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Cikada Ensemble wins Nordic Council Music Prize

The Nordic Music Prize Adjudication Committee has awarded the Cikada Ensemble with the prestigious Nordic Council Music Prize 2005 based on the ensemble's "years of dedicated work ... unique idiom, dynamic playing style and innovative attitude to stylistic diversity"

20/07/2005 :: “Cikada has put in years of dedicated work to turn itself into an important ambassador for contemporary Nordic music. The Adjudication Committee has been particularly impressed by the ensemble’s unique idiom, dynamic playing style and innovative attitude to stylistic diversity. Cikada’s uncompromising commitment to quality in every aspect of its work has seen it evolve into an organisation that draws attention to the major significance of contemporary music to our Nordic identity," writes the Nordic Council’s Music Prize Adjudication Committee.

The announcement that Cikada will be awarded the prize is a natural result of purposeful efforts to promote contemporary music which has taken place in Norway over the past couple of decades. This has not been without a struggle, but the results are now becoming evident in Norway, where the Ultima festival now receives state funding and where there is wholehearted investment in new musical compositions, in composers and in the education of musicians.

Cikada has led the way by performing Norwegian music but most certainly by performing international music too. Norwegian pundits don’t place too much emphasis on nationality but rather on quality. It is symptomatic that the latest of Cikada's many CDs on the record label ECM consists of music by Maderna, Saariaho and Cage. This does not indicate a specific preference for non-Norwegian music but it is about creating an international perspective and about having the courage to compare themselves with the best in the world.

The German philosopher Hans-Magnus Enzensberger has said that Norwegians are home birds and cosmopolitans at one and the same time. That’s the way it is with this complex band Cikada.

You don’t have to have spent very much time with these people before you realise that they are peasants and men of the world at the same time - this is part of their identity and it is quite charming.

Oh, yes, and the ensemble is equipped with a conductor who has been offered all sorts of high profile jobs which would give him a high status. However, Christian Eggen, as a pianist and conductor, aims for musical heights that don’t follow a career plan. An impresario would say that these musicians and their conductor have their feet planted solidly in thin air, they go for the music and musical opportunities and stardom is somewhat extrinsic and superficial.

Cikada has been at the top for a long time, not only on the Nordic scene but also internationally. The ensemble was founded in Oslo in 1989 and consists of nine musicians and its permanent conductor Christian Eggen.

Under the Cikada banner there are three connected yet autonomous groups:

Cikada Ensemble, Cikada String Quartet og Cikada Duo (piano/synth and percussion). Since the start in 1989, the ensemble has initiated innovative projects in which Cikada's activities continuously change the agenda of what contemporary music is and what people in today’s world can use it for.

At the same time Cikada has developed a close and dynamic ensemble sound through permanent members in the ensemble. Contemporary music is at the core of Cikada, and the musicians maintain an undogmatic attitude to working across established genre boundaries and art forms if it serves an innovative cultural purpose, resulting in, for example, collaboration projects with leading jazz musicians and visual artists such as Arild Andersen, Trygve Seim, Annette Peacock and Per Inge Bjørlo.

On the road with Cikada

The air is thin. We have difficulty breathing. The flautist is heavily pregnant. Cikaka’s musicians want to reach the top of the pyramid. They are 2000 metres above sea level. Cikada are playing at the ISCM World Music Days in Mexico in 1993. I take a photo of the musicians and say that climbing the pyramid is such a foolish project that the idea could only come from a Norwegian.

The Cikada musicians pay no attention to the journalist. They smile in a friendly way. A short time later they descend and play a wonderful concert. As always, the pianist Kenneth Karlsson is wearing newly washed black socks. The first time you experience this you think he has left his shoes in his hotel room. This is not the case, Kenneth just likes to perform in a concert only wearing black socks. End of story.

All the musicians in Cikada are peculiar, in fact you never know where you are with them. Often the cellist Morten Hannisdal swings with an open mouth, so transported that his rapture threatens to lead the musician off the stage. He is transformed into an ethereal person who does what Stockhausen says we all can, but have forgotten how, that is to fly!


Across art forms

Cikada’s logo is a little person of undefined gender, wearing a kind of mask, sucking nectar or perhaps oxygen from the name Cikada. Humour has always been a part of the ensemble’s self-knowledge. If you want to find an adequate description of the ensemble’s work it won’t be a polite statement in a fine polished style.

The strange, unexpected and foolish are part of this brilliant company that, according to the judgement of this listener, makes up the 'whole' people and artists. That means that alongside an extreme discipline there are rhapsodic moments where everything coasts along and the musicians enter a childish world which is slapstick and brilliant all at once. Examples of this are legion:

“How does Goofy laugh in Danish?” Christian Eggen stops short in the middle of a rehearsal of a new work. “In the comic book it says ‘Hydr Hydr Hydr’ - what does that sound like?”

The famous Cikada droning begins slowly and then takes over for real: one after another they join in the Goofy choir, the ensemble is suddenly in the middle of a highly poly-gaga version of Goofy's Danish laugh, yes, now the cicadas are actually singing ... Until it suddenly stops and the rehearsal continues with unabated concentration. Hydr Hydr Hydr – it pops up when you least expect it: At the baggage conveyor belt in the airport, in customs where a serious customs officer stamps the import and export of the instruments, at the dress rehearsal while the composer for the first performance that evening excitedly and nervously comments on the playing... Cikada is an expression of something uncontrollable, strangeness set to a formula.

While we’re in that goofy mode: At a party in a café in Oslo at the end of the Ultima festival in Oslo one year, people suddenly experienced conductor Christian Eggen and a couple of the musicians running through the rooms shouting strange words. They returned at regular intervals to the great amazement of the guests in the café. What can do you do about something like that?

Cikada is an expression of something uncontrollable, strangeness set to a formula. You can’t frame such a strange ensemble in an attractive portrait under glass.

The musicians’ creative disposition will always be greater than the text and the members of the group will at any time make a individual composer’s text look ridiculous because there will always be an important facet which has got lost.

I have travelled with these musicians, followed them round the world and seen their conductor working in close contact with other ensembles. I once wrote in a review that “the Cikada Ensemble gets better and better every time”. I stand by that statement. Cikada has managed to create innovative projects which resound far beyond the borders of Norway. No other ensemble interprets, for example, the Dane Bent Sørensen’s music in such a perceptive way as Cikada.

Cikada’s repertoire develops with interplay between a core of Norwegian and Nordic works juxtaposed with carefully selected international works, and it is the aim of the ensemble both to cultivate innovative acoustic music and to integrate electro-acoustic music into the ensemble’s repertoire.

Through commissions from Nordic and international composers, the ensemble continually expands its repertoire, always having the long-term perspective in view and the knowledge that the music both deserves and grows with repeated performances.

Central to this long-term strategy is a close form of collaboration with leading Nordic and international composers for the development of individual works, concerts from and projects combining various art forms.

In addition, for several years the ensemble has collaborated with composers such as Rolf Wallin, Asbjørn Schaathun, Cecilie Ore, Arne Nordheim, Bent Sørensen, Karsten Fundal, Kaija Saariaho, Magnus Lindberg, Rolf Enström, Anders Nilsson, Åke Parmerud, Sven-David Sandström, James Clarke, James Dillon, Stefano Gervasoni, Richard Barrett and Liza Lim and has developed concerts of music by individual composers such as John Cage, Morton Feldman, Iannis Xenakis, Franco Donatoni and Luigi Nono.


Postlude

More information can be found on www.cikada.no. The ensemble has recorded a number of CDs and has an impressive repertoire of commissioned works. The award of the Nordic Council Music Prize to Cikada is a natural consequence of the purposeful work the ensemble has achieved since 1989. There is every reason to congratulate Cikada on the prize. Norwegian culture in general and Cikada in particular have got hold of the winning cards. Hold on to them tight, one is tempted to say. Cikada’s musicians will probably just smile - and do something quite unexpected just for the fun of it if for no other reason.

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