Nordic Music Committee) that assesses the nominees for the music prize. Acording to its mandate NOMUS must make the final decision on who is to have the prize. The Nordic Music Prize is in 2005 € 48 125. NOMUS is a specialized committee under the auspices of the Nordic Council of Minister – the committee also published Nordic Sounds.