Sustainable cultural dreams
“Søholm Opera – Cultural Power House, Concert Hall and Permaculture Garden on Samsø” is the vision to create an international cultural powerhouse, anchored in strong local collaboration, sustainable culture, nature and architecture as a foundation for the enrichment and regeneration of people and society. “We call it ‘The Big Project’,” explains Søholm Opera’s CEO, Mike Bracegirdle, with enthusiasm.
From North London to North Samsø
In December 2014, opera singers Lise Christensen and Mike Bracegirdle packed their earthly possessions, their 7-year-old son and tortoiseshell cat in North London and set course for North Samsø. They had completed the purchase of the property Søholm a few weeks earlier, set between Maarup and Nordby, with the dream of planting a small piece of England in the form of ‘garden opera’ in the Samsø soil, inspired by Glyndebourne in the South of England, which combines great musical experiences with picnics in beautiful surroundings.
The couple founded Søholm Opera in 2015, and while singing and performing in Denmark and around the world, they applied for permits from Samsø Municipality and Aarhus Diocese, made permaculture garden plans and engaged with architects. The original dream of English garden opera quickly, and in response to developments both on Samsø and in the world, adopted a more sustainable and regenerative perspective.
Søholm Opera’s Support Association was founded in early 2017 and made it easier to arrange and finance concerts, festivals, events, workshops, choirs and introducing singing to kindergartens on Samsø. Right here, right now.
“The support association was created at the same time as developing the concept of the Big Project,” says Lise, who is Søholm Opera’s artistic director and main force behind events over the past five years. “We knew it would be a long process to create our dream venue and we were eager to get started on what is the essence of our dream – to make classical song and music accessible to all and to build community around culture in a completely unique setting without compromising on quality.”
The Big Project
In 2020, Søholm Opera received the final permission from Samsø Municipality to build the world’s first carbon-neutral concert hall, create a permaculture garden and establish a cultural powerhouse.
The project will be a unique and exceptional demonstration project of high quality within a green framework, where culture and sustainability are alloyed from construction and organisation to operation, finance and collaborations. A project that is sustainable environmentally, economically and socially.
“The concert hall must have superb acoustics in order to attract the very best musicians from Denmark and the rest of the world. The house and garden, with amphitheatre, ‘dome’ and lake, must both individually and together work as a multifunctional and flexible venue that can attract national and international companies, organisations and educational institutions for conferences, courses, education, contemplation and cultural purposes. At the same time, the place will be made available for use by the local community,” explains Mike.
The Big Project harmonises perfectly with the green and sustainable narrative of Samsø with which everyone is familiar and is supported by, among others, climatologist Jesper Theilgaard and former Minister of the Environment Kirsten Brosbøl, Samsø Municipality and companies, associations and organisations on Samsø and in the rest of the country.
Why on Samsø?
“There is something magical about Samsø. In addition to the island’s obvious attraction in the form of beautiful nature and Caribbean beaches, it takes dedication to get here. It requires planning and the magic starts at the very point one decides to go: when booking the crossing; while waiting to board the ferry; the fact that you have to stop and let yourself be escorted the last stretch; letting go. Back in London, nurturing ambitious plans for a new life and the dream of a ‘multi-sensory concert venue’, we could easily have chosen somewhere close to Aarhus or Copenhagen or a completely different place in the world for that matter. But Samsø enticed us with something new and unexpected, of an almost Greek-mythological nature. Here you choose to leave the rest of the world behind you, here you travel via the mystery of the sea to a retreat, another world. Samsø offers something different than other places and was and still is the obvious home for our project,” Lise philosophises.
The couple also notices that the ‘Samsø effect’ plays a big role when some of Europe’s finest and most talented musicians and singers are invited to perform here. “Our dear colleagues are eager to perform for and with us and although Mike and I are obviously great company, it is clear that the island itself is the greater lure,” smiles Lise.
- For the past two years, Mike and Lise have been conducting a feasibility study with the help of consulting firm TheCrowd® and C.F. Møller Architects. The feasibility study will be presented to foundations during 2021.
- If it all works out, Lise and Mike hope to be able to start construction in 2022 or 2023.
- In the concert hall, there will be room for ca. 350 seated audience. The hall is designed in such a way to accommodate many different kinds of activities – from weddings to Wagner.
- The concert hall and artists’ residence are designed by C.F. Møller Architects, who make use of carbon-neutral and sustainable materials and the latest green technologies.
- The edible permaculture garden is designed by Birgit Rothmann and Cecil Rye Olsen to increase biodiversity. The permagarden will (also) become an attraction in itself with access for the public.
- The amphitheatre, with a diameter of around 15 metres, creates the potential for a wide range of outdoor events.
- In the banks of the amphitheatre, a couple of Hobbit houses are to be built – for rent and as artist residences. Mike’s surname, Bracegirdle, is borne by a Hobbit family in The Lord of the Rings!
- The ‘dome’ will serve as a small café and provide an opportunity for hot desking in a unique setting should one need to find space to work during one’s stay on Samsø.
- In 2021 you can look forward to more magnificent musical experiences with Søholm Opera and their friends. See Søholm Opera’s Support Association events at www.soeholmopera.com and VisitSamsø’s event calendar.