Musical entrepreneur turns 50

On June 18, head of the Danish Chamber Players, Maj Kullberg Øllgaard, turns 50. She can look back on a life marked by chamber music and musical entrepreneurship.

It was clear early on that Maj Kullberg Øllgaard would have something to do with music. At the age of three, she got her hands on the violin, and it followed her right up until, in 2020, she took up the position of director of the Danish Chamber Players.

Maj Kullberg Øllgaard grew up in a musical family, which opened its home to classical composers and musicians. The composer Per Nørgaard was a frequent guest, and he wrote a piece dedicated to her. It was therefore natural that she, together with her cello-playing brother, made music her way of life. Already in her childhood, she became familiar with orchestral life in the children's and youth orchestra Aarhus Unge Strygere, which her father conducted. After matriculation in 1992, Maj Kullberg Øllgaard began her studies at the Jutland Music Conservatory in Aarhus, where she was not always to be found in the rehearsal room. The interaction with other musicians meant more to her. That is why she spent a lot of time playing chamber music in the Aros Quartet. She formed it together with three other students at the conservatory, and the quartet studied for a year with the well-known Emerson Quartet in the USA. After finishing her studies in 1997, Maj Kullberg Øllgaard traveled to the USA and to Germany to study further, before she was employed at Malmø Opera in 2002.

Life as an orchestra musician suited Maj Kullberg Ølgaard just fine. She has a passion for opera and the magic of the theatre, and because the opera played in the evening, she had the day free to indulge her joy in chamber music. She cultivated it in the Kroger Quartet, which won third prize in P2's Chamber Music Prize in 2004 and won the P2 Prize for best new CD in 2008. At the same time, she had the means to found her own festival "I Djurs og Mols" in 2011, which takes place every year at Djursland.

The time at Malmø Opera ended on the first of August 2020, when Maj Kullberg Øllgaard took up the position of director of the Danish Chamber Players, one of the five national ensembles, in the middle of the corona pandemic. It is supported by the state and the four municipalities in Kulturregion Storstrøm, which are Næstved, Faxe, Guldborgsund and Lolland municipalities. With her baggage she had her passion for chamber music, ambitions to bring high-quality music to a new audience and training as a music manager.

Maj Kullberg Øllgaard thrives in her new role behind the scenes, and she does not hesitate to describe it as her dream job. In her short time in the director's chair, she has shaped the Danish Chamber Players in a direction to focus more on children and young people, and the ensemble, together with six music schools, has started UnderStrømmen, which is an orchestra for children and young people. Maj Kullberg Ølgaard wants the joy of playing to be contagious, and the community she herself experienced as a child must be cultivated. She wants to create familiarity with music and remove barriers to classical music. This happens, among other things, at the ensemble's school concerts, which means that schoolchildren experience classical music at the highest level in familiar settings.

For Maj Kullberg Øllgaard, classical music must live and be disseminated, and here the regional ensemble deeply rooted in the region can reach every nook and cranny through festivals and concerts. She makes a point of working with young composers who develop new music in collaboration with the ensemble, and she gets the music to speak together with other art forms through close collaborations with, among other things, the art museums in the region, thereby reaching a new audience. In August, the Danish Chamber Players in Næstved have awards at writers' concerts, where literature and chamber music meet.

Maj Kullberg Øllgaard sits on the board of DEOO, the industry organization for Danish ensembles, orchestras and opera institutions, on Art Music Denmark's music committee and on Sangkraft Guldborgsund's board. She is married to violist in the Royal Chapel, Alexander Øllgaard. Together they have daughters Marta and Frida. In her free time, she enjoys going to the theater and playing tennis with her neighbor. The birthday is celebrated on the day together with the ensemble at a festive opera gala in the park at Gisselfeld.

Photos: Ingrid Riis.

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