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Scored for choir and instrumental ensemble, Kim André Arnesen’s The Stranger opens the Olavsfest in his native city of Trondheim on 28 July. The new work, commissioned by Together in Hope, sets out to promote increased awareness of the refugee situation through words and music.

Kim André Arnesen’s latest work The Stranger explores the plight of refugees through texts, both sacred and secular, some reflective and some written by persons who have had to flee their homeland to escape danger or threat. The world premiere is in the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim where Arnesen sang as a boy chorister, opening this year’s Olavsfest on 28 July. Performers include the Together in Hope Choir from the USA and the Trondheim Soloists, and further performances are planned by the choir in Washington and St Paul in future seasons.

The initiative for this work came from the Together in Hope Choir from Minneapolis (USA). The choir springs from the Together in Hope Project, which aspires to change lives through performances of music with a purpose. The texts of The Stranger are inspired by the work begun by UN Secretary-General (and former High Commissioner for Refugees) António Guterres. He gathered together religious leaders, humanitarian organisations, academics and politicians with the intention of promoting values such as humanity, respect, inclusiveness and protection of persons whose lives are in peril. The Together In Hope Project works together with USA for UNHCR, which is the National Partner of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in the USA. One aim of the project is to promote global awareness of the world’s refugee situation.

The choir’s co-founders, Gary Aamodt and Celia Ellingson, were instrumental in the selection and integration of texts for Arnesen’s new 45-minute work. Some of the poetry is from persons who themselves have had to flee their homes and survive perilous situations. The common denominator in The Stranger is how we meet people who are different from ourselves.

In Arnesen’s words: “What the texts have in common is the revelation that, deep down, we humans are pretty much alike and of one mind, despite the many cultural and social barriers. The instrumentation and expression are selected in part from the themes in the texts, while the music is not written in a strictly Western classical style, but rather contains elements from many different traditions. Many have associations with the Middle East, but I have tried to create a new tonal language based on different genres and traditions.”

“We shall hear richly coloured sounds. When the texts attempt to bind the world together, then I must try to do the same through the music. So even though the foundation is classical, I would assert that The Stranger has turned out to be a genre-defying work. We find here elements from folk and traditional music, world music, pop and jazz.”

“All in all, this is a clear message to stand together in our humanity and take care of each other. Regardless of faith, we share a hope that we can work against discrimination and prejudice. That we can come further — together.”

The Stranger was originally to be premiered earlier in the USA, but due to the global pandemic, the premiere was postponed until 2022 in Norway. It is Arnesen’s largest-scale work since his Holy Spirit Mass, premiered in 2017 and released on a recording by Decca Classics in 2021 again featuring the Trondheim Soloists. This summer also brings the premiere of a new five-minute sacred work for chorus and organ, Jesus Still Lead On, performed by singers from the Moravian Music Festival Chorus in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on 27 July.

>  Further information on Work: The Stranger

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