Meet ArtEx participant Birgitta Elisa Oftestad

13.03.2023 / «I’ve learned how to tackle my nerves on stage.»

The ArtEx coach’s guidance has made cellist Birgitta Elisa Oftestad (20) feel secure on stage when there’s a lot at stake.

«It’s all about thinking that you’re going to give the audience a time to remember instead of thinking that they’re there to be judgemental about your performance», says Birgitta.

Nearly two years ago she joined Talent Norge’s elite programme ArtEx, which provides twelve selected talents access to mentors, coaches and a broad professional network.

After having regular conversations with coach Kéa Ostovany, Birgitta has found a different kind of peace during major performances.

«I’ve learned how to handle my nerves. Instead of focusing on being nervous or scared, the thing is to think of it as being exciting», says Birgitta.

When you’re a musician, people can hear that you’re nervous. If Birgitta’s hand is shaking, it impacts on the sound she creates with her cello.

«In those cases you can think instead that it may be a good thing that your hand is shaking because the sound it creates is something unique. »


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A winner of competitions

Birgitta was included in Barrat Due’s talents programme early on, and as a ten year old she had alread played with an orchestra. She has won a number of prestigious competitions and one of the highlights up until then, in 2019, was when she won NRK’s (the Norwegian national broadcasting company’s) Virtuos (Virtuoso) Competition and represented Norway in Eurovision’s competition for young musicians in Edinburgh.

In 2021 she was the youngest winner of ‘Ung Solist’ (Young soloist). The prize was to perform as a soloist with Oslo-Filharmonien.

In spite of all that, Birgitte is of the opinion that she is not a competitive person

«I don’t like comparing myself with others. It does me no good. It’s better to compare yourself with yourself and rather think that you’re going to play better than you did yesterday», says Birgitta.


Brain-friendly practising

She is currently on a bachelor programme in classical performance at Norges musikkhøgskole, a conservatoire. This is what she is going to be doing until the summer of 2025. The cello has been a part of her since she was five years old and started receiving instruction from a friend of her mother’s.

«I was going to get a smartie for each song I played. After a short time there were an awful lot of smarties coming my way! I simply loved playing», says Birgitta.

On an average day she often practises for five hours on her own, in addition to various joint exercises.

«Practising can be extremely boring, but it’s really extremely worth it. I have not sacrificed anything, I have prioritized», Birgitta says eagerly.

Together with ArtEX coach Kéa she has found out how to practise with greater effect, so that the right details stick.

«We’ve spoken about what happens inside the brain when you’re nervous», says Birgitta. -

In brief: When you’re nervous, the fear centre in your brain is activated. What the brain wants most of all then is to put you on a kind of autopilot rather than listen to the part of your brain that steers the logic.

«If you’ve practised a lot of mistakes, you may risk retrieving those mistakes during the concert», Birgitta explains.

That is now why she chooses shorter and more concentrated practice sessions. That way there is less of a risk of making mistakes when playing the cello than if she constantly has long, exhausting sessions.

«By doing this, I let the good practice stick in my brain.»


Networks via ArtEX

Her ArtEx mentor is Jasper Parrott, who runs one of the world’s largest classical music managements. She has expanded her network through Jasper and has had lessons with world class cellists.

In addition, Jasper has given her valuable advice on her career. One of the most important things he has told her is that one should develop one’s musical identity.

«It is not sufficient to be good at playing. You also have to find out who you are as a musician. I’m working on it», says Birgitta, with a laugh.

One thing is certain:  

«What I love best is playing with other people. Music is the language of the emotions. It’s as if our souls are talking to each other when we play together. Our goal is to get the audience in on this».


Wanting to create magic

At the same time, Birgitta needs a lot of time on her own in order to preserve the good energy. She has the music with her anyway, even though she goes for a walk without any sound on her ear.

«Some piece or other is always playing in my head. It’s been that way since I was a little girl. I also make the interpretations of the music I play in my head, and that is why it is essential for it to be completely quiet around me a couple of times a day.»

She describes the music she plays as «waves of intensity.

«Just as if you were going for a walk in the mountains and saw a lot of beautiful scenery, and at the end of your walk you would look out on all of the beautiful landscape. The same happens in music, only the music doesn’t go via an object, like a painting or a view, it goes much more quickly into people’s emotions and souls», says Birgitta.

«Music can get that close to everyone. That’s why I can’t imagine a world without music.»

However, sometimes she has to remind herself why she has chosen this way of life. Then her thoughts go to that very special moment that may occur during a consert. To the moment when everything is so quiet it’s vibrating – until the performers and the audience are assimilated in the music.

«My goal is to create moments when time and place don’t exist for a couple of seconds, and when everyone has the same feeling. At that moment, you’re creating magic. That’s why you practise – to feel the electricity.»


Apply for ArtEx

Programme of Excellence in Performing Arts and film (ArtEx) is an interdisciplinary talent developing programme which is to help top-level artists to further develop themselves artistically and build an interesting and sustainable career. Through the programme you will become part of an extensive national and international network, you will get to take part in interdisciplinary professional gatherings under the auspices of Talent Norge. A support network will be available to you throughout the duration of the programme, consisting of a mentor, a coach and a place on Olympiatoppen’s health service. You will also get an individual scholarship that is to be used for professional development in consultation with your mentor. 

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