A well-composed score: Polarjazz relies on sellout format (and lots of extra locals) for 20th annual festival


There’s no blowout bash planned for Polarjazz’s 20th birthday, but festival director Lasse Stener Hansen says one isn’t needed for attendees to be blown away.

“It’s a program that has been sold out in the past,” he said.

Some of the more popular names from past festivals, the usual introduction of less-known newcomers and a concluding midnight dance party are among the familiar events scheduled during the festival that runs from Wednesday through the wee hours of Sunday. Hansen said they won’t ignore the 20-year landmark, but “we haven’t had time to think” about whether any major events observing it were worthwhile.

“We will, of course, be marking the 20th anniversary and we have some special people coming,” he said. “We will also have somebody to open the festival, which we don’t usually have.”

(No, the introductory emcee won’t be Queen Sonja, who’s among the notable moments in Polarjazz’s history when she opened the festival in 2013 after opening an exhibit of her photographic art.)

A notable difference this year compared to some recent ones is the local presence – both somewhat more and somewhat less. Normally the festival closes out on Sunday evening with a spiritually themed concert at Svalbard Church, but Hansen said that isn’t possible this year because the church is being renovated.

On the other hand, an extra-large dose of local talent will be on-stage during the free vorspiel (preview) concert at Kulturhuset that opens the festival on Wednesday night. About 25 individuals and groups have signed up, and Hansen said the show is expected to last three hours – about 30 minutes longer than usual.

“It was a little bit down (last year) because of everything that happened,” he said, referring to events such as the large number of layoffs at Storre Norske and an avalanche several weeks before the festival that killed two people. “This year there were so many people who wanted to play and we just couldn’t say no because there was so many of them.”

And for jazz purists who might note the rest of the lineup is short on Polarjazz’s namesake musical genre, “that’s the day when you get the most jazz in the festival.”

Still, Hansen notes two featured concerts – the Swedish prog/fusion quartet Tonbruket on Thursday night and the Norwegian experimental octet Jaga Jazzist on Friday – definitely fall in the wide scope of jazz.

Also, pure straight-ahead classics will be featured during a Saturday afternoon concert by SvaJazz, which made its Polarjazz debut last year. Hansen, in addition to directing the festival, is the quintet’s drummer and will play in several of the performances at the vorspiel concert.

Jaga Jazz performed at Polarjazz in 2012 and drummer Martin Horntveth, posting a picture of himself on an outdoor tour during the festival on the band’s Facebook page, raved “Pinch my arm! We’re going to Svalbard. A few of us have been there before and it’s one of the coolest places on Earth.”

Among the other major returning artists is Sivert Høyem, rock vocalist/guitarist best known best known as the leader singer of the band Madrugada until they broke up in 2007. His sold-out appearance at the 2014 festival drew one of the largest audiences that year. This year he is scheduled to perform after Tonbruket on Thursday night at Kulturhuset – and Hansen said tickets for that evening are still available.

Festival passes, and the concerts at Kulturhuset on Friday and Saturday nights (the latter of which includes the midnight concert by Dos Mosquitos at Huset), were sold out weeks ago, Hansen said.




Polarjazz 2017 schedule

8 p.m.: Vorspiel. Kulturhuset. Free.

8 p.m.: Tonbruket; Sivert Høyem. Kulturhuset.

8 p.m.: Ane Brun; Jaga Jazzist. Kulturhuset.
8 p.m.: Concert for youths from grade eight up to 20 years of age by Arif & Young Ferrari. Longyearbyen Youth Club. Free.

1 p.m.: Svajazz. Kroa.
5 p.m.: Øystein Greni. Gruvelageret. (Free bus from Lompensenteret at 4 p.m.)
8 p.m.: Fay Wildhagen, Highasakite. Kulturhuset
Midnight: Dos Mosquitos. Huset. (Free bus service between Huset and Kulturhuset.)