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HCMF 2013: Cecilie Ore

Profile composer at the 2013 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Cecilie Ore, is featured with no less than two major works at the key UK event: a new version of her ‘A. – a shadow opera’ as well as the first performance by the BBC Singers of her ‘Come to the Edge!’ – an impassioned cry for freedom of speech that draws upon Abraham Lincoln, Lenny Bruce and the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot.

– It is exciting to work politically with the arts, says Cecilie Ore. Earlier I worked in a more abstract form, but presently I think it makes more sense to be in closer touch with the world. The arts must start to care again!

This year she participates with two works at HCMF: A new version of A. – a shadow opera and a brand new work commissioned for the BBC Singers, Come to the Edge! The first one is reflecting ancient Greek drama and the latter the trial of Pussy Riot members. Both works have a clear political message dealing with political power, violence, democracy and freedom of speech.

A. – a shadow opera had its world premiere in Oslo in 2001. As the title suggests, the work is a shadow of an opera, without singing, but where text and spoken voice become the source material of the work. From loudspeakers around the audience actors recite a Norwegian text by Paal-Helge Haugen while the chorus comments in Japanese, Greek, German and English. In the new version Torbjørn Ljunggren´s video projected on four walls renders a compressed version of the Norwegian text translated into English. It is Agamemnon walking through the history of war from ancient Greece to Auschwitz and Vietnam.

The projected video on four surrounding walls ignores the space of the physical room and rather invites the audience inside the head of Agamemnon, explains Cecilie Ore. A. – a shadow opera is an inner monologue where the letter A stands for both Agamemnon and ’all human beings’. Voice and chorus illustrate together one and all at the same time. I have tried to compose Agamemnon`s chaotic state of mind by multiplying fragments of his inner monologue and throwing them non-synchronized around the room.

Despite the absence of singers and the use of video projections, A. – a shadow opera is shaped in accordance with baroque opera: Prologue – Situation – Ritornello – Action – Ritornello – Apogeé – (the story seen from outside) – Ritornello – Action – Ritornello – Situation – Epilogue- The short ritornellos of the choir focus on the main theme: the total denial of responsibility —which is often the case with people with power, smiles Cecilie Ore. After each choral part the language gradually disintegrates, illustrated by the letters of the video projection slowly crumbling and falling over creating a metaphor over destroyed cities, the ruinous remains forming the basis for the next section.



Cecilie Ore (born 1954) has been a fearless voice on the Norwegian music scene since the 1980´s. Among other acclaim this secured her the Arne Nordheim Prize in 2004. She studied composition with a.o. Ton de Leeuw in Amsterdam and early won a name for herself within the field of electro-acoustic music. In 1988 she acquired both the 1st and 2nd price at the International Rostrum for Electro-Acoustic Music for her work Etapper.

Her occupation with time as a theme in her composing resulted in the tetralogies Codex Temporis and Tempura Mutantur. The former consists of Praesens Subitus, Futurum Exactum, Erat Erit Est and Lex Temporis. In Tempura Mutantur she develops this theme further in Non Nunquam, Nunquam Non, Semper Semper and Ictus.

In other works she has explored the use of the human voice. In Calliope for female voice (Text: Gertrude Stein) she successfully blends a combination of song and speech. For the vocal ensemble Nordic Voices, an ensemble interested in vocal experiments, she wrote Schwirren (Text: Das Fliegenpapier, by Robert Musil). Similarly she makes an innovative use of the human voice in the installation Lux Illuxit, which can be heard when you enter the National Archives in Oslo.

In-between the two works presented at the HCMF, Cecilie Ore has worked with opera. Being the thorough and profound artist she has proven to be, she has explored and tested out the genre in collaboration with the dramaturge/playwright Bibbi Moslet. Together they created the opera Dead Beat Escapement about the death penalty in American prisons – a much acclaimed performance at The Norwegian National Opera in 2008. Their new opera Adam and Eve – a divine comedy, has violence against women as a theme and is planned premiered in 2015.

– I have learned a lot from working with opera, she explains. It has actually influenced me as a composer. Virtually all scenic texts have some kind of psychological basis and this induces my music to develop more from a textual standpoint, which is also the case with my choir work Come to the Edge!

Come to the Edge! which is commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and HCMF for the BBC Singers, has its title from a poem by Christopher Logue. This poem, as well as excerpts from the trial of Pussy Riot members in Moscow Court and quotes about free speech from George Washington, William Shakespeare, St. Catherine of Siena, Che Guevara and Harry Belafonte a.o. form the basis for the work. The quotes show that the Pussy Riot members are in good company. By provoking an entire socio-political system, they execute an extremely important work for human rights and democracy in Russia. – Thus, I want to pursue a choral expression that is not solely abstract, but where meaning and political impact of the text become integral parts of the composition, Cecilie Ore ends our talk.


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