Frog of genres
Growing up in a musical family on the north-west coast of Norway, Fræna, Ola Kvernberg started playing violin in the folk music tradition of his mother and grandfather from an early age, and proceeded to study classical violin from age 9. By 14, he had garnered multiple domestic awards from his folk music performances, in addition to winning 3rd prize in ”Concorso Internazionale di Musica Città di Stresa”, a classical music competition in Stresa, Italy.
The following couple of years, he discovered jazz, and shifted his focus entirely to the upbeat, stringswing legacy of Django Reinhardt. At 17, an impromptu jam session with legendary Norwegian jazz group ”Hot Club de Norvége” propelled him into the jazz scene and a life of extensive touring, album recordings and international performances. By 20, he had numerous gigs under his belt, including performances at Birdland (NY, US), 100 Club (London, UK), Jazz a Vienne (France), as well as four albums out on Hot Club Records.
Already a household name in Norwegian jazz, he started his studies at the Conservatory of Jazz at NTNU in Trondheim in 2001. His musical horizon was widened tenfold, and his collaborations began exceeding the earlier boundaries of the Django-style, leading to numerous tours, concerts and album recordings with artists and bands ranging from Joshua Redman, Pat Metheny and Les Paul to Jimmy Carl Black, Terje Rypdal and Motorpsycho.
His work and collaborations as a performer and composer has garnered a several Norwegian Grammy’s (Spellemannprisen), both as the main artist and as a performer/producer on other productions. The album milestones in his artistic career as a leader include ”Night Driver” (2006), ”Liarbird” (2011), ”Mechanical Fair” (2014) and ”Steamdome” (2016).
In 2010 he was approached by director Rune Denstad Langlo, tasked with scoring his very first feature film, ”North”. The country/ neo-classical/ bluegrass-inspired score was nominated for the Norwegian Oscars-equivalent, Amandaprisen. The wry comedy about a former ski star went on to win ”Best Narrative Filmmaker” at Tribeca (NY), by a jury consiting of Meg Ryan, Uma Thurman, Todd Haynes and Robert de Niro.
Though still putting his focus on touring and his own projects, movie scoring quickly became a lot more than a ”side gig” for Kvernberg, and by now he has composed music for more than 20 films, including six feature films and five documentaries. His collaboration with director Rune D. Langlo has resulted in 3 feature films this far, and among these - Ola’s original score for ”Chasing the Wind” (2013) was awarded both the Norwegian Oscars (Amandaprisen) and the Norwegian Kanon Award. His music score for Håvard Bustnes’ documentary ”Two Raging Grannies” (2013) was nominated for the European Grand Scores for ”best electro-acoustic score”.
In 2017, Ola Kvernberg launched his most successful live- and albumproject to date. His 7-piece, drum-fuelled, dance-music outlet ”Steamdome” has headlined more than 60 concerts since it’s release, including sold-out shows on jazz-, rock- and pop festivals and venues throughout Norway. Steamdome was nominated for the Norwegian Grammy’s (”best jazz album”), and won the Bendiksen Award (”artistic achievement”), the Edvard Award (”best composition”) and Liv Ullmann Award (”artistic achievement”.)
2021 saw the premiere of Swedish director Magnus Gertten’s documentary following young Uzbek woman Dilya and her fight for the release of her politically-imprisoned brother from the infamous Jaslyk prison in Uzbekistan. ”Only The Devil Lives Without Hope” is selected for CPH:DOX and Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto, and Kvernberg's score was recently awarded Sweden's biggest movie award Guldbaggen in 2021 for "best music".
This year, he is producing scores for two upcoming TV-series, two documentary movies and a short movie, along with a new commission for big band. In addition to Steamdome, his touring schedule includes duo performances with saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Jason Moran, accordeonist Stian Carstensen and singer Kirsti Huke. He also performs with his new works ”The Flight” and ”Hypnagogia” with classical quartet ”The Engegård Quartet”, and both works are set to be released on LAWO, fall 2020.
His other works include numerous suites and complete works for symphonic orchestra, string orchestra, sinfoniettas, string-quintets and quartets, big bands, jazz groups and different, chamber-like constellations. He’s also an active producer on studio and live projects, both on his own productions as well as for other artists, in numerous styles and genres.