Uranienborg Church in Oslo  

OSLO - The world carillon congress took place in Oslo from June 26 till July 1. The official organizer was the NSCK, the Scandinavian Campanological Guild. Vegar Sandholt, city carillonneur of Oslo, shared the hosting duties with Ann-Kirstine Christiansen, president of the NSCK, and Peter Langberg, honorary president of the NSCK.

Liesbeth Janssens   ___________________________________________

At the registration desk in the Rica Victoria Hotel every congress participant was extended a warm welcome by the organizing committee. Everybody received a brief-case with congress book, rain cape, tourist leaflets, a beautiful brochure about the new carillon of Uranienborg and a compilation of Norwegian hymns by Sven Ellington set to music by contemporary Norwegian composers. Although this collection is mainly useful for Norwegian churchgoers, it gives a nice impression of one of the many sides of Norwegian live.

The City Hall of Oslo, known worldwide because of the annual Nobel prize presentations, was at the disposal of the congress participants for the various meetings and lectures. Queen Sonja of Norway was patroness of the congress and showed her interest with her presence at a reception, held in one of the beautiful rooms of the City Hall.

Today Oslo has three carillons, of which the last one had just been finished. The first and best-known carillon is that of the City Hall, with bells cast in 1950 (4), 1952 (34) and 2000 (11). This carillon transposes a semitone down. The Oslo Cathedral has, since last year, a very light carillon of 48 bells that transposes up a fifth. The third carillon, in the Uranienborg Church, is a light three-octaves instrument of 36 bells transposing up one tone.

The three carillons were cast and installed by Olsen Nauen. The appearance of the bells is characterized by the 'cornered' lip and the noticeable beats in the sound. The carillon of Uranienborg is the most homogenous of the three.

The keyboards and automatic chiming installations of the first two carillons were supplied by Clock-O-Matic, those of the last one were delivered by Eijsbouts. City carillonneur Vegar Sandholt opted in Uranienborg for a Keyboard 2000 and a pneumatic automatic chiming installation. For many European congress participants this was the first time they came into contact with both systems.

As fourth instrument for the recitals, the travelling carillon of bell-founder Olsen Nauen was frequently used. This carillon consists of 52 bells.

The lecture about 'Healing Bells' by the Norwegian psychiatrist Audun Myskja was very exceptional. According to him, modern medical research demonstrates that sound perception and pain affect the same nerve centre. With appropriate sound, for example of bronze bells or Tibetan scales, pain can be driven away that is no longer treatable with medication.

In general there was a great variation between location, recitals, lectures and other activities. The quality of the lectures was rather unequal, and it will remain difficult to set up a quality control mechanism for this. Of course, responsibility for the standard of a lecture primarily lies with the lecturer and not with the congress organiser. I was waiting in vain for novelties and scientific findings about the carillon.

Eye-catchers of the congress were the panel discussions about "Automatic music - comparison of pneumatic and electromagnetic automation of carillons", "Carillon design", "The carillon - where does the future lead us?" and "Cooperation between bell-founder and musician towards the best carillon". These lectures were significant for their titles rather than their contents.

During the successful day trip to the Olsen Nauen foundry, Karel Keldermans addressed in a speech the carillon designers and carillonneurs. For one thing he thought the best solution to uprate the carillon as a concert instrument is to remove all automatic chiming mechanisms (!) and to stop playing instruments that sound out-of-tune. On the other hand the perfect instrument still does not exist, and carillonneurs are tired of having to digest everything that carillon designers deliver.

It is the first time that this statement was made during a WCF congress, and let us hope that the message is finally clear: quality and guarantees. Conversely Olsen Nauen said that he hoped for cooperation with carillonneurs; what exactly does the carillonneur want and how can we (carillon designer and carillonneur) accomplish that?

Milford Myhre advanced the thesis of pursuing the ideal. He defined the ideal carillon as a 'grand carillon': a non-transposing instrument or an instrument transposing down for at its most a third, with an extended bass starting with an F0 chromatically up to five and a half octaves. A less large instrument can always be chosen, but limiting options in the beginning means a needless restriction. Reasons for limitations in the very beginning are often: customs and background of the initiator, the restraints of a specific tower and the lack of sufficient funding. A phenomenon particularly seen in Europe. Rarely if ever a 'grand carillon' is taken as starting point.

Again there were many recitals to listen to. Recitals with a theme among them were often very interesting, like for example a recital with Norwegian music by Ann-Kirstine Christiansen and a second recital by Anne Kroeze. The performance of the first part of Grieg's piano concerto by Kroeze started a dispute about whether this kind of music should or should not be played on a carillon. The performance makes the discussion redundant: just do it!

Peter Langberg played contemporary music from Scandinavia and Jacques Maassen modern work of Dutch origin. Eddy MariŽn played the carillon compositions of Jef Rottiers and Anna Maria Revertť and Ana and Sara Elias performed Iberian music.

The audience attending the carillon recitals mainly consisted of congress participants. Though a few hundred Norwegians were present during the night concert on the Youngstorget Square by the Royal Norwegian Navy Orchestra, sometimes together with the travelling carillon and closing with a beautiful display of fireworks as an accompaniment to Hšndel's 'Music for the Royal Fireworks'.

Regarding the recitals by representatives of each guild, the newcomers were particularly interesting, and that remains in my opinion an important trend. Carillonneurs who have not performed yet at a world congress, preferably new or young talents, should be given priority to play. New to a WCF congress were the representatives of the VBV (Marc Van Eyck), NKV (Frans Haagen) and NSCK (Arnfinn Nedland).

Unfortunately, no listening spot free of traffic noise could be found in the vicinity of the City Hall. The listening place near the Cathedral was much better, although the instrument sounded fairly soft due to the rather small belfry windows. The small park right next to the Uranienborg Church appeared to be an ideal listening place where the carillon could be heard excellently.

During the day of the excursion the carillons of Bragernes (Bergholz, 35 bells) and Sandefjord (Schilling, 25 bells) were played also.

The logistics of the congress were good to very good. Most locations were within walking distance. If not, public transport was suggested, or an unofficial car was arranged for people being less good walkers. During the noon recitals, an extensive buffet of Norwegian bread rolls and drinks was usually provided.

It is a pity that comparatively very few people (116) took part in this event. Noticeably absent were delegates from France and the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Did the increasing use of the English language, the somewhat early period in the season, the (alleged) high costs in Oslo indeed have an influence on the willingness to participate? Or is the frequency of world congresses too high and should one return from a two-yearly to a three-yearly or even the original four-yearly interval?

The opportunity to spend free time playing the City Hall carillon was sufficient. The atmosphere was very relaxed and amicable. Oslo itself also offers some beautiful parks, castles and musea, like the Vigeland Park, the Royal Palace, the Akershus Slot and the National Museum of Art, where the greatest Norwegian painters are brought together with among others 'The Scream' of Edvard Munch.

As planned, the 2006 WCF congress will take place in Gdansk, Poland. There was a remarkable number of Poles present in Oslo, maybe even the biggest delegation of all countries. The Polish carillon society consists primarily of young people, a big difference from the average carillon society. The congress will pay much attention to the automatic carillon music of Gdansk, a unique collection of 400 years of music for drum mechanisms.

For 2008 there were two candidates: The Netherlands and Australia. The Netherlands had already made a bid in Cobh, but than had to give way to Poland. However, as in recent years, this time also the country that was making a bid for the second time was the successful candidate and so the WCF congress 2008 will take place in Groningen.

Apparently, a psychological barrier prevents some delegates from going to Australia: too far (and so expensive). Nevertheless, I personally hope that Australia will be chosen, because Sydney, Canberra and Wellington possess concert carillons of top quality and have a lot of potential to organize a successful congress. Also, it is financially feasible because a reduction in the cost of air travel was promised.