There’s a violinist, well known in Norway. He’s played in Iona Brown’s Norwegian Chamber Orchestra and in Mariss Jansons’s Oslo Philharmonic. He’s been a guest leader of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Camerata Salzburg. He’s worked all over Scandinavia and Europe, and he’s nurtured the careers of countless colleagues.
But soon enough, he starts to have some odd ideas. As his love for music grows ever stronger, he becomes dissatisfied with accepted orchestral routines. He stumbles upon a theory: that people’s fear of making mistakes is eclipsing their desire to create new things; stifling their hunger and curiosity. He discovers the unbridled joy of the best rock and pop music, inspired by its communicative instinct and passionate following. If classical music is going to survive, he decides, it needs to find its voice in people who want to play together – who need to play together.
So our violinist does something about it. He assembles a pool of 70 outstanding professional and student musicians from Stavanger, Bergen and Kristiansand – each marked-out by a desire to learn, a willingness to work and a passion for music in all its forms. From that pool he forms a new orchestra, with a new attitude and a new sound. Mistakes are allowed. Judgements and hierarchies aren’t. Education underpins everything it does – in the widest possible sense.
The violinist is Jan Bjøranger, and the orchestra is 1B1, taking its name from the district of Stavanger which now boasts the finest concert hall in Norway. From the ensemble’s first public performance in 2008, its hallmarks are audible: a tight, smooth sound with a dash of fizz and noticeable sense of rhythm – of groove. Never, Bjøranger decides, will the desire to express emotion be sacrificed on the altar of perfection – whether the music is by Vivaldi, Mozart, Shostakovich or Reich. Taking the lead from rock, jazz and world musicians, the ensemble will remove music stands wherever possible – eliminating the barrier between performers and fans.
Today Ensemble 1B1 still stands apart from every other orchestra in Norway. One week it gives a life-changing performance of Handel’s Messiahwith high school students who have never heard a live orchestra before, let along sung with one. The next it joins street dancers in Manhattan at New York’s River to River festival. It now records for the microphones of Simax and Bis. All the while, a spirit of energy, discovery, respect and collaboration run through it. Wherever possible, curious-minded performers or thinkers are invited to collaborate with 1B1. Soon enough, composers Peteris Vasks and Chiel Mejerling want a slice of the action.
In its sixth year, 1B1 is helping to change the cultural landscape not just of Stavanger but of the classical music world. Now, it’s not just the orchestra that’s new: its audiences are too. Welcome to your new orchestra Norway. There’s a world of discovery coming your way.