The Kitchen is the place to be

Is it a coincidence that Kitchen Orchestra and the Gastronomic Institute call Stavanger home? Is there something genetic that makes Norway’s oil capital an artistic center for both music and film? It’s difficult to find an explanation as to why Stavanger has the position it has, but the fact that the city is a center for improvised and creative music these days can be attributed to Kitchen Orchestra. A lot of what is happening in this scene gravitates around the orchestra.


What started as an initiative from Gunhild Seim and Nils Henrik Asheim – an invitation to the Danish saxophonist and composer Lotte Anker in 2005 – kicked off a creative decade with new Kitchen Orchestra projects. In an interview with Stuart Nicholson in the Norwegian magazine Jazznytt, drummer Dag Magnus Narvesen stresses the importance of that first initiative: «Lotte Anker gave us a flying start, musically.»


Coincidences play a larger role in life than one would like to believe, and in its nascent phase there was no «master plan» for Kitchen Orchestra. Regardless, the orchestra developed quickly and enthusiastically because the musicians recognized a latent need for this type of ensemble. Flexibility has always been a key concept. Not only have they invited many different orchestra leaders and composers to work with them over the years, but they change the instrumental line-up as needed, giving the musicians a large array of musical challenges. One can’t call Kitchen Orchestra a permanent ensemble – maybe a musician pool would be more appropriate. The term «sinfonietta» is used in the classical world, but Kitchen Orchestra is always Kitchen Orchestra regardless of the line-up – you don’t mess with the brand!


The orchestra’s collective creative energy and flexibility consistently brings them to new places and arenas. In its earliest beginnings, the founders probably never imagined Christmas concerts and single releases of new Christmas songs with Pål Jackman («Jul [i sin helhet] på Jæren») and Janove Ottesen («Pumper julen rett inn»), but today they fit right in with Kitchen Orchestra’s concept. Projects such as these and «Lydsafari» («Sound Safari») in conjunction with the opening of Stavanger’s new concert house have kept Kitchen Orchestra in the consciousness of the city’s citizens. «Lydsafari», conceived by Asheim, was performed by the orchestra six times in one day, at different locations in and around the new concert house.


Kitchen Orchestra challenges its members and encourages both their own and others’ musical development. Via internal workshops, led by its own members, the orchestra gives itself new musical impulses. The orchestra is made up not only of fine ensemble musicians and improvisers, but also educators with many years of experience. In addition to being one of the orchestra’s founders, Gunhild Seim conducts Stavanger and Sandnes Youth Big Band and together with Kitchen trombonist Gaute Vikdal led a project between the orchestra and the Jåtten School band – performing the music of Miles Davis in a program called «Jåtten Goes Miles.» This is a concrete example of the orchestra building alliances with the local music scene. «Children are naturally open, so improvising with them and doing fun things with the music is fulfilling,» she told Rogalands Avis at the time.


Alliances, connections and broad-mindedness are important in a relatively small city like Stavanger; regardless, Kitchen Orchestra has become a creative center with which many inside and outside of the city have worked, and fortunately for Stavanger the scene is dogma-free, allowing Kitchen Orchestra to act as the catalyst for many artistic projects.


One of many music genres that the orchestra has had in its sights is baroque. In May 2013 the baroque ensemble Stavanger barokk collaborated with Stine Motland, Petter Frost Fadnes, Vidar Schanche, Didrik Ingvaldsen, Johan Egdetveit and Thomas Bang from Kitchen Orchestra, under the leadership of Nils Henrik Asheim, at the Nordischer Klang festival in Greifswald, Germany.


A key to understanding Kitchen Orchestra’s artistic success is the relationship between the members’ connection with the orchestra and their own projects. The symbiosis between Kitchen Orchestra and the external projects of its members is the rule, rather than conflicts of interest or priorities. Instead of tapping the orchestra of energy, new impulses are brought back to the mother ship.


What really identifies the orchestra are the collaborations with musicians such as Evan Parker, Keith Tippett, and Alexander von Schlippenbach, among others. As I write this article, the CD «Kitchen Orchestra with Alexander von Schlippenbach» has been playing on repeat, reminding me how successful such collaborations can be when the chemistry is right. The CD is a horn of plenty, a bottomless vessel – bombastic free jazz, tight ensemble playing, funky grooves and booming trombones.


Kitchen Orchestra began their tenth season with a concert at Stavanger’s Maijazz festival with the Estonian saxophonist and composer Maria Faust; it continues with a reunion with Lotte Anker, the composer that gave the orchestra its flying start. In October, the orchestra will host and collaborate with Phonetic Orchestra from Australia. A new Christmas concert, of course, and a commissioned work by the Norwegian composer Geir Lysne during the 2016 edition of Maijazz. The pots are simmering in the kitchen – to the joy of Stavanger and the rest of the kingdom. Happy tenth anniversary!


– Lars Mossefinn