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Classical Notes

Day 3 in Kyoto

Posted at 9:41 AM on July 29, 2005 by Brian Newhouse

There've been a couple of knockout choirs so far at the Symposium, and they're both from Norway. For their performance yesterday afternoon, the Oslo Chamber Choir stood in the auditorium aisles right next to the audience. Their conductor, Grete Pedersen, has made an intense study of Norwegian folksong and years ago began teaching it to her choir, encouraging them in rehearsal to make up their own harmonies and counter-melodies. During the concert she made the oddest hand gestures to her singers, but what music came out! Afterward I learned that Pedersen has developed a kind of private language of the hands that lets her "call out" a tune on the spur of the moment: if she makes the shape of a fish in the air in front of her, her singers know it's that old tune about catching cod or some such and someone will start singing it; once the tune is laid down each singer riffs on it until the hall is filled with most haunting sounds, and if you closed your eyes you were half a world away by some blue-green fjord.

Later, the Oslo sextet known as Nordic Voices worked against expectation. I mean, you think a Norwegian choir is going to do Norwegian music, but they did Renaissance motets and bawdy old French chanson with such crystal purity that you could've heard a pin drop. Their last number was little more than a collection of amorous birdcalls from 16th-century France, but they had such fun with it that the audience began laughing. When was the last time you heard that at an early music concert?

So, score two points for Norway!

Minnesota-Norway PS: I was walking with one of the basses from the Oslo Chamber Choir when he ran across a Norwegian soprano outside the Kyoto Conference Center, a woman he hadn't seen in years since they both sang in the St. Olaf College Choir.

Here's some photos I shot today:

The Guangdon Experimental Middle School Choir from China Coro Victoria from Guatemala Parahyangan Catholic University Choir from Indonesia

1. The Guangdon Experimental Middle School Choir from China
2. Coro Victoria from Guatemala
3. Parahyangan Catholic University Choir from Indonesia