Nils Henrik Asheim (b.1960) enjoys a combined career as composer and performer. He started out as a composition pupil of Olav Anton Thommessen and made his début at the UNM nordic festival for young composers in Helsinki at the early age of fifteen. In 1978 he was awarded the EBU Rostrum prize for his work Ensemblemusikk for 5. He subsequently went on to study organ and composing at the Norwegian Academy of Music and the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam.

 In 2018 Asheim was awarded the prestigious Nordic Council Music Prize for “Muohta – Language of Snow”. Asheim has twice been awarded the Spellemannspris (Norwegian "Grammy"). First for his recording of organ improvisations named "19.03.04, Oslo Cathedral". Later also for "Mazurka - remaking Chopin", where he interprets the Chopin repertoire together with a gypsy-style orchestra.

Nils Henrik Asheim has written several chamber music pieces, works for symphony orchestra, organ and choirs, as well as projects in public space and also using theatrical elements.  He has been awarded the  Norwegian Music Critics' Prize, the Norwegian Music Publishers' Prize, the Arne Nordheim prize, the Edvard prize and the Lindeman prize. His children's opera "The Tempest", commissioned and premiered by the Norwegian Opera and Ballet, won the RESEO opera for young audiences award.

Asheim’s compositional style is characterized by a modernist attitude. His musical output features a clear, audible structure and often a physical directness. This approach comes to the fore in early works such as the string quartet Genesis, in which short and simplistic motifs are employed as cornerstones in the musical passage. From 1984 onwards, Asheim would subsequently develop an interest in further abstracting of his compositions which would feature complex juxtapositions of varying tempi and directions. Works that represent this compositional direction include the trilogy made up of Water Rings, Water Mirror and Mirrors.

Asheim’s newer works, written post 2000, mark a shift in compositional method, distancing him from a linear thought of development. Asheim now focuses on compositions built up of several “rooms” which he enters and exits throughout the work. The compositional basis is presented at the piece’s start and the subsequent musical passage is devoted to perusing the basis from varying angles. Listening to his works takes the form of exploration of possibilities rather than a continuous process through new stages. The album Broken Line, recorded by the Vertavo String Quartet, serves as a good example of this compositional approach with the featured works Broken Line, Chase, Navigo and Nicht.

Asheim has also demonstrated a strong interest in musical theatre as witnessed by his monodrama Degrees of White for speaking voice and orchestra, featuring texts by novelist Johan Harstad. Another side of his compositional output is classical repertoire, manifested in the recording project Mazurka – remaking Chopin (2010) in collaboration with Gjertrud’s Gypsy Orchestra.

Asheim is also active as an organ improvisator – in solo settings as well as alongside other musicians. A long-standing collaboration with vocalist Anne-Lise Berntsen has resulted in two albums Engleskyts and Kom Regn. 16 pieces for Organ is a solo-improvisational album featuring the church organ of the Oslo Cathedral, an instrument for which Asheim composed a full-length 1998 inauguration work, Salmenes Bok for choir and two organs.

Since 1991 Asheim has lived in Stavanger where he is active as a composer, musician, teacher and organizer, and not least as the principal initiator of the founding of Tou Scene, an alternative centre for contemporary arts in an abandoned factory building. From 1997 till 2017 Asheim was the leader of NyMusikk Stavanger, a concert organization for contemporary music.

Asheim has made his mark as the resident organist of the new concert hall in Stavanger since its opening in 2012. Here he has displayed an innovative way of programming activities around the organ, and managed to get a large audience for the instrument.

In 2018 Nils Henrik Asheim was made a Knight of the Royal Order of St.Olav.

See also: