Culture: Norwegian-Russian Irina Collaborates with Arctic Philharmonic to Create Sami and Kven Children's Music

Komponist og kantor, Irina Girunyan.
Irina Girunyan is one of six composers creating new music with Sami and Kven with the Arctic Philharmonic. (Photo: Marie Staberg)

Bodø (High North News): The Arctic Philharmonic is investing in Sami and Kven music. Norwegian-Russian Irina Girunyan is part of the initiative and will compose a piece for children. "It feels very right."

Les på norsk.

"I have never been interested in music for children. Never. But now I find it exciting," says the Norwegian-Russian composer Irina Girunyan.

"What has changed?"

"I don't know. I have. Things happen spontaneously. I was searching for a good Kven text and found an adventure."

Girunyan is one of six composers chosen by the Arctic Philharmonic to promote Sami and Kven music.

High North News met her in Bodø. She normally lives in Alta, Finnmark's largest city. At home, she works as a cantor in the Alta and Talkvik parishes.

In the Norwegian church, the cantor is the church's organist, i.e., someone who performs the organ service and leads the church's musical activities.

During the past years, she has written several movements for Sálbmagirji and Sálbmagirji II, Northern Sami hymnals. She has also written several Kven choral works for Vokal Nord.

The topic is close to my heart.

Now, she is doing something she has never done before. Girunyan is composing a piece for children.

"I think it will be a children's show, based on instrumental music with lyrics, alternately in Sami, Kven, and Norwegian, if necessary. It won't be difficult to do it in different languages."

The composer wanted to find common ground for the Nordic cultures. Girunyan, who grew up in Siberia in Russia, is familiar with the fairytale Goldilocks and the Three Bears. 

"I know it from childhood and then found it in both Kven and Norwegian. It is a relevant fairytale shared by most Nordic countries."

The characters' feelings will be central throughout the fairytale. The plan is for the characters in the fairytale to be played through instruments and a storyteller.

Andreas Gundersen, Arktisk Filharmoni
Kunstnerisk rådgiver for samisk og kvensk musikk i Arktisk Filharmoni, Andreas Gundersen (Foto: Mats Jensaas).
Artistic Advisor for Sami and Kven Music for the Arctic Philharmonic, Andreas Gundersen. (Photo: Mats Jensaas)

"It feels very right to use this fairytale. It is very exciting."

"Nearly impossible to choose"

There were a total of 16 applicants for the project. Four would initially be chosen for the project, but the project gained two additional composers due to outstanding candidates.

"Choosing candidates for such a project is always difficult, and we have had many good applications."

The statement comes from Andreas Gundersen, the Artistic Advisor for Sami and Kven Music for the Arctic Philharmonic.

"Quality has been the most important criterion, but creativity, the composition of composers, and the stories that will be told have also been important. We are very proud of all the composers we will present and look forward to the collaboration."

Gundersen believes the project will contribute positively to the reconciliation work that he believes must be done in Norway today.

"We must keep working on structures that make life fair and nice for all Sami and Kvens."

"We are an orchestra mainly operating in Northern Norway. Therefore, it is important to address the indigenous peoples and the minorities we have. It would feel natural not to work for the region, and Sami and Kven people are an important part of the region."

Vidar Josefsen er en av seks som skal komponere ny musikk med Arktisk Filharmoni.
Vidar Josefsen er en av de seks komponistene som skal skape ny musikk med samisk og kvensk forankring sammen med Arktisk Filharmoni (Foto: Privat).
Vidar Josefsen is one of the six composers who will create new Sami and Kven music with the Arctic Philharmonic. (Photo: Private)

The orchestra aims to premiere six new pieces in 2025.

Five other composers

The remaining elected composers are Vidar Josefsen, Jon Øivind Næss, Herborg Rundberg, Mathilde Gross Viddal, and Vegar Guleng.

All of the composers have connections to the North, including the Kven and Sami musical traditions and other musical traditions on the Cap of the North.

"When I saw the job advertisement, it was obvious to me that I had to apply since the project combines music and the Kven," says composer Vidar Josefsen. 

Josefsen is Kven and comes from Børselv in Porsanger, Northern Norway. He is interested in compositions inspired by various cultures.

"My point is that I, as a younger generation Kven, wish to convey something that I have received through my cultural heritage and try to translate it into music."

Josefsen believes it is good that the Arctic Philharmonic invests in both music reproduction and new music development.

"I think it's nice that Andreas, who coordinates the Kven and the Sami within the Arctic Philharmonic, puts this on the agenda. It's very nice, but also well-timed, considering what is happening in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission."

Josefsen believes the project will contribute to building bridges.

The six chosen composers

Irina Girunyan

Irina Girunyan is a Norwegian/Russian composer living in Alta, working as a cantor in Alta and Talkvik parishes. She has written movements for Sálbmagirji and Sálbmagirji II, Northern Sami hymnals, protecting the hymn tradition in the area with Sami singing style and melody. Irina has also written several Kven choral works for Vokal Nord.

Vidar Josefsen

Vidar Josefsen is Kven and comes from Børselv in Porsanger, Northern Norway. He holds a bachelor's degree in composition and musical theory from Royal Holloway, University of London, where he became interested in compositions inspired by various genres and cultures. Through this project, he wishes to explore his Kven background and convey the atmosphere of a Kven home through music in an orchestra format. 

Jon Øivind Ness

Jon Øyvind Næss has studied guitar and composition at the Norwegian Academy of Music. He has composed commissioned works for the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra & Opera and the Oslo Philharmonic, among others. He has also released several albums. In 2010, he won the Norwegian Spellemann Award for the release Low together with the Oslo Philharmonic and Rolf Gupta. Jon Øivind is also a sought-after organizer, and he organized the music for KORK's tribute to David Bowie in 2020, among other things.

Herborg Rundberg

Herborg Rundberg, from Kåfjord in Northern Troms, is a composer and pianist with classical and rhythmic education from the UiT Academy of Music. She has also written commission pieces for Nordnorsk Jazzensemble and the Riddu Riddu festival, among others. She has also released several critically acclaimed albums with the duo Leagus. Herborg also teaches piano and Sami/Kven interaction at Tromsø Cultural School.

Vegar Guleng

Vegar Guleng has composed and played the piano since he was six. As a young adult, he studied composition privately with Wolfgang Plagge and later with Morten Christophersen at the University of Oslo. He holds a master's degree in composition from NTNU and has since studied under the Belgian composer Wim Henderickx. Vegar has written music for both amateur and professional ensembles at home and abroad.

Mathilde Grooss Viddal

Mathilde Gross Viddal has long belonged to the elite of creative and performing artists in the Norwegian music scene. She has won prestigious awards internationally for her work as a composer and organizer. Her own FriEnsemble has released five albums that have received rave reviews internationally and at home. Mathilde's music is characterized by an openness across genre and cultural boundaries in what she calls "World music in a contemporary jazz format."

Source: the Arctic Philharmonic.

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