Fortress fireworks

When concert organizer Festningen 2010 decided they wanted to create a music festival at Akershus Fortress in Oslo, and were able to get world renowned multimedia artist Jean Michel Jarre as headline act, they asked Engelsrud Fireworks to create dazzling explosions. As everyone knows, an outdoor Jean Michel Jarre concert without fireworks is not complete! spoke to co-owner and fireworks director, Espen Kolstad.

Espen Kolstad does not like to admit it, but he is in fact the Norwegian fireworks champion, after having won the only fireworks championship held in Norway in 2001. However, he has proven himsef time after time and probably still deserves the title, after having staged spectacular fireworks displays around Norway, at events such as a royal wedding and the Oslo Opera House opening (which coincidentally was the same night as Jarre played indoors at the Concert House in Oslo). The fortress festival, called Festningen 2010, debuts on August 28th and the promotor Atomic Soul did not only secure a great line-up headed by Röyksopp and Jean Michel Jarre, but they also wanted to maximize the event by using the surroundings, the fortress, and the sky. «We are happy to get Jean Michel Jarre to the festival but that raises the bar, so we have to offer something extra,» said promotor Peer Osmundsvåg. Together with Espen Kolstad at Engelsrud Fireworks he decided to offer the audience a major fireworks displays, synchronized to parts of the Jarre concert.

The fireworks display at Festningen 2010 started being planned in April, and continues this week, up until the day of the concert. The bulk of the planning has been made the last few weeks, when computer files from the concert in Santiago arrived, which made Kolstad able to better synchronize the fireworks to the music. «For three months now, we have studied YouTube clips from Gdansk and Marocco, and most recently Santiago, to learn the cues in Jarre’s music and estimate when we’ll fire the shells. Obviously I know about Jarre’s giant outdoor concerts from the past but we’re not aiming for the biggest quantities this time, but for the best possible quality.» Fireworks is not just for fun in a Jarre concert, they are integrated in the show, and for this display Kolstad has been given relatively free artistic reigns. «Jarre gave us some guidelines on colours, but the general design, shell selection, and sizes have been down to us this time,» he says.

Kolstad is an old Jarre fan and says he enjoys Jarre’s early 80s period best, but in terms of fireworks the idea is not to copy the giant concerts of the 80s and 90s. «Rather we want to create the right size display for this event but at the same time bring back some of the grandness of those concerts. We cannot compete with [Jarre’s concerts in] Houston or Moscow, not with the technical, safety and geographical limitations in Oslo and around the fortress, so we take the fortress into account, the audience view, the surroundings and type of event, and design something extraordinary for this special occasion,» Kolstad explains. The fortress fireworks will be one of the most intense displays ever seen in Norway. While the Opera House display in 2007 used more gunpowder than Saturday’s event, there will be more gunpowder used per minute here than at any other event in Norway. Gunpowder weight and duration taken into account, the display will be one of the biggest ever fired in Oslo. To expand the possibilities, fireworks will be fired off from a barge in the sea, as well as from two sites on land.

In Gdansk in 2005, Jarre fired off shells during the dress rehearsal which was attended by 25.000 people, but in Oslo there will be no fireworks dress rehearsal. «The fire safety authorities did not require that. There were discussions about what we needed to do, but our plans and experience were enough,» Kolstad says.

Everyone has heroes, and when asked who he admires in the fireworks business, Kolstad says he has great respect for Swedish pyrotechnician and fireworks designer, Martin Hildeberg at The Fireworks Factory in Gothenburg, Sweden. «He won the second place at a fireworks competition in Canada but should really have won. And I also admire Ricardo Caballer from Valencia in Spain, who is supplying us with some of the firworks we’re using at the fortress,» Kolstad says. Some of those «bombs» are 250-300 mm «specials» which look like traditional Chinese 400 mm shells, which are some of the biggest shells fired at Jarre’s outdoor concerts. «If the fire department and Jarre allows us to do what we want, and we’re still negotiating about that, this display will not be any less impressive than any of the biggest displays Jarre has put on before. It’s about the right design and the right dimensions, not about the number of units and the biggest aerial shells,» Kolstad claims.

Festningen 2010 is an electronic music festival in Oslo, featuring The New Vine, The Very Best, The Irrepressibles, Röyksopp, and Jean Michel Jarre. Also featured is the Norwegian Army Staff Orchestra and Oslo Philharmonic Choir with soloists. The location is an actual medieval fortress and castle, which opens up its grounds for a major event for the first time when Festningen 2010 kicks off its first edition on Saturday.

Fireworks at Jarre’s concert in Gdansk, 2005.
(Photo: Thomas Alsina.)

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