The Nobel Banquet had to be lit artistically, and carefully, to please the king of Sweden.
The annual Nobel Banquet requires, literally, a table fit for a king, since the posh event is hosted by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden in partnership with the Nobel Foundation.
The death of Swedish-born inventor and international industrialist Alfred Nobel in 1896 established the creation of the Nobel Foundation. As stipulated in his will, the Nobel prizes, monetary rewards and medals of distinction, are granted each year to those whose achievements have been deemed worthy. The awards are given in various fields, including physics, chemistry, physiology, medicine, literature, and the famous Pursuit of Peace award.
Every year on Dec. 10 — the anniversary of Nobel's death — the awards are given in Stockholm to a new crop of Nobel Laureates. (The Peace Prize is given separately, at an event in Oslo, Norway.) After the ceremony, in which the king of Sweden bestows the diplomas and medals on the honorees, the festivities continue in earnest at the Nobel Banquet. The Blue Hall of the city hall of Stockholm (known as Stockholm's Stadshus) has hosted this occasion since 1934.
About 1,400 people attended the 2003 dinner, including, of course, the Nobel Laureates and their families, the king and queen, and other members of the royal family of Sweden as guests of honor. Representatives of the Swedish government and parliament also participated, and international guests were given priority, especially those who represented the sciences and culture.
The Swedish guests include those who participate in Nobel-related functions in some capacity, aid the sciences through donations, or otherwise support the foundation. In addition, about 250 students are invited each year.
Lighting designer Per Sundin of Sveriges Television has also been invited to the dinner many times, but he's not there for the food or the Dom Perignon. Sundin goes to handle lighting the banquet — he's worked the event since 1996.
“The Nobel Banquet takes place in Stockholm city hall, a building with history and known worldwide for its beautiful architecture,” Sundin says. “The Blue Hall (which is actually red) is the arena, with 1,400 guests in the most elegant environment you can imagine. There is no stage, just an enormous stair where the entertainment takes place. No rock rigs fit there, so it's a bit tricky concealing the rigging and everything else (such as cables, trusses, etc.) that needs to be hidden or covered.
“The Nobel Banquet has a long tradition in Swedish and international television,” Sundin says. “The first time the prize ceremony was broadcast was in the mid-1950s, and at that time, lighting was just about getting the right exposure for the cameras — not using it as an artistic tool. It went on like that year after year, just being very bright and without taking into account how the guests felt about eating under several thousand lumens, without any cozy atmosphere whatsoever. Finally, after the 1995 dinner, the king complained that was he was tired of sitting and eating in a television studio.”
Thus, the king of Sweden stipulated that lighting for the television production should not interfere with the Nobel Banquet in any way.
“He gave special instructions, and this was the start of a new way to produce the event,” Sundin says. “I received the honor to design the lighting, and they were happy with what I did, so I have been involved ever since.”
Sundin worked with Spectra+ of Sweden, which provided equipment as well as technical help under the direction of production manager Lars-Ola Melzig.
The equipment list for the event included conventional gear, as well automated lighting from High End Systems. The High End gear consisted of 12 Studio Spot 575s, 12 Studio Beams, 12 Studio Color 575s, 12 Studio Spot 250s, one Cyberlight, three DL.1s, and three Catalyst Pro v3.0 Media Servers. Video Unlimited supplied three stacked 12,000-lumen Panasonic projectors.
“I made these equipment choices because my technical partner, Lars-Ola, and I had to specify small and silent fixtures to meet the requirement from the Nobel Committee,” Sundin says. “They wanted it to be dinner by candlelight, not too showy, but still have a glamorous look. Last year, the Nobel Committee decided to have smaller-sized entertainment with very high artistic standards. They change the format every year to keep the interest up, and to surprise guests and viewers.”
At the 2003 banquet, there were three entertainment breaks during the dinner, which included a jazz soloist supported by a small symphony orchestra. Visual artists Helena Bystrom and Asa Lipka-Falck created the video content to accompany the music.
“I knew that my lighting had to enhance one extremely good jazz band accompanied by a small symphony orchestra, some very arty video content, 1,400 guests eating in candlelight — all on a limited budget,” Sundin says. “So I had to spend my money on a few very creative tools.”
On-Site at the Stadshus
As the event's production manager, Melzig's responsibilities included supplying Sundin with all the support he needed for his creative work.
“I find the technical solutions that will work the best for that particular event, hire the crew, and arrange the transportation logistics,” Melzig explains. “I collect all the information we needed for accreditations for the crew, see to it that catering works, and make sure that the logistics for building up and taking down the lighting rig will harmonize with the other technical areas, such as sound and television production.”
On site, Melzig also served as the build-up manager. Swedish company DM Audio handled the audio and the city hall's own crew handled the staging.
“I made sure that the right EQ was used in the right areas with the right configuration,” Melzig says. “I also had total responsibility for keeping to the budget that we set with the client. The greatest challenge on the production end is making the technical solutions invisible to the attendees. There is a lot of EQ needed, but it needs to be used in a sophisticated way since it is not your average rock ‘n’ roll show.”
Melzig says that the approach worked well for the 2003 event.
“The show looked great, and as always, when Per is involved, it looked great on TV as well,” Melzig says. “The new video tools gave it a dimension that had not been there before. In addition, we found a way to get up some rigging points for motors in city hall. This has never been done before, so the whole show had a complete new look. The Nobel Foundation was very pleased with the result.”
Programmer and operator Pontus “Bullen” Lagerbielke and Sundin programmed the moving lights and Catalyst v3.0 Media Servers, working closely with the video artists during rehearsals to ensure all would go smoothly.
“The content was very arty, only black-and-white images with high contrast, but it worked very well on the red brick wall, which was our projection surface,” Sundin says. “It was impressive.”
Sundin has used the Catalyst in other big events, including the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) 2002 Tallinn Estonia, where he had 15 units with video projectors. It's still one of the biggest Catalyst installations that's ever been done in Europe. Sundin is using them to prepare his design for the 2004 ESC in Istanbul, Turkey, set for May 11-15. He plans to use 11 catalyst units and four DL.1 units.
“I also used them on ESC 2003 Riga, Latvia,” he adds. “I had 11 units that we used as media servers for LED screens and video projectors. The Catalyst is a powerful and creative tool. And this last Nobel dinner was the first time I had used the DL.1. Everything worked very well, and I was very happily surprised regarding the DL.1's capacity and light output. This type of lighting/video unit is the beginning of the future, and the DL.1 fit in very well in an environment of Nobel Prize winners.”
Catherine McHugh is a regular contributor to SRO and to Entertainment Design magazine. She has been covering live event design for more than a decade.