A photo from Sunday's concert at the 2019 Kon-Tiki Chamber Music Festival, Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" arranged for piano solo (Elizabeth Pridgen) and string quintet. (credit: Ingrid Hillestad)

Kon-Tiki Festival brings chamber music to an historic seafaring setting

John lemley and Mark Gresham | 18 JUN 2019

OSLO, NORWAY—  Across the fjord from downtown Oslo lies Bygdøy, where the Norwegian seafaring heritage is proudly on display in multiple museums. The park-like peninsula can be reached by land by way of the Dronning Blancas vei off the European route E18 expressway, although the more fitting way of getting there is the Bygdøyfergene – the ferry boat to the museums and other sights, which are all a short walk from the ferry landing and each other. Bygdøy is said to offer the best day trip for anyone visiting Oslo.

Three great ninth-century Viking ships and plenty of artifacts are housed in There’s the Viking Ship Museum, where ninth-century Viking ships and artifacts well described in English, both by signage and English-speaking bus-tour guides. The Norwegian Folk Museum, which offers a look at how those who stayed home lived with over 155 traditional buildings acquired from all over Norway and reassembled on the museum’s 35 acres.

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Then there are the stories of modern explorers. The Fram Museum houses Fram, the strongest wooden ship ever built, which took Norwegians Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen deep into the Arctic and Antarctic, and still holds the records for sailing farthest north and south. There is also the Kon-Tiki Museum, with the Kon-Tiki and the Ra II, the crafts Thor Heyerdahl built and sailed to prove that early South Americans could have sailed to Polynesia and Africans to Barbados.

The Norwegian Maritime Museum, next door, offers an overview of Norway’s maritime heritage. It is also the site of the annual Kon-Tiki Chamber Music Festival, begun nine years ago by sibling musicians David and Julie Coucheron – both native Norwegians, born in Oslo, and who both live in Atlanta, Georgia, where David is concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Julie is a much-in-demand classical pianist and chamber musician.


That the Festival is in the Maritime museum is a matter of space – the more intimate Kon-Tiki Museum simply does not have a room large enough for the Festival’s audience, despite the connection of name, which is a story in itself.

For that story, listen to John Lemley’s interview with Julie Coucheron with the audio player below:

Why is a Norwegian chamber music festival named after a raft that sailed the South Pacific?

The Kon-Tiki raft exhibited at Oslo Museum. (credit: Gustavo_Gerdel) This image file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

It’s a family thing. Listen to John Lemley’s conversation with pianist Julie Coucheron about how the Kon-Tiki Chamber Music Festival came to be and how it got its name:

The 2019 Kon-Tiki Chamber Music Festival concerts began on Sunday, with a second one on Monday, and two more to be performed on Wednesday and Thursday, all at the Maritime Museum, for which the Coucheros have gathered an international list of artists from both sides of the Atlantic.

From the European side, returning again this year is the foremost Norwegian string virtuoso, violinist Arve Tellefsen. Likewise is another of Norway’s most prominent musicians, cellist Ernst Simon Glaser. Danish violinist Philippe B. Skow, is making his first Festival appearance, as is British cellist Thomas Carroll. Skow and Julie Coucheron recently recorded a CD of Scandinavian music. Carroll is a long-time friend of Julie’s from the days of her piano studies in London. Popular Norwegian baritone singer Kim Wigaard will perform on Thursday. Also from Norway, though American-born, is contrabassist Glenn Lewis Gordon, who is a member of the Oslo Philharmonic.

From Atlanta, the Coucherons have brought with them pianist Elizabeth Pridgen, with whom Julie frequently plays four-hand piano repertoire, and violinist/violist Julianne Lee, principal second violin in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Both are returning artists.

Something new for the festival this year, in line with the adventure and exploration theme of its setting in Bygdøy: some members of the Coucheron’s Atlanta fans have crossed “the big pond” together to Oslo to attend the Festival. Speculation is that could easily inspire a larger, formally organized tour from Atlanta to Oslo for persons who what to both attend the festival as part of a larger Norwegian summer holiday. It would be exciting if that could happen. We’ll just have to wait and see. ■

John Lemley is an Atlanta-based host and producer who has been a mainstay of the city’s media scene for over 20 years, first as an on-air host and producer at 90.1 WABE, then as host and producer of John Lemley’s City Café on 1690 WLMB. John currently serves as an investigative reporter for Nancy Grace’s new Sirius XM radio program, Crime Stories.

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