Norway in the UK - the highlights of 2008

The last 12 months have seen many Norwegian highlights in the British Isles, including numerous large cultural events, and a few cute animals hitting the headlines for all the right reasons...

The interest for Norwegian music is growing rapidly in the UK, so much in fact that the organisation Music Export Norway, which was set up by the country's record industry, has now opened a new London office. For many, the jewel in the Norwegian music crown is jazz, a genre where Norway has produced several world class stars. Some of them headed to the British capital in November where a Norwegian mini festival, Scene Norway, took place as part of the London Jazz Festival. The new cultural venue Kings Place hosted this eight extravagant days of music, literature and film by some of Norway’s most celebrated artists, and the entity curated by BBC’s Fiona Talkington.

Norwegian musicians were also present at the BBC Proms in August: the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Jukka-Pekka Saraste, played classical masterpieces for a packed Royal Albert Hall and to the excitement of the critics.

Conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste and the Oslo Philharmonic performed at the BBC Proms. Photo: Oslo Philharmonic

On the more commercial side, rock chick Ida Maria has maintained her cult status in the UK: not only did she performed at four festivals around the UK this summer, but her new album “Fortress Round my Heart” was listed as ‘Album of the Week’ in several British papers once it was released and her singles have been rotated heavily on radio stations. 

One of Norway’s most talented and appreciated artists, Thomas Dybdahl also held a concert in Camden at the start of the autumn - his appearance excited many and he returned a month and a half later for yet another performance. Watch out for more shows next year... 

100% Norway
Forget IKEA for a second, the fifth annual design exhibition 100% Norway was yet again one of the big hits at the London Design Festival. Following previous years' success, the exhibition took place at no less than two venues this year: one at 100% Design, Earls Court, and the other at Designersblock in Covent Garden. Showcasing furniture and home accessories from both established and up-and-coming names, the exhibition was yet again curated by Henrietta Thompson. 100% Norway was opened by HRH the Crown Princess Mette-Marit who visited both venues and excitedly told the attending press that the exhibits were ‘prime examples’ of Norwegian art and architecture. The two stands, one of which was designed by the architects Brendeland & Kristoffersen and featured their award-winning Bedroom Box structure, were visited by thousands of people.

The 100% Norway stand at 100% Design, Earls Court, which was one of the largest at the entire show. Photo: Siri Aronsen / Royal Norwegian Embassy

Cultural invasion...
Like every year, the UK sees a huge influx of Norwegian artists showing their works in a range of disciplines. Acclaimed sculptor Nico Widerberg was one of them and his exhibition 'Past in Future' at Kings Place coincided with the grand opening of the venue as well as the festival Scene Norway. Earlier in the year, 14 Norwegian artists were represented at Collect 2008, the International Art Fair for Contemporary Objects, where they exhibited textiles, jewellery, ceramics, glass and metal works at the Victoria & Albert Museum. While in St John’s Wood, the Oslo based Galleri A, took part in the prestigious contemporary art fair, SCOPE. Later, artist duo Elmgreen & Dragseth headed to London with yet another solo exhibition at the renowned London gallery Victoria Miro. And in Manchester, Kjell Torriset exhibited at Northumbria University Gallery, while Maren Juell Kristensen showcased her works at the hit festival NICE08 in Liverpool. 

At Collect 2008, the international art fair for contemporary objects, there were fourteen Norwegian artists represented. Above: Brooches by Konrad Mehus

It's also been a great year for Norwegian architects; during the summer an exhibition took place in London showing how experimental architecture now meets the magnificent nature seen along Norwegian tourist routes; ‘Detour’ was part of the London Festival of Architecture 2008. 

Back in Norway, the opening of Snøhetta’s new Oslo Opera House in April gained vast amount of press coverage in the UK and internationally. Many of those who hadn't yet had the chance to see this magnificent building in person were given the opportunity to learn more about the project through the exhibition ‘Oslo’s Emerging Cityscape’ at London's Oxo Tower Wharf in December. 

The exhibition 'Oslo's Emerging Cityscape' at Oxo Tower Wharf, presented the award-winning Oslo Opera House and the regeneration of Oslo's seafront. Photo: Jiri Havran

After a year's absence, Norway was proud to present two films at the BFI London Film Festival. The chosen ones were ‘Cold Lunch’ and ‘SOS- Summer of Suspense’.

Elsewhere, the works of playwright Henrik Ibsen were yet again performed at many theatres around the country. In London, 'The Lady from the Sea' was staged at the Arcola Theatre, 'Peer Gynt' at the Pleasance Theatre Studio, 'Terje Vigen' at the Arts Theatre, 'Hedda Gabler' at the Barbican, 'A Dolls House' at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, and in Liverpool 'When we Dead Awaken' was on at the Unity Theatre. Contemporary playwright Jon Fosse, often referred to as 'the modern Ibsen', was also present this year; his play 'Warm' was performed at Theatre 503 in Battersea, whilst 'Suzannah' was on in East Sussex.

Ibsen's dramatic play 'When we Dead Awaken', ran at the Unity Theatre in Liverpool this autumn.

Elsewhere in the UK
HM King Harald V of Norway received the Honorary Freedom of Newcastle upon Tyne when he visited the city in November. This is considered to be the city's highest award and it was given to the Norwegian King to mark the 40th anniversary of the official opening of the Newcastle Civic Centre, which was carried out by the current King's father, King Olav V, in November 1968.

In addition to pop stars from Norway attracting press attention, a few Norwegian animals have also charmed their way into the British media. The penguin Nils Olav in Edinburgh Zoo received another visit from the Norwegian King’s Guard in August and was given a knighthood by Norway’s King. Later in the autumn, four beaver families were sent from Norway to the UK to reintroduce the species in Scotland from where they have been absent for over 400 years.

Scottish beavers were hunted to extinction 400 years ago. Recently four beaver families arrived in the UK to be re-introduced into British nature. Photo: Edinburgh Zoo

Three of Norway’s proudest ships took part of the Tall Ships' Races in July. This year’s race docked in Liverpool and ended up in Germany via Norway. The Norwegian sailing ambassador Christian Radich won two of the races.

Further south in Redditch outside Birmingham, 36 prefabricated Norwegian produced, environmental friendly houses were such a success with their new residents that the city council have decided to have more houses delivered from Norway. Simultaneously, the Norwegian electric car maker 'Think' is collaborating with London College of Art to design the interior of their new city car. Together they aim to revolutionise not only the car industry, but its design too.

A piece of Norway in the Midlands; the new houses in Ken Somner Gardens. Photo: Thomas Aastad / Royal Norwegian Embassy

Norwegians gladly share their trees with their British neighbours across the North Sea. This year’s traditional tree at Trafalgar Square was the 62nd in line from the people of Oslo. Mayor of London, Boris Johnson and the Lord Mayor of Westminster were among the many thousand spectators who watched the tree being lit. Newcastle received a tree from Norway’s second city, Bergen, and the lights were lit in the presence of the Lord Mayor of Newcastle and the Mayor of Bergen. Additionally, Hordaland County expressed its gratitude towards its friends in the UK by giving it two trees, one for Cardiff and another to Glasgow.

On that jolly note, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!

The Norwegian Christmas tree in Cardiff illustrates the strong link between Wales and Hordaland on Norway's west coast.

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