Arild StavBorn: April 12th, 1956, Lillestrøm (Norway)
Stav did not finish his secondary education in his native Lillestrøm, but in Oslo, where he was a pupil (1973-’76) at the Foss Upper Secondary School. “The curriculum there includes all normal school subjects”, Stav explains, “but there is a focus on music, allowing students to prepare for the conservatory. At Foss, I followed courses in theoretical subjects such as solfège and music history; moreover, apart from studying the clarinet, I was also taught to play the saxophone, the flute, and the piano.” One year after finishing his studies at Foss, Stav entered the Norwegian Academy of Music, also in Oslo, where he graduated in 1981. He studied the clarinet with Richard Kjelstrup, in the meantime focussing on a wide range of other, compulsory subjects, including harmony and arranging. He also took several conducting courses, amongst which one with the renowned Norwegian opera and operetta conductor Arvid Fladmoe (1915-1993).
It was not long before Stav’s exceptional talent as a clarinettist was discovered. In 1978, when he was only in his second year at the Music Academy, the Stavanger Symphonic Orchestra invited him to become its principal clarinet player for half a year (1978-’79). Stav: “They needed a replacement for a couple of months and my teacher at the conservatory had advised them to consider me. Although I had to move to Stavanger and my conservatory studies came to a halt for a while, I decided to take this opportunity with both hands, because what could be better than gaining experience with a professional classical orchestra? Shortly after graduation I also spent two years with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra.”
Though Stav seemed destined for a career as a classical instrumentalist, his broad interest in music led him to other professional activities. Stav: “During my stay in Stavanger, Egil Monn-Iversen asked me to be a member of the orchestra which accompanied ‘Guys and Dolls’, one of his musical theatre productions which was staged at the local theatre for many months. Egil wanted to hire musicians who were able to play more than one instrument at a professional level. Doing this kind of theatre work was some sort of breakthrough for me as a person. It was then that I started to enjoy approaching music from another angle. I had always been fascinated by Wagner’s concept of Gesamtkunst, mixing different flavours and disciplines, and the music I listened to as a teenager comprised all conceivable genres, from pop and rock to serious music. Egil was satisfied by what I did and wanted to have me for ‘West Side Story’ in the Norwegian Theatre in Oslo, but due to a serious hand injury I had to skip this commission.”
From the very beginning of his studies at the Music Academy in Oslo, Stav also became involved in the studio recording business. “It was mostly thanks to Jahn Teigen that my career as a session musician got started”, Stav explains. “In the mid-1970s, I was a member of a progressive rock band from Lillestrøm called Undertakers Circus. It was disbanded in ’76. One of the boys from the band knew Jahn Teigen and his entourage. When Teigen was looking for a saxophone player, it was his friend from Undertakers Circus who gave him the advice to ask me. This was in 1978, when Jahn had just taken part in the Eurovision Song Contest in Paris with ‘Mil etter mil’ and scored his famous nil points. After the festival, Jahn and his entire band got in the car to Hamburg to record an album ironically titled ‘This year’s loser’. The record did very well in Norway and we actually did a series of highly successful performances throughout the country, the so-called ‘Toilet Tour’: Jahn fully exploited his failure in Paris and people in Norway sympathized with him because his career was ‘down the toilet’. Jahn is a star in Norway and stars have to be handled in a special way. Nevertheless, I think he is a wonderful person. Still in ’78, we did a theatre show composed by Jahn which was performed in the Nye Teater in Oslo, ‘Fantomets glade bryllup’. One year later we recorded a second, equally well-received album, ‘En dags pause’. I played in Jahn’s band for seven or eight years and we toured extensively in Norway and beyond. As Jahn was married to Anita Skorgan at that time, I worked a lot with her in those years as well.”
From the late 1970s onwards and throughout the 1980s, Stav was one of Oslo’s most sought-after session musicians. He played the saxophone, clarinet, and flute on some four-hundred different recordings with a wide range of jazz and popular singers, instrumentalists, and groups, including, amongst many others, Øystein Sunde, Anita Skorgan, Marius Müller, Beranek, Eigil Berg, Pål Thowsen, Kjetil Bjørnstad, Kate Gulbrandsen, Banana Airlines, Bobbysocks, Bjørn Eidsvåg, Morten Harket, Vazelina Bilopphøggers, Dollie de Luxe, Fra Lippo Lippi, and Kine Hellebust. In a studio session in Hamburg with producer Tore Syvertsen, Stav was one of the musicians recording an album with Mayte Mateos, half of the Baccara duo. In 1985, he was even hired to play the saxophone on the album ‘Loving that rock ‘n’ roll’ by Yugoslavian Eurovision star Daniel Popović. Stav: “Many classically trained musicians tend to look down upon pop and rock, because they think this kind of music lacks refinement. I have never been among them; I have always felt you cannot judge a particular style of music before having been involved in it yourself. Working in the studio has been interesting because of the wide range of genres and different arrangements. Although, at the bottom of my heart, I have always thought of myself as a jazz musician, I have never been reluctant to learn more about all kinds of music, looking forward to challenges and wanting to show to myself and others that I was able to manage doing many different things – including working on stage and for television. One of the highlights for me was the Pan-Scandinavian tour with Carola, a very popular Swedish singer, in 1985.”
In the early 1980s, under the aegis of the ubiquitous Egil Monn-Iversen, Stav began working as a musician on theatre projects again. Most of these shows were staged in Oslo’s Château Neuf. “Initially, Egil himself took care of the conducting job”, Stav recalls. “Somewhere in 1985, he told me that he was in the process of writing the arrangements to a musical called ‘Sommer i Tyrol’. He wanted a smaller combo for this show, with a Stehgeiger or any of the other musicians leading the band instead of a conductor. I expressed my interest in leading such an orchestra and Egil thought this was a good idea. For one reason or another, he liked my way of working and, although he was not the easiest of persons to work with, he was generous for those he respected. ‘Sommer i Tyrol’ featured some big shots in the Norwegian entertainment business, such as Rolv Wesenlund and Leif Juster. The production was a success and, from that moment onwards, Egil trusted me as a musical director – and later as a fully-fledged conductor as well.”
In the second half of the 1980s as well as in the 1990s and the 2000s, Arild Stav conducted many stage shows in the Château Neuf, including ‘The Sound of Music’ starring Sissel Kyrkjebø (1988), a huge box-office success in Norway, ‘Annie get your gun’, ‘La cage aux folles’, ‘Sugar’, ‘I blanke messingen’, ‘West Side Story’, and ‘Oh Calcutta’. On top of that, he conducted another production, ‘Napp igjen’, which was staged in Oslo’s Central Theatre. Thanks to the reputation he had built up as a session musician and a theatre conductor, Stav was invited to work on several television projects with NRK in the 1980s and 1990s as well, including several editions of the Norwegian Eurovision pre-selection as a member of the accompanying orchestra, as an instrumental soloist on stage, and as the show’s musical director in 1988. Moreover, he conducted TV orchestras for live shows and galas such as ‘Filmens dag’ and the opening of the Aker Brygge Conference Centre in Oslo.
Between 1989 and 1993, Stav spent most of his time in Trondheim, being the solo clarinettist of the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra. “I was quite disillusioned when I went to Trondheim in ‘89”, says Stav. “I had just finished conducting ‘The Sound of Music’ at Château Neuf more than one-hundred times… it was the biggest success in Norwegian musical theatre history and yet we did not get our money. The production company was broke! My conclusion was that I could not trust the theatre business and that it was safer to go for a regular position in a classical orchestra. During my time in Trondheim I travelled to the Oslo area regularly, where my family lived. There was even time to conduct some musical theatre productions at Château Neuf, including ‘West Side Story’. After four years in the Trondheim Symphonic, though, I felt that working in a classical orchestra was not my cup of tea after all. Perhaps that is a bit too negative, because I really liked the music we played. I had the privilege to play Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in 1991, when it was 200 years ago the composer died. That was a true highlight in my career, but at the same time… I felt I did not have enough time to do other things. In the Norwegian language there is a well-known saying about an old circus horse which cannot forget the smell of the arena… with me, it was the same: I wanted to do jazz gigs as a saxophonist, for example. However, it is virtually impossible to combine playing the sax and classical clarinet at a high level. As an instrumentalist in a classical orchestra, you have to practice daily for hours on end; to play jazz saxophone in the meantime unfortunately ruins most of the skills you have built up at the clarinet. In short: I felt somewhat frustrated and decided to quit my job in Trondheim to return to Oslo once and for all. Although I have been a regular substitute in several orchestras since, including the Norwegian Opera Orchestra, the Oslo Philharmonic, and the NRK Radio Orchestra (Kringkastingsorkester), I have been a freelancer ever since 1993.”
Back in Oslo, Stav once more established himself in the music studios as a saxophonist and occasionally as a producer and conductor as well. He worked on two albums with Wenche Myhre, with whom he also toured Norway. Moreover, he worked in the studio and on stage with the internationally acclaimed Norwegian violinist Arve Tellefsen. Stav also recorded music with the likes of Anita Skorgan, Bård Wessel, Sigvard Dagsland, and Bendik Hofseth. He conducted the studio orchestra for Maj Britt Andersen’s CD ‘Kjærtegn’ (1992). More recently, he co-composed, arranged, and produced the album ‘Hvis jeg kunne fly’ (2006), a charity project for hospitalized children with vocalists Hanne Krogh, Maj Britt Andersen, Trine Rein, and Amund Enger collaborating. Stav also produced recording projects with the Skedsmo Voices, a youth choir, and Stine Hansen, who participated in the 2006 edition of Idol Norway.
“The productions I have worked on are not very glamorous”, Stav comments modestly, “but, then again, the recording business has changed since the 1980s, and so have the arrangements. Most of the time, producers do not invite session musicians anymore, as computer programming is much cheaper and easier. As a result, the number of sessions has dropped dramatically. Renowned studios in Oslo have had to close their doors due to the collapse of the market.”
“Luckily, I have not been dependent on studio work”, Stav continues. “Especially all kinds of theatre productions have made sure I have never been short of commissions, either as a musician or conductor.” From 1993 onwards, Stav has been teaching the clarinet at the Lillestrøm Upper Secondary School. He toured with the Riksteater and was involved in several stage shows with the National Theatre, including the musical ‘Rockeulven’ (2011). In 2005, he conducted the Norwegian version of ‘The full monty’. Beside all of this, Stav has been asked to conduct several military bands since the mid-1990s, most importantly the Forsvarets Musikkorps Nord-Norge (Norwegian Army Band North), which is based in Harstad and therefore the world’s northernmost professional military band. In 2011, he conducted a studio album with the band called ‘Tanti saluti’, a most unusual project with undeniable jazz undertones, on which reputed guest performers Gabriele Mirabassi (clarinet) and Lars Jansson (piano) collaborated. In the 2000s, Stav brought together a big band with friends from the music business and performed in concerts with his own soul and gospel band. In 2010, he formed a jazz quartet with Hermund Nygård, Jens Andreas Kleiven, and John Børge Askeland.
In 2001, Arild Stav released his first solo album, ‘Dawn’, with a mix of meditative sounds, folk melodies, religious lyrics, and a jazzy instrumentation. Stav about this special project: “It all started quite differently, because the original idea was to record an album with music by Egil Monn-Iversen. That was exactly the period when Egil fell ill, however. He was out of business and never returned – so the project had to be stopped. Being its producer, I had already been given the money to make an album, but Egil’s illness changed the direction completely. After having been in the recording business for twenty-five years, I finally had the opportunity to make something of my own – with music of my choice. All of a sudden, I found out that I could compose some melodies myself as well. For the recording, I invited the friends from the recording studios with whom I had been working all these years, such as Helge Iberg and Ole Edvard Antonsen. We also did some live shows… it truly was an inspirational experience.” In 2011, Stav teamed up with one of the musicians with whom he had worked on ‘Dawn’, guitarist Svein Skulstad, to release a new album with self-composed instrumentals, ‘Contemplation’.
Arild Stav in the Eurovision Song Contest
In 1988, Arild Stav was invited to be the musical director of the final of that year’s Norwegian pre-selection. The Melodi Grand Prix was held on what was very familiar ground for Stav: the Château Neuf Theatre in Oslo. The presentation of the show was in the able hands of Dan Børge Akerø. Ten songs qualified for the final, with well-known names such as Jahn Teigen, Tor Endresen, Jan Eggum, and Elisabeth Moberg amongst the participating artists. In the end, however, it was a young girl who made her debut, Karoline Krüger, who walked away with first prize for her subtle ballad ‘For vår jord’ (composed by Anita Skorgan with lyrics by Erik Hillestad).
Stav: “It was someone in the Entertainment Department of NRK who invited me for the job of musical director of the programme – I am not sure who it was, but it certainly was not Egil Monn-Iversen. Egil was not involved in the Eurovision Song Contest in the late 1980s anymore. For the final, I formed a band of thirteen elements, with friends such as Helge Iberg, Geir Langslet, Svein Dag Hauge, and Ole Edvard Antonsen in it. There were no strings in this orchestra, just a rhythm section and brass players. Pete Knutsen composed the opening music, to which I wrote the arrangements. Of course, conducting this combo was an easy job. Counting the boys in was all I had to do.”
“The funny thing about this selection programme in Château Neuf”, Stav continues, “was that all competing entries were accompanied live by me and my band, except for… the winning song! ‘For vår jord’ had been arranged by Kjetil Bjerkestrand, who was one of my fellow-students at the Music Academy in the 1970s. For the studio recording, he made use of samples, which was a revolution in those days. Even the cello obbligato part which is so important for the sound of the song was recorded by Kjetil himself in his studio by using a sample. Apparently, Anita Skorgan, who was the composer, was so satisfied by the way Kjetil had produced the record, that it was decided upon not to use my combo in the Melodi Grand Prix in Oslo. It was the first time in the history of the event here in Norway that an act completely ignored the orchestra. The team behind Karoline Krüger felt a backing track was a safe foundation which allowed her to focus on singing well without having to worry about the sound of the orchestra being right.”
As the conductor of the Norwegian final, Stav was first choice as the country’s musical director in the international festival final as well. With the winning song not having any live orchestration, it seemed that he had to stay home. Stav: “When ‘For vår jord’ was selected to represent us in the contest in Dublin, its production team told me that, although they felt very sorry for me, they did not need the orchestra in Ireland. Therefore, they said, it was impossible for me to accompany Karoline Krüger in the international festival. After a while, however, Kjetil Bjerkestrand himself changed his mind… on second thoughts, he totally disliked the idea of working with backing tracks only in a Eurovision Song Contest final, when there was a huge orchestra with string and brass players available. He told me he felt strongly about this issue, but as the song had already been selected, it was too late to change the entire arrangement. Therefore, Kjetil decided to add a string arrangement and a part for French horn. It gave the song a somewhat more orchestral feel in Dublin than it had had in the pre-selection in Château Neuf. That is the reason why I was invited to come along to Ireland after all. Still, most of the music was on a track – Kjetil pretended to play the keyboards on stage behind Karoline. The backing track included samples with the cello part as well as the entire rhythm base. I conducted the whole thing on click.”
In the contest in Dublin, ‘For vår jord’ was widely regarded as one of the best participating entries: a sophisticated ballad performed by a charismatic young girl, who was backed up by an all-star backing group consisting of Kari Iveland, Elisabeth Moberg, Tor Endresen, and Frank Ådahl. In the end, Norway finished in a very respectable fifth position on the scoreboard, picking up 88 points. Stav about this result: “For me, it did not really come as a surprise we did well in the voting. After all, ‘For vår jord’ has very nice melodic lines, which are not too common for a pop composition; moreover, the lyrics are quite meaningful, giving the song some substance… and then there was this fantastic background choir which created a genuine soul sound. To be honest, I believe we could have picked up even more points with another lead singer, as the choir was simply too good for her: she was totally blown away by the sound of the four background vocalists. With a more experienced vocalist such as Anita Skorgan herself, we could have come closer to winning the festival.”
“Personally”, Arild Stav continues, “that week in Dublin could hardly have been better. For a start, the atmosphere in our delegation was great, as we enjoyed Irish hospitality to the fullest. Then there was this other thing: I won the bet of the Norwegian delegation, as I had put my money on Céline Dion as the winner and came closest to predicting the first five or ten songs on the scoreboard correctly. Moreover, some members of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra came to me after the broadcast was over, telling me I had been voted the best conductor of the evening by the instrumentalists of the orchestra. I had never realized the musicians organized such a vote! No, I was not given a present, but of course I smiled… I felt honoured, but at the same time it was a situation which felt kind of awkward. Just think: more than half of the music to our song had been pre-recorded, which made my conducting job very easy. What was more, the week after the contest I played the principal part in Richard Strauss’ Domestic Symphony with the Oslo Philharmonic – a very complicated piece of music. To be praised for conducting the tiny orchestral accompaniment to a three minute pop song felt somewhat strange, to say the least! But that is the way things work in the music business, sometimes… I also remember many people in Norway, even music professionals, complimented me on my job in Dublin. Of course, they had seen me on television and apparently their conclusion was that I had to be a rather good musician to conduct an orchestra in such an event. Nevertheless, although doing Eurovision was a very nice experience, my career did not change as a result.”
Arild Stav never returned as a conductor to the Melodi Grand Prix or the Eurovision Song Contest. The year after his Eurovision participation in Dublin, he accepted the job of principal clarinettist in the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra, which meant he left most of his theatre and session work in Oslo behind; as a result, he disappeared from the radar of television producers as well. In spite of this, he was a member of the selection committee which chose ‘Mrs. Thompson’ as the Norwegian representative in the 1991 Eurovision Song Contest; two years later, in 1993, he was in the jury which selected Silje Vige and her song ‘Alle mine tankar’ as the most suitable choice for the contest.
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