Tony Valberg | Celebrating 100 Years of Musical Outreach in Scandinavia

Celebrating 100 Years of Musical Outreach in Scandinavia

By Tony Valberg, University of Agder

As we approach the 100-year anniversary of many of the Norwegian symphony orchestras, we also mark 100 years of outreach, the effort to introduce symphonic music to new audiences. Today, approximately every fourth audience member at a professional symphony orchestra concert in Scandinavia is a child or adolescent, largely because of outreach.1 This article outlines the significant, but less investigated, historical development of outreach in Norway. This Norwegian development has many similarities with the development in the other Scandinavian countries.

The article will also discuss the different concepts of concerts that have developed over the years and suggest a proper terminology to describe the unique experiences that outreach has to offer. Although there has been no lack of goodwill concerning these concerts, there is a striking need for historical perspective, classification, and terminology that can further our ability to understand, criticize, evaluate, and develop the possibilities of outreach. Documentation from three different concerts will exemplify the efforts to meet these needs.

In its last part, the article reviews some of the challenges faced today by orchestras wishing to introduce symphonic music to new listeners.


Outreach—a musical ambition with deep historical roots

We have accounts of ensembles and orchestras playing classical music in the largest cities in Scandinavia as far back as the 1700s. At that time, it was, as Jan Alsvik (1988, p. 9; in my translation) puts it, “possible for those who belonged to the exclusive part of the city’s residents to exercise or listen to music.” Influential citizens met in musical companies, performing music for each other, for their families, and for a limited social circle of enthusiasts, almost as a representative, but domestic, sphere. The rules of the Bergen musical company Harmonien make it clear that the membership also meant “other forms of entertainment,” such as dances, assemblée, and billiards. It was government officials and prominent merchant families—the urban social and cultural elite—who formed the core of the music companies’ circuit.

In the 1800s, there was an increase in the number of public concerts, at first public only in the sense that the concerts were announced and entry was via ticket. In reality, ticket price and etiquette made these concerts restricted to a select circle. But expectations of symphony orchestras with regular concerts and public funding and mandate grew. Edvard Grieg argued excitedly for the idea of a public Norwegian orchestra in the newspaper Bergens Tidende: “The people hunger and thirst for the highest. . . . [P]eople’s access to the best art is a practical question” (June 7, 1899; in my translation). We too, he wrote, must, like other cultured people, come so far “that people can gain access to hearing a worthy interpretation of the great masters.”

Many shared Grieg’s commitment to reach out with symphonic music to “the people.” This wave of willingness “to reach out” resulted in the Oslo Philharmonic Society (Filharmonisk Selskap)—in the 1920/1921 season, the year after startup—performing for a startling 31,278 children and youth, more than any orchestra in Norway do today.


To celebrate the orchestras is also to mark 100 years of outreach

The fact that as many as about one in four audience members at the Nordic orchestras’ concerts are children or adolescents might seem surprising. The concerts of the classical orchestras in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were mainly aimed at an adult, music-savvy audience. The soon-to-be century-long process of outreach has emerged in the dynamics between a political, a market-oriented, and a musical rationality. The political rationality has lifted up outreach in relation to national and personal Bildung, and increasingly also in relation to social welfare. From the 1980s there has been a market rationality that looks at the art institutions’ outreach as part of regional cultural and economic development, where a symphony orchestra makes the region attractive also for culturally interested families with young children (Boschma & Fritsch, 2009; Florida, 2012). The musicians have seen both of these positions as something on the side of the third (and their own) rationality, the creative process that contains the orchestra’s music-anchored “essence.” Outreach has had to argue for its legitimacy in the dynamics between these three positions. My focus has been on outreach’s opportunities to gain legitimacy in the art-anchored discourse to prevent it from being interpreted as a political or administrative “measure” (Vestheim, 1995, p. 158). To bestow upon outreach artistic legitimacy in terms that are accepted in the musicians’ complex web of ideology, craft, and convention is challenging, but essential, when the goal is to determine the status, content, and character of such productions.


Outreach’s first wave with different types of concerts

The Nordic orchestras’ outreach has come in two waves and carried out two different concert concepts: the formative “Bildung-concerts” and “The charismatic dialogue concerts” (Valberg, 2011). Perhaps a third form of outreach evolves these days: “The relational concerts.” The Bildung concerts, constituting outreach’s first wave, stretch from the 1920s to the 1980s. As early as the 1880s and until 1920, there had, on rare occasions, been concerts that were meant to be available to all, economically as well as musically, and not exclusively for what was described as “the privileged classes.” However, it was only after the orchestras announced their opening concerts as partially publicly funded city orchestras with regular concerts that the outreach work accelerated. From the onset, Oslo’s Philharmonic Society played popular concerts and, soon thereafter, school concerts—the first already a year after commencement, on September 22. 1920.


School concerts

How did these school concerts play out? In 1924, Göteborg’s Konsertföreningen published a pamphlet (Konsertföreningens konserter för skolungdom; private ownership) that described the intent and content of the concerts. The idea was to teach adolescents the function of the instrument groups and give an “insight into the music’s formal elements”. Concerning the format of the school concert, it was stated:

In every program there is included a short informative lecture on the subject that the concert of the day aims to illuminate. . . . Not rarely is a composer’s motive and structure initially demonstrated on piano, and thereafter played by the orchestra. (Göteborg symfoniorkester, 1924, p. 3; in my translation)

The picture painted here of school concerts in Sweden corresponds well with similar reports from Norway, and it likely gives a good picture of such concerts during outreach’s first wave.

It is worth noting that the pamphlet does not speak of any artistic ambition with school concerts but rather “the subject, which the concert of the day aims to illuminate.” There is good reason to believe that the school concerts’ agenda was of an educational and formative nature, and instrumental in the sense that one envisioned that the pupil at later (paying?) visits could “further develop and enhance the insights he has gained.” It is noteworthy that Konsertföreningen begins its pamphlet as follows: “In recent years, Konsertföreningen has alongside its real work given minor concert series for school children, which occurred on some Saturday afternoons.” The phrase “alongside its real work” naturally raises the question of whether school concerts were perceived as being different from the subscription concerts, outside of the prevailing idea of the artistic enterprise’s “essence.” Regardless, we can see traces of attitudes that today’s British orchestras in particular have distanced themselves from—namely, outreach as an add on and not as an integral part of the orchestra’s general artistic ambition.

In the new orchestras evolving in the first half of the 20th century, subscription concerts were conceived as the real elite concerts. However, subscription concerts were far from the only concerts. In the Philharmonic Society’s first season, there were also a large number of popular concerts (29) and folk concerts (25). From the 1920/1921 season onward, school concerts were added, and in 1935, the orchestra started an extensive collaboration with the national radio broadcaster. Common for all these concerts was their character of “musical upbringing”; they were supposed to address a less-trained concert audience who could be involved in and get familiarized with the music performed at the subscription concerts. Ticket prices were intended to give the public the opportunity to go to a concert, from the 1947/1948 season onward, not only by offering “popular prices”; there was also an attempt to dim the emphasis on dress code and etiquette typical of the subscription concerts. In Oslo, the paper Morgenbladet wrote in 1948, “Everyone shall now have the opportunity to come in their daily attire and hear music’s finest works performed at cinema price.”


Other Bildung concerts

Besides folk concerts and popular concerts, orchestras showed great creativity when it came to developing concert concepts to reach new audiences. Spectacular outdoor concerts were held in parks adorned with swans and “colored lights”; the orchestra played a repertoire consisting of both “muscular expression” and popular songs; and the audience was made to participate by singing the national anthem and shouting in unison three times three hurray! These concerts could offer notable soloists such as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Jussi Björling. In 1951, King Håkon was present and added luster to the event.

Regular concerts were held at workplaces, cafes, and restaurants. The idea was to “establish contact with the worker, the bureaucrat, the common man and woman and put concerts at a place that was easily accessible to these audiences” (Huldt-Nystrøm, 1969, p. 323; in my translation). The Philharmonic Society’s concert program from 1952/1953 stated that the orchestra “goes into these concerts with their heart and soul.”

The majority of the Bildung concerts during outreach’s first wave was, however, cut from the same template as school concerts: musical upbringing of the people framed by instructive causerie.


Outreach’s first wave ebbs, criticism of Bildung concerts

Looking at the overall efforts the orchestras put forth during outreach’s first wave, one is struck both by their fearless creativity and by the scope of the endeavor. And, at the same time, one is pensive regarding how under-communicated this part of the history of the orchestras is. Perhaps this last-mentioned notion is best understood in light of the fact that, in the 1970s, there was a growth of new self-awareness among musicians. Huldt-Nystrøm referred to such a turn when he—in 1969, and not without some regret—wrote, “[T]he musically skilled today so easily shudder over opera fantasies and Hungarian rhapsodies. It is almost considered café music and is no longer good enough” (Huldt-Nystrøm, 1969, pp. 150; in my translation).2

With the orchestra musicians’ increasingly regulated wages and working conditions in the 1960s and 1970s, it was, for the first time, possible for a musician to work fully within the field of “art”. It was no longer a virtue of necessity to have part-time jobs in diverse musical venues to make ends meet. Accounts of restaurant playing, school concerts, education of the people, and popular music on the radio were toned down when orchestras sought to anchor their legitimacy in a European art-music discourse (Valberg, 2011, pp. 48-52). The times were changing.

It was not only the internal dynamics of the orchestras in the 1970s that led to criticism of the orchestras’ outreach. The time was marked by a political radicalization. The notion that the state with the help of the orchestras should be distributing high art to the people—the top-down perspective—lost ground to the notion that people themselves should take part in a cultural uprising that was locally based. “High-culture” was criticized, and it became more difficult for the orchestras to maintain both the power to define what musical formation involved and its exclusivity when it came to providing concerts to children and adolescents. Other musicians from other genres were invited to participate as well. (Vesterheim, 1995, pp. 172-174)

The perspectives of children and adolescents should also be mentioned here. The pedantic style they met at school concerts seemed old-fashioned in the 1960s and 70s when the reform pedagogy was introduced in Scandinavian schools. Many people, including teachers, found the orchestras’ pedantic style to be a relic of a bygone age. Musically, the concerts could come to suffer the same fate; children and adolescents increasingly listened to “their own” music, like The Beatles or Pink Floyd. The Bildung concerts of the orchestras playing Haydn or Brahms represented precisely the constitutive “other” that could help define and limit the youth’s own cultural codes.

Most serious criticism arose, however, when the first sociological measurements of the cultural habits of the population became available. In 1965, the Swedish sociologist Harald Swedner published Barriären mot finkulturen (The barrier against high- culture), and, alongside several similar studies, it led to a weakened confidence that the Bildung concerts served their purpose. Swedner pointed out how culture surveys showed that the post-war outreach-strategies had not removed the antagonism between bourgeois high art and popular culture. The bourgeoisie audience upheld a feeling of ownership of the classic institutional culture; the “common” audience did not. The interpretation of these observations was given a theoretical boost when the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1979/2002) in the same decade introduced the concepts of cultural capital and habitus: the person already in possession of cultural capital and who acquires habitus in a bourgeois environment lays the basis for accumulating additional cultural capital. The notion of formation as merely an educational and distributional issue was weakened, and thus so was the confidence in the usefulness of the orchestras’ outreach. The enthusiasm Grieg could create in the late 1800s, when he assured that “[t]he people hunger and thirst for the highest,” seemed in the 1970s to be a naive voice from a bygone age. The formative Bildung concerts had only in limited extent been able to meet the expectations of attracting new audiences into the world of symphonic music.


An example of the Bildung concerts: 1B1 in Stavanger Concert Hall

Criticism of the Bildung concerts was well founded, and today such concerts are rarely played in Scandinavia in a classical sense. However, more updated versions are played, such as those by the string ensemble 1B1 in Stavanger Concert Hall in the spring of 2014, led by Jan Bjøranger. The choice of the works performed references the classic Bildung concerts: the desire to allow young people to experience highlights from the classical music canon performed by an outstanding ensemble. The works were Grieg’s Holberg Suite and Shostakovich’s Chamber symphony, opus 110. 1B1s leader Jan Bjøranger and I had collaborated earlier, and I gladly accepted his invitation to work with the ensemble. Our approach to this particular concert concept was developed in line with the Bildung-concerts: small sequences from each movement—“beautiful places”—were illuminated to be later played in their full contexts.

Yet there were measures intended to promote musical experience to our young 2014 audience. We wanted to create identification between the musicians and the audience as well as to emphasize that music is something to be shared. 1B1 is an orchestra with very young musicians—many are still in junior high school—so the youngest was the same age as our audience. This eased the identification between the young audience and the musicians in the ensemble. A friendly and informal style was also cultivated in the orchestra. They play standing up, they play by ear, and they look at each other as well as their audience. We also had conductor Jan Bjøranger’s 14-year-old son with us as a conversation partner onstage. As a concept developer and host, I had a lot to work with in promoting identification between stage and audience.

Chr. Small (1998) has pointed out that the concert hall is designed to keep the musicians and the audience strangers to each other. And, he writes, there is no opportunity for them to become anything else, for they enter and leave the building by separate doors, occupy separate parts of it, and never meet during the event. When we wanted to make the point that music is something musicians and the audience share, we decided to break the habitual positions at the stage and allowed bassists and cellists to sit in their usual positions, while the other 1B1 musicians discreetly sat at different places in the packed concert hall. A few seconds after the light was dimmed, the musicians in the hall stood up and enveloped the audience with the sound of the first bars of Grieg’s Holberg Suite. We also ended the concert with the musicians playing in the audience. In between these more modern communication strategies (and there were others as well), we filled the concert with communicative strategies derived from the Bildung-concerts: small sequences from the musical works were extracted3 and examined (in our concert, by the conductor or me singing the theme, sometimes along with the audience), before we finally played excerpts in their full context.


Outreach’s second wave and the “charismatic dialogue concerts”

In 1983, in the program for the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra’s family concert Trollmannen i Bakkeby (The Wizard in Bakkeby), we find a formulation that is worth noting: “Tonight’s piece “Playing and Singing” is a potpourri, unpretentious, simple, and melodious—music for diversion and pleasure” (in my translation). “Diversion and pleasure”—what a different attitude in 1983 compared to the pedantic tone that was expressed in Konsertföreningen’s pamphlet from 1924! The concert was led by a beloved children’s television personality who also led the audience through a medley of familiar children’s songs and games, where the audience participated with singing and movement. The pedagogic focus on dialog that won out in Scandinavian schools in the 1970s now made itself valid also in the orchestras’ productions aimed at children. The pedantic formative nature of children’s concerts is left in favor of a playful approach to a concert where the audience could expect “variety and joy.” Outreach’s second wave in Norway was about to be launched, a launch that ran parallel in many European orchestras at that time. Many were impressed and inspired by the ongoing pioneer work in the British orchestras (Everitt, 1977; Mast & Milligen, 2008; Wallas, 2008; Valberg, 2011).

What characterized these new concerts? A study that surveyed and analyzed the children’s concert productions of the Norwegian orchestras in 2001–2005 (Valberg, 2011, p. 59) points out that the concerts were characterized by the following:

  • A presenter. A charismatic host in dialogue with the audience led the concerts.
  • Storytelling. The concerts contained short excerpts from different musical works bound together by a story or by an overarching theme.
  • Transcendence of art forms. The music often appeared alongside “storytelling,” dance, and visual arts and drama.
  • Interaction. The concerts were characterized by dialogue and interaction between the host, performers, and audience, such as the child audience participating in songs or rhymes during the concert, engaging in dialogue with the host, or participating during the concert with prepared musical material.

At many concerts, all the above-mentioned characteristics were present, in others, two or more.

Eventyrkonsert (Fairytale Concert) must be seen in light of these developments. It was produced by myself in collaboration with composer Helge Sunde and Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra in 2001, and we played it on several occasions in the years to follow. At this time, outreach was still perceived by many as a politically initiated project, and not privileged with high legitimacy. As music historian William Weber (2001) has pointed out, artistic legitimacy is bestowed to practices that can demonstrate a historical continuity, a categorized practice, and its own terminology. For reasons of legitimacy, it was important to develop a terminology that could enable performers, scholars and audiences involved to communicate more precisely about the genuine experiences and challenges that outreach represents, and thereby enable those involved the linguistic tools to bestow value to the concerts, and eventually criticize, modify, or reject them. Allow me to mention a few examples of such terminology based on Eventyrkonsert (Fairytale Concert).

The phrase (and the imperative!) to contact the audience has been widely used in outreach. The notion of “contact” (con-tact) has proved to illuminate the sensitive mechanisms that take place in the concert encounter between orchestra and new audiences. I emphasize on the phrase because of the connotations of active, face-to-face encounters with a dialogue. In the dialogical dramaturgy, there is a premise that the addresser actively listens to the response that is requested, preferably to allow the response go causes some sort of consequence. After the concert, one could ask: Was the concert marked by contact?

In line with “contact,” participant strategy has proven itself to be a useful concept. Today children are perceived—and they perceive themselves—as active participants who meet the concert situation with the expectation of being active participants. During outreach concerts, the children can sing along, say rhymes, make gestures, and so forth. I have proposed different categories of participant strategies that aim to meet the child’s expectation of relational participation (Valberg, 2011, p. 221).

In the 2000s, when the fairytale concert was developed, there was still a strong expectation in orchestras about a discreet listening strategy, also when children were the target group. One of my informants at the time said it this way: “Many musicians still expect the children to sit silently in sailor suits and with slicked hair” (in my translation). By illuminating the term non-discreet listening strategies (Lazarowicz, 1977; Böhnisch, 2010), the focus is redirected towards characteristics of children's own cultural expressions. Their non-discreet listening strategies could be recognized and win legitimacy; children’s listening strategies are both focused and non-discreet at the same time. The increasing focus on children’s own cultural expressions formed the basis for both the fusion of art forms that characterized outreach’s second wave, and the playful “music for diversion and pleasure” approach, which increased in strength from the 1990s.

When the concerts changed, was it caused by a new way of thinking about children and music that replaced former notions of formation and Bildung? The benchmarks for comparisons had to be outreach-concerts of the post-war era such as Leonard Bernstein’s legendary Young People’s Concerts. In newspaper account of these concerts both the pedagogic and the formative goals underlies the assessment of them. The Washington Star (D.C.) wrote after the first broadcasted concerts from Lincoln Center in the late 1950s:

Programs of this caliber make a great contribution to American culture. With the development of a preponderance of such types of programs and with the diminishing of the gangster-murder thrillers that adulterate the ether, the metamorphosis of our youth from the chrysalis stage to that of full-grown maturity can be towards an era that can bring a new renaissance of civilization to our Western world.4

In their contemporary time, the concerts were a musical phenomenon judged by how they filled a function in a formative project. The music was not reviewed in line with the New York Philharmonic’s other concerts with parameters embedded in an art discourse.

A survey conducted in 2006 (Valberg, 2011, pp. 60-62) indicated that new, ideals characterized outreach in the 2000s. Now the idea of the children’s concert as an aesthetic experience was regarded the concert’s core objective. Children were perceived as an audience on par with other audiences. In outreach’s second wave, it seems the pedantic Bildung approach is less central than the notion of the child’s aesthetic experience in itself. A change of attitude seems to have occurred.

But other factors were also significant. In a group of three—each of which was considered roughly equal among themselves, but all weaker than the general aesthetics perspective—came “the formative perspective,” “the pedagogy perspective,” and “the recruitment perspective.” The government policy documents that imposed orchestras to set goals in terms of outreach were least emphasized by the informants in the study

It is on the basis of such a turn in overall ideology that I propose to use the term charismatic about these concerts. Mostly, perhaps, because a charismatic host has an important role to play in these concert concepts. However, other factors are also significant. The term “charismatic” highlights two different approaches to outreach as it is expressed when the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu challenges Immanuel Kant’s aesthetics. Sociology and art do not thrive together, wrote Bourdieu (1992, p. 55), because artists disapprove of the violation of the romantic notions of the charismatic artist (divino artista) with direct access to his or her magical muse. From the artist’s point of view, the sociologist’s efforts to name, understand, and explain the art experience will manifest as reductionism. Bourdieu argues, however, that the art experience is dependent on knowledge and behavioral and taste patterns rooted in cultural and social structures (habitus). Kant’s view is that every human being regardless of background possesses the perceptual apparatus that underlies the art experience. We can ascribe the experience of art a general character through a common sense (sensus communis). The prerequisite for the art experience is universal—namely, that we adopt a contemplative attitude, what Kant describes as a disinterested interest. Then the art experience can affect our spirit, and it unfolds in a free field that is delimited from personal knowledge. When the idea of a sensus communis is connected with notions of childhood as a period of “natural” creativity—the musical work’s meaning could emerge for the child charismatic, unmediated, and directly: “The music speaks for itself.” It’s “meaning” is implicit in the musical structure. In this light, the new charismatic approach and the absence of the Bildung concert’s pedagogical concert leader could be construed as “taking the child seriously.”


Criticism of the charismatic dialogue concerts

The charismatic, dialogue-influenced concert concept that conveys the music in a “new and fun way,” however, has not escaped criticism: primarily that it is in danger of depriving the concerts of their roots in an art discourse. Their character of “diversion and pleasure” makes it difficult to bestow legitimacy embedded in the specific social mandate of the symphony orchestras: to deliver “art music”. Surveys amongst artists also suggest that such concepts are not considered to be anchored in art within their own ranks and provide low status among colleagues (Røyseng and Bergsgard, 2001; Borgen, 2001).

Anna Lena Lindberg has pointed out that “the charismatic approach really only allows supply of stimuli and then leaves the young audience in the lurch with their personal experiences” (Lindberg, 1991, p. 16; in my translation). The charismatic approach, she writes, might be used as an excuse to avoid a concern with members in the audience that are not already familiar with the established cultural norms. Discomfort associated with concert- or concert hall-experience is circumvented by assuming that the child lacks empathy and musicality rather than access to knowledge and experiences that can establish relevant habitus (Lindberg, 1991, p. 339, in my translation).


A third wave of outreach?

Scholars such as Gunnar Danbolt (1999) and Venke Aure (2011) have pointed out how artwork under modern conditions was understood as a carrier of a type of essence, positive given last instances. It was the recipient’s task to uncover this essence, and the key to the deciphering of the work was located either in the work itself, in its creator, or in the performer of the work. In light of the deconstruction of belief in ontological essences, Aure sees a paradigmatic displacement of today’s art conveying focus away from an interpretation consensus based on the autonomous artwork—where both the Bildung concerts and the charismatic dialogue concerts find their place—to a new approach to the artwork that promotes the recipient’s active, relational and cooperative role in art (Aure, 2011, p. 213). Alongside the Bildung concerts and the charismatic dialogue concerts, the relational concerts may prove to be a third wave of concert concept within outreach.


A relational music aesthetic

In 1998, the French art critic and curator Nicolas named an approach to artistic practice that had established itself with considerable strength in the 1990s: the relational aesthetic. The artistic impulse it represented was not new. Throughout the twentieth century, there were groups of artists who wanted dialogue and interaction with wider audiences—not an outreach on the art-institutions behalf, but as a critical impulse that developed art concepts more social and community oriented than what the art-institutions and hegemonic art-discourse could offer (Bourriaud, 1998; Kester, 2004; Bager, 2008; Bishop, 2012). These artists suggested performative practices intended to replace the observing and interpretive optics that audiences (including schoolchildren) were previously offered in concert halls and museums.

“Togetherness,” “sharing,” and “intersubjectivity” are central concepts and notions to outreach ambitions embedded in relational aesthetic. The artists and the artwork invites to interaction with gestures that encourages participation, playfulness and negotiating. The audience put, while the artwork unfolds, in place the material that is contained in the space between the artist’s prepared material (prolepsis) and the artwork’s full gestalt. For the audience, the assessment of the work is related to whether it gives room to influence and participate in the work, and whether it enables us to establish laboratories or micro models for ways to live together in the broader context of society (Bourriaud, 1998, p. 16).


Ansikt til Ansikt (Face to Face)

The infants’ concert Ansikt til Ansikt (Face to Face) had a relational character and was developed as collaboration between myself and the composer Eivind Buene, the multi-media-artist Boya Bøckman and Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra. The idea was to develop a intimate concert project with a strong artistic ambition and the potential of improve quality of life for parents in the local community. We decided to approach parents with children from 2 to 15 months old. The concert we envisioned was not a “baby song” gathering where parents sing traditional children’s songs for the children, but rather a concert rooted in a contemporary European art music tradition.

Developing a concert for infants meant that we had to put aside most of our routinely performed techniques and skills. Infant perception and listening strategies differ so much from the listening strategies of our regular audience that we had to rethink our conceptualization of the concert, our preferred ways to compose and perform the musical communication with our audience.

Our basic approach was that the concert should mean something in the everyday lives of people in the neighborhood, and we wanted to create relational ties between all the participants through music and the audience's musical interaction and participation. This affected the layout of the room. The room was really big and did not promote the kind of intimacy and interaction that we wanted to encourage. Therefore, we constructed a “tent” that limited the concert area to a room within the room. Three projectors sent film animations onto the tent wall (multimediality).

Around the tent, we fitted a cafe environment with simple, free dining. The parents of toddlers could talk about mutual interests and at the same time keep an eye on the kids crawling around playing. This part of the concept lasted half an hour before—and half an hour after—the concert. The performative concert-part with participant strategies lasted half an hour, which made the time spent together in total 90 minutes. In the cafe environment we continuously attended in small talk among the parents, but also addressed the whole group by telling about the music, about children’s listening strategies, and introducing ourselves. Beforehand, we had welcomed the parents in the foyer (reception strategies) to introduce the concert’s overall relational and dialogue-influenced style. The musicians, who were unaccustomed to such a relational proximity to the audience, afterward said that they found the companionship in the cafe to be vital for the concert’s uniqueness and success.

Thus, we made a distinction between the composer’s prolepsis in the score and the participants’ contribution on the spot, which together amounted to the artwork. In Music for infant X (Eivind Buene, 2006; private ownership), the prolepsis consisted of the description of a game with a ball and how musicians should relate improvisationally to the various participants’ play with the ball. In Music for infant Y , the prolepsis consisted of the musicians’ scores as well as instruction for parents to improvise on (the harmonic) vowels a, o, and i. The prolepsis of the artists, the play of the parents and children, and improvised singing together formed the artwork.

During this last piece, we experienced from time to time what I refer to as altruistic tranquility. One of the musicians told me after the concert series was over: “[This part of the piece] seemed to have a meditative effect, or something of the sort; I felt an incredible tranquility about all, really” (in my translation). The notion of being filled with tranquility during or after the art experience is not new. It has been linked to the notion of an inner experience of personal and spiritual character. Relationally oriented concerts actualize an idea of a tranquility that is altruistic and not private; it is something we share. We know that the closeness to which the calmness is witness, is conditional on the presence of the others.

Such charged tranquility requires a finely tuned awareness among participants and consensus among the musicians to maintain and preserve the silence (for musicians: to open and sensitive listen to their audience). For them, it is essential to actively interpret tranquility in a participant strategy perspective—it is created by the participants present—and let the altruistic tranquility persist, even after the music has faded away. The notion of altruistic tranquility seems also to contribute to a categorical definition against the charismatic dialogue concerts that have often been held in an excited mood and in a fast-paced tempo.

The announcement of this concert was also relationally oriented; it was “word of mouth” that was in action. Instead of posters, we had printed up flyers that were primarily distributed in the city’s kindergartens. I have a good network in local kindergartens, which I visited to tell about the concert. We also put flyers in cafes where the parents of toddlers meet and in stores that sell children’s clothing. We promoted the concerts less than usual in the newspaper. Nevertheless, the concerts sold out in minutes. In the study in the aftermath of the concert project, informants were asked about how they got to know about the concert. An overwhelming majority said, “A friend told me about it.”

In the spring of 2014, a similar project brought the relational impulse yet further: “Being with—contemporary art’s access to relation, participation, and togetherness.” With this project we wanted on a weekly basis to make ourselves available in a local community in order to, alongside the residents, over time develop inclusive artistic communities were music and togetherness were core concepts. While the charismatic dialog concerts continue to be by far the most common concerts within outreach today, new concert-concepts such as Face to Face and Being with emerges. It remains to be seen if they represent a turn in outreach’s mandate from facilitating and promoting music events in the concert halls for new audiences, towards a critical artist perspective that challenges hegemonic notions of the “artwork" and established distinctions between artist and audience, stage and hall, art and life. This perspective has roots back to Friedrich Schiller in the late 1700s (“There is no other way of making sensuous man rational except by first making him aesthetic.” [in my translation]), over the first avant-gardes in the 1920s (Marcel Duchamp: “I don’t care if it’s art, because it’s been so discredited”), through Joseph Beuys and Fluxus in the 1960s (“I really have nothing to do with art—it is the only way to provide something for art” [in my translation]) and Theodor W. Adorno (“The only works of art that matter today are that those that no longer are works of art”), to Nicolas Bourriaud and relational aesthetics appeal in the 1990s: encourage the audience to take place in a system to help it come alive, complete the work, and develop its meaning.

Working with musical outreach today brings forward the fundamental question about our mandate. Are we moving away from the traditional question “What can we do to make local people care about our ensemble and seek out our projects?” to the more challenging question “What can we do to make our ensemble care about local people and seek out their projects?” In that case, a renewed artistic identity might be called for. Grant Kester writes: “We typically viewed the artist as a heroic figure. […] A dialogical aesthetic suggests a very different image of the artist, one defined in terms of openness, of listening, and of a willingness to accept a position of dependence and intersubjective vulnerability relative to their [listener], viewer or collaborator” (Kester, 2004, p. 110). And, despite our appreciation of applause and flowers, we should maybe join voices with Gudmundur Oddur Magnúson at the Iceland Academy of Arts: “Being a part of something is more important than being the center of attention!”


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  • 1. The numbers have remained fairly stable over the past decade. See Norsk teater- og orkesterforening http://www.scenestatistikk.no/eht/38W954M6U4Q7C17F3AIITMQHMYLBWE9PJE2TTHN9AIWK6K4LJ03UF76RPZHMHATYVTF and Valberg (2011, p. 4).

    2. Perhaps one came to throw away the type of broad genre and communication competence (and prima-vista play!) that the encounter with a wide range of different audiences had bestowed the musicians of an earlier era?

    3. In the Bildung concerts, these sequences are often chosen based on their central position in the structure of the work—often the main and side theme—while our choice was justified in terms of what we personally thought was moments of “beauty.”

    4. Jessie B. Solomen, in the Washington Star (D.C.), Dec. 13., 1958.

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