August 14, 2022

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Georg Buljo, fra urfremføringen av «Kalvskinnsangen» under Olavsfestdagene 2022.

“The Song of Calfskin” by Jorge Polgo on Olafvest Days – reviews and recommendations

There is very little story behind the work that Jorge Polgo commissioned to Olafsvestedaer for this year.

Sami prisoners in Trondheim Prison in the 19th century were not allowed to use their mother tongue. Thus, they were largely deprived of the opportunity to communicate with each other and with the outside world.

Except during services. Here Sami is allowed – while chanting the hymn. He gently allowed Samer to sing hymns in his mother tongue.

I communicated secretly

In this language gap, Sami prisoners developed a secret form of communication, right under the noses of the Norwegian-speaking public.

The warders believed that the foreign language that emanated from the throats of prisoners was limited to the word of God. In fact, Sami men and women have woven their own stories, big and small, into each other.

It could be about anything from the news from home to the problems of life in prison.

But also topics of a more intimate and personal nature. Love relationships began, children were born into captivity. Because of the signature song developed by the Sami in Calveskinite Prison.

This song forms the basis of George Polgo’s new work “The Song of Calfskin”, which was premiered at Nidaros Cathedral as part of Olafest Days.

Here is the contrast between singing the hymn and the Sami musical tradition It has acquired a very modern and personal musical expression.

There is no doubt that Jorge Polgo is the right man to create the new Calfskin Song.

Guitar Solo: Jorge Bolgo is one of Norway’s most versatile musicians.

Photo: Esben Kamstrup / Olavsfest

rich palette

With “The Calfskin Song”, Buljo is adding new dimensions to his already rich musical palette.

Based on the historical background, Buljo has written and edited a range of texts with slightly different themes, in Northern and Southern Sami, Norwegian, English and Latin.

Dressed in musical costume that ranges from Gregorian-inspired choral singing, through traditional Norwegian and Sámi music to jazz, folk and modern electronica.

With him on the team, Bulgo has four instrumentalists, Marga Mortenson and Nico Valkiaba, not least Nidarosdomens Oratoriekor.

From the song's premiere

Joker: Marga Mortenson, Jorge Pulgo and Nico Valkiaba. In the background: Per Willy Aaserud (trumpet) and Nidaros Oratoriekor.

Photo: Esben Kamstrup / Olavsfest

Bulgo himself contributes to vocal improvisation in the stylistic range between jazz and joek, as well as the creative use of guitar, percussion and electronics. There was also room for a proper guitar solo with more than a touch of rock ‘n’ roll at the end.

lack of diversity

In the center of “Kalvskinnsangen” is the dialogue between the choral song “Church” and the more “popular” music with joik as a supporting element.

From the song's premiere

Ecclesiastical Church: The Nidaros Oratory Choir plays a central role in George Bulgo’s “Song of the Calfskin”.

Photo: Esben Kampstrup / Olavsfest

The choral bolgo movement draws inspiration from early polyphonic church music and more recent composers such as Arvo Pärt and John Taverner. Here, Buljo shows a good understanding of both style and craft, even if the personal touch isn’t as evident here as in “other” music at work.

Nidaros oratory choir sounds subtle and balanced, under the firm guidance of the contour Karin Haujom Olsen.

I could still have wished for a greater musical range, with sharper contrasts between the different musical elements. Very few movements developed a meditative, slow, sluggish, and weak expression.

For me, the highlights were some of the solo vocal performances. For example, the fourth song “Il mij” (“Nothing”) with Marja Mortensson as a soloist. A kind of mid-tempo joic soul with elegant and funky accompaniment from a guitarist Helge Harstad and percussionist Christian Svensson.

Joiker Marja Mortensson, from the premiere of

Solfull: Marga Mortenson was one of the highlights during Jorge Bolgo’s “Calfskin Ballad”.

Photo: Esben Kamstrup / Olavsfest

Obviously, the fact that this song has become a standout also means that Mortensson is one of the most exciting and recognizable singers in Norway at the moment, regardless of genre. Every sonorous nuance she creates with her voice is charged with meaning and strength.

But I wish I had heard more. Undoubtedly, having three powerful vocal artists like Bulgo, Mortenson and Valkipa on stage at the same time is a luxury. But the price you pay is that none of them can do as much as you want them to.

The storytelling is not clear

The program brochure describes “The Calfskin Song” as “a sublime love story from Nidaros Correctional Facility”. But the connections to the Calveskinite events of the nineteenth century became blurred to me throughout most of the work.

Buljo’s texts have no clear sender or receiver, and mostly relate to essential features of human life, regardless of time and place.

Of course, it is easy to imagine that the sounds of words belong to people in families, suffering from questions of separation, darkness, death, hope and love.

But this is by no means necessary in order for the texts to make an impression and be perceived as relevant.

Perhaps this is a strength, that the relationship with the story is more allegorical, and that the work never tries to become a kind of prison rhetoric based on real events.

At the same time, these events are so powerful and distinctive that I leave the performance of work with a feeling of unfulfilled potential.

A clearer understanding of form and an objective focus would have produced a work that seemed more comprehensive, and which succeeded in shedding even greater light on the astonishing importance of language and music in one of the darkest and most disgraceful chapters in Norwegian history.

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