Northern Lights: 
Where to Find Some of Oslo’s Best Music

Here are five venues you won't forget

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The graceful, soaring lines of the Oslo Opera House.

By staging performances in unconventional venues, the Oslo Opera Festival brings music to the people. From Oct. 26 until Nov. 3, established and aspiring opera singers will hit the high notes in cafés, pubs, train stations and even on moving streetcars. But Oslo presents opportunities to hear music in memorable locations all year round. Here are five venues you won’t forget.

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Kulturkirken Jakob (Jakob Church of Culture)
In 1985, the local parish deconsecrated this neo-Gothic church, which had served worshippers in central Oslo for more than 100 years. Norwegian record company KKV took control of the building in 2000 and transformed it into a “church of culture” devoted to music, dance and theater. The sanctuary, which includes a beautiful altarpiece from 1880, now serves as a stage for indie groups, gospel choirs, rock bands and opera singers. The offerings lean toward the secular, but the venue’s 18-m nave, dramatic mood lighting and 64-stop digital organ imbue performances with a heavenly quality nonetheless. Every Sunday evening, up to 550 people gather for the 10 p.m. Mass of St. Jakob, which features a five-piece rhythm section and professional actors reciting contemporary Norwegian poetry. The spirit may move audience members to the whitewashed basement: it sometimes moonlights as a bar. Hausmanns gate 14, tel: (47) 2299 3450.

Bare Jazz (Just Jazz)
Hidden in an alley off one of Oslo’s busiest shopping streets, Bare Jazz (Just Jazz) helps customers mellow out over two levels. The ground-floor music shop stocks a vast collection of CDs and vinyl that includes not only the usual suspects like Billie Holiday and Miles Davis but also Norwegian jazz icons like pianist Bugge Wesseltoft and trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer. Upstairs, an intimate café serves beer, wine, coffee and a much ballyhooed carrot cake amid dark wood and exposed brick. Twice a week, up to 45 jazzheads gather for candlelit concerts in the evenings. Proprietor Bodil Niska, one of Norway’s most celebrated saxophonists, draws big names to her venue, but the vibe remains welcoming rather than too cool for school. Despite Niska’s commercial success, she still works the cash register when she isn’t touring. Grensen 8, tel: (47) 2233 2080.

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Café de Concert
Scandinavian media have described pianist and composer Aksel Kolstad as “the Franz Liszt of our time” and “the Quentin Tarantino of classical music.” His mix of raw talent and charisma has turned Café de Concert, his music studio, into Oslo’s premier destination for experimental-classical-music concerts. Conservatory students, professional musicians and Kolstad himself perform chamber music, piano concertos and modern compositions for small audiences in a concrete room decorated with provocative modern art. Kolstad replaces tuxedos with floral-print suits, and stuffy conversation with stand-up comedy, performed between pieces. Audience members enjoy the show — and it is a show — while relishing complimentary bubbly and hot dogs. “Eating hot dogs makes us children again,” he tells TIME. “And when we act like children, we open our hearts and souls to music.” Tjuvholmen alle 25, tel: (47) 
 9183 6692.

There’s nothing blah about Blaa. Housed in a former diamond warehouse that’s awash in graffiti, it has a reputation as the city’s funkiest music venue. It’s also one of the busiest, organizing about 380 performances every year. Its edgy roster spans genres like jazz, electronic, R&B, pop and rock, and upcoming performers hail from Ethiopia, France, the Netherlands, the U.S. and Sweden. Live concerts often take place earlier in the evening, so the bar, which accommodates up to 400 revelers, can transform into a club with DJs turning tables until the wee hours of the morning. Regularly scheduled nights include Club Juicy — a monthly offering of hip-hop and soul — and Sunkissed — a celebration of house. The bar overlooks the Akerselva River, offering views of the surrounding forest and a welcome breeze. On Sundays, vendors set up a popular secondhand market outside the club. It’s a final chance for fashionable young things to find one-off jewelry and clothing before heading inside. Brenneriveien 9c, tel: (47) 9825 6386.

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Oslo Opera House
With its Italian-marble-and-white-granite exterior, the Oslo Opera House resembles an iceberg rising from the Oslofjord. Visitors stroll up its gently sloping roof to take in views of the water and to enjoy rooftop concerts staged during the summer. Inside, light floods the minimalist foyer through 15-m windows. The grandiose auditorium seats more than 1,300 people, who can admire an 8-ton chandelier overhead and balconies carved from Baltic oak by Norwegian boat-builders. Parts of its stage are actually 16 m below the level of the water outside. As interesting as this architectural landmark is, music and dance remain the main attractions. From one-off ballet works to massive operatic productions, the opera house will host nearly 400 performances this season. Kirsten Flagstads plass 1, tel: (47) 2142 2100.

PHOTOS: TIME Goes to the Opera