History of nyMusikk

nyMusikk grunnlegger Pauline Hall.
nyMusikk grunnlegger Pauline Hall. Foto: NTB scanpix. nyMusikks arkiver.

‘Call this music? More like scrambled eggs and bath water!’
On 27 September 1961, a scandal occurred. An audience at Oslo’s Art Academy came face to face with the full free expression of Korean pianist Nam June Paik. First he performed an autopsy on an old piano, then bombarded the public with peas, lathered them up and cut up their clothes, ending up by drowning his sorrows in a full bathtub. In one fell swoop, Paik introduced the concept of the Happening to a Norwegian audience. The event was organized in association with nyMusikk, which over the following days had to face the enraged criticisms which dominated the newspapers. However, there was a serious purpose behind Paik’s appearance, which remained ignored. As well as generating puzzlement and uncertainty, he also had a burning desire to educate the audience. This event was to characterize much of nyMusikk’s image in the early 1960s. Even as late as 1963, former president Pauline Hall was having to defend the incident in television interviews.

nyMusikk begins
Music critic and composer Pauline Hall was a prominent figure in the nyMusikk milieu at the time, and it was she who took the initiative to start the association. On 17 September 1938, at the Hotel Continental, the decision was taken to establish a Norwegian section of the ISCM (International Society for Contemporary Music). The organisation’s policy was to take part in musical exchanges with other countries, via concerts, broadcasts, lectures, meetings and so on. Prior to this, there had been no such musical network in Norway at all. When nyMusikk finally got going, the public was able to get acquainted with a whole range of new works from around the world. In many ways, these early years epitomised what nyMusikk currently stands for: demonstrating innovative forms of expression which are causing a stir on the international music scene.

The composer as cultural-political mouthpiece
Finn Mortensen succeeded Hall as chairman in 1961, a development that was to characterise the organisation’s work from then on. Mortensen was the opposite of Hall: diplomatic, educative and strategic. For the first time the association received state funding. nyMusikk made connections with NRK (the Norwegian state broadcaster) and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, which helped to insert international repertoire into the large orchestras and onto the radio. Mortensen’s role was a trailblazing one for nyMusikk.

Arne Nordheim, who already had a somewhat negative reputation, took over the leadership role between 1964–66. He was saddled with the difficult task of defending the new electronic music. Later, the 1970s for nyMusikk were marked leftist, artist-run policy. The society’s two directors at this time were Kåre Kolberg (1970–73) and John Persen (1974–76), two key players involved in Kunstneraksjonen 74 (an artists’ rights pressure group), and important advocates for the New Music. Moreover, nyMusikk altered its structure to become a national association with branches outside Oslo. During Åse Helstrøm’s period as president (1976–78), nyMusikk’s Composers Group (NMK) was established.

nyMusikk and market forces
At the beginning of the 1980s, major changes began to impact upon musical life. Upheavals and increasing pressure from the commercial music industry made for an uncomfortable combination. It became increasingly clear that the industry was not at all interested in marketing contemporary music, because its sales potential was not considered large enough. So nyMusikk and the Norwegian Composers Society initiated outreach activities including concerts and recordings. In this phase, nyMusikk was most concerned with new electronic music. NICEM, the organisation for electroacoustic music, was established. Norwegian composers indulged in the opportunities provided by the computer.

nyMusikk in the 1990s
During Geir Johnson’s tenure (1989–94), the society arranged the ISCM’s annual festival of contemporary music, World Music Days. This marked the beginning of the Ultima Festival, initiated by nyMusikk, NKF and NRK. In the same period, contemporary music festivals were established in Trondheim (Nordlyd), Bergen (Autunnale), Stavanger (Speculum) and Harstad (Ilios). The nyMusikk Ensemble was discontinued and replaced by Cikada. nyMusikk was also a co-founder of NoTAM (along with the University of Oslo and NKF) in 1992.

For 78 years nyMusikk has been the nation's most prominent and innovative exponent of the new music.

nyMusikk's chairmen since 1938:
Pauline Hall 1938 – 1961
Finn Mortensen 1961 – 1964
Arne Nordheim 1964 – 1966
Finn Mortensen 1966 – 1967
Gunnar Rugstad 1967 – 1968
Kjell Skyllstad 1968 – 1970
Kåre Kolberg 1970 – 1973
John Ellingsen/Egil Kapstad 1973 – 1974
Gunnar Germeten/John Persen 1974 – 1974
John Persen 1974 – 1976

nyMusikk's presidents since 1976:
Åse Hedstrøm 1976 – 1978
Per Lyng 1978 – 1979
Oddvar S. Kvam 1979 – 1979
Nils E. Bjerkestrand 1979 – 1982
Yngve Slettholm 1982 – 1986
Solveig Løchen 1986 – 1988
Geir Johnson 1989 – 1994
Peter Tornquist 1995 – 2001
Lene Grenager 2001 – 2003
Lars Petter Hagen 2003 – 2004

nyMusikk's artistic directors since 2004:
Lars Petter Hagen 2004 – 2009
Øyvind Torvund 2009 - 2012
Anne Hilde Neset 2012 - 2017
Bjørnar Habbestad 2017 -