At the opening night of Norway’s Trondheim kammermusikkfestival everyone is included; even the harbourside boats get a look-in, sounding their horns as part of a musical celebration of ‘sounds of the town’. They almost upstage a spotlit musician, Bergmund Skaslien, who has been suspended upside-down from a crane with his viola. This, the culmination of an evening of quirky musical spectacle, has seen violinist Daniel Hope encourage the crowds to join in with Steve Reich’s Clapping Music, while festival composer HK Gruber has performed pieces from his opera Gomorra.

Boat horns aside, what is exceptional about the Trondheim Festival, and why it draws such outstanding names – Janácek’s Violin Sonata sees Daniel Hope and Norwegian piano hero Leif Ove Andsnes on stage together for the first time – is this expertly crafted mix of genres. ‘There shouldn’t be a division between a contemporary music festival and a chamber music festival,’ insists artistic director Sigmund Tvete Vik. A violinist himself, and a founding member of the Trondheim Soloists, he explains how the festival has grown out of the city’s pioneering development of young musicians back in the 1970s. As one of this system’s first generation, along with festival director Vegar Snøfugl, he went on to form the Soloists in 1988 followed by the festival, which is now in its 16th year and runs alongside an International Chamber Music Competition. As a young performer, having seen how old some UK musical society audiences were, Tvete Vik was keen to try something new. ‘We wanted to show the young generation that chamber music can be so much more than just Mozart, so we wanted to integrate the whole thing.’

Another benefit to the city is the close proximity of its festival venues, which sees festival goers hurrying from one concert to the next, dodging flurries of bicycles (these have right of way on Norwegian pavements!). One of the most striking venues is Nidaros Cathedral. Building began in 1070 over the tomb of St Olav, the region’s Viking ruler who converted to Christianity. Nearby in the shopping centre his 18-metre statue gazes down the street as townsfolk stock up on their daily goods. I’d been told that one of the many saint statues on the cathedral’s west wall had a ‘restored’ face of Bob Dylan but I couldn’t find him among the heavenly host. Impressive enough in the day, at night – midnight to be precise – the dimly lit cathedral holds an atmospheric festival concert by its own Girls’ Choir, performing works led by percussionist Hans-Kristian Kjos Sørenson. Folk music and eerie choral swishing noises mingle as the choristers perform his work Improvisasjon.

Another night time concert, in the 12th-century Archbishop’s Palace, sees Daniel Hope take a whirlwind tour through Baroque music on his 1769 Gagliano violin. A festival director himself, he knows what makes a good festival tick. ‘The Trondheim Festival is about connecting worlds and about looking at music in its context. The programming here is brave and exciting and that’s why I like coming. It’s a town thriving on music.’ Hope mentions that there’s another famous Brit in town: he’s spotted John Cleese and can’t resist suggesting that perhaps he was ‘pining for the fjords’?

It’s not often you can hear a concert by the great trumpeter, Håkan Hardenberger, and meet the composer, HK Gruber, too, who has composed a work, Exposed Throat (2000) especially for him. ‘Håkan has pieces in his repertoire by living composers,’ says Gruber, ‘and he is playing them, so that means he is bringing living music to the world.’ And that’s what is so refreshing about Trondheim: a look around reveals how the programming draws a wide mix of ages – proof that the festival is planning for future generations.

Five musical highlights

Trondheim kammermusikkfestival
This year’s festival (19-25 September), promises another winning line-up. Prepare for top-flight chamber music from the Hagen Quartet, while Brett Dean takes the helm as the festival composer. (

Ringve Museum
Visit Norway’s national music museum and see a vast display of musical instruments, including hardingfeles and seljefløytes (folk fiddles and flutes). There’s even a lock of Liszt’s hair… or maybe it was from his hairdresser’s dog? (

As well as being a kammermusikkfestival venue, this converted boat shed on the harbourside features jazz stars and showcases the best of the city’s young music groups. (

This old animal-feed warehouse has been turned into one of the city’s most striking buildings, with a giant metal-tanked rooftop covered in memorabilia including that of pop group A-ha. (

Nidaros Cathedral
 The world’s most northerly Gothic cathedral hosts regular concerts, not least from its resident Girls’ Choir. (




The article 'Musical destinations: Trondheim, Norway' was published in partnership with BBC Music magazine.