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Culture

The stars behind the stars

Doing something for nothing isn't common these days. But Norway has a strong tradition of volunteerism and this summer, the Stavanger Chamber Music Festival wouldn't be possible without those lending a free hand.

At the front of Norway's oldest cathedral, the lights dim on the makeshift concert stage and a dark figure darts across the altar to skillfully position a music stand. The concert begins and progresses smoothly. Then after the first performance, five more stagehands join the dark figure and systematically arrange music, seats and instruments in a formation suitable for the next group.

This is what you would expect from a professional stage manager and crew. So it comes as a surprise to discover that this band of workers is not at all professional, but part of the more than 100 volunteers who make up the network behind the scenes of the International Chamber Music Festival in Stavanger.

"We've started a little contest. If the musicians don't move anything, then we've got it right," said Anne Saffer with a laugh. She's the dark figure from the stage and she's used to calling the shots in her day job as a chemical engineer on the nearby oil platforms in the North Sea.

"I get so nervous the week before the festival starts. I ask myself, 'Why did I say I would do this?'" she confided.

Each August, for six days and nights, this coastal city is transformed into a haven for chamber music lovers.

"It's fantastic and a privilege to be here and working with these musicians who are world class," Anne explained. She's moved grand pianos, arranged seating and music stands for world-class musicians like Gideon Kremer, Anne Sofie von Otter and the Jerusalem String Quartet.

Transport team for the Stavanger Chamber Music Festival

More goes on than meets the eye to make a major music festival possible

Anne is so passionate about her work at the festival that even after she was transferred to work in the United States, she returned to Stavanger during her summer holidays to continue working at the event.

Help is essential

Located on the south-western coast, Norway's fourth largest city has benefited from the country's booming offshore oil industry. That's resulted in a steady increase in the population and attracted many foreigners to Stavanger. Today, immigrants make up over 11 percent of the city's population.

"It's a big international community in Stavanger and I think that's also part of the reason why people want to be involved. By recruiting, integration is a lot easier," said the festival's managing director, Kjell Anders.

A former volunteer himself, he knows the crucial role the volunteers play. "It's really important for us to keep them happy. We want them to come back next year."

Anders is one of two full time staff members who run the festival. "We could not afford to run this festival without volunteers. We really depend on them. I think the passion they feel for the festival is also helpful," he said.

Another volunteer, Espen Steffensen, retired from the air force five years ago and now heads the transport department of the festival with military precision. "Being an officer in my military life has taught me to be organized," he explained, "And I've taken that structure with me to this job."

Indeed Steffensen's attitude is shared by many other volunteers. "I'm ambitious. If I'm representing the festival it's vital that I do a professional job and do it well so that the musicians can relax and do what they're supposed to do - concentrate on their music," he said.

Norwegian tradition

Director Kjell Anders and producer Thorgrim Roed

Director Kjell Anders and producer Thorgrim Roed appreciate their volunteers

According to the festival's press officer, Hanne Buvik, who's also a volunteer, most Norwegians spend some part of their free time involved in voluntary work.

"We have actually a special name for voluntary work in Norwegian - dugnad, which means to do a piece of work for something or someone without getting paid. This goes a long way back in our culture," explained Hanne, who works fulltime for the Norwegian labor and welfare department.

"This is a small country with a lot of really small communities and people need to help each other," added Buvik.

She feels the wide range of ages found among volunteers creates a special and productive atmosphere. "The older people learn from the young people and the younger people learn from the older people. And I think that's a good mix. We can give something to everyone, whatever it is that people are seeking," she said.

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