The 46 members of the Norwegian Girls Choir had long looked forward to performing their song about war and peace at the General Assembly Hall, newspaper Aftenposten reports.
But the girls, aged 12 to 19, never got to realize their ambition after the organizers of the Rhythms of One World Festival took fright on hearing the choir sound-check.
As conductor Anne Karin Sundal-Ask worked out some of the details for the stage show with a lighting technician, the choir shrieked out the names of infamous tyrants from Hitler and Mussolini to Quisling, Stalin, Lenin, Castro, Tito, Maria Antoinette and Papa Doc.
“The mood changed quickly at that point and they wanted a list of all the names,” Sundal Ask told the newspaper.
The choir leader said she was willing to compromise and remove some of the names but the organizers at the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation eventually told her the girls were not going to be allowed to perform the piece.
“They said the UN wouldn’t sanction it,” said Sundal Ask.
The choir instead sang its folk music repertoire, but having to resort to the fallback plan left a bitter taste for the girls, the composer and the conductor.
“This is freedom of speech, and the piece is about war and peace,” said Sundal Ask.
“It’s a very unifying piece. It doesn’t feel good to be censored or to not be allowed express oneself artistically.”
With its ultimate message of peace, the conductor said it was “absurd” for the piece to be to be kept out of the UN headquarters.
Written specifically for the Norwegian Girls Choir, the piece has been performed all over the world since winning a competition in Japan five years ago.
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Composer Maja Ratkje said she was shocked that the piece had been struck off the programme in New York.
“As far as I’m aware, this is the first time my art has been censored,” she said.
The Norwegian Girls Choir performing the piece, Ro Uro, in Trondheim, 2009.