You may think you know Nordic history, but there is still so much to be discovered. After all, the stories span generations, stretching back hundreds of years. In this podcast, Norwegian host and violinist Eldbjørg Hemsing aims to answer one question: What is typically Nordic? To investigate, Hemsing and her expert guests deep dive into Nordic mythology, folk music, philosophy, architecture, nature, and more. She speaks with celebrated composers and inspiring artists, discussing inspirations, styles, and dreams. Have no fear if you’re one to zone out during longer podcasts because Hemsing’s interesting questions will bring you right back in.
The Nordics Unveiled really takes listeners on a journey, showing the weird and wonderful side of Nordic history! Hemsing gives ample space for her guests to share their experiences and the audio is crystal clear. She even uses some of her own music in the show’s introduction, so listeners get a truly Nordic experience. This is recommended for the curious and lovers of Nordic history.
We were fortunate to talk with Hemsing about the podcast, how they differentiate from other podcasts, and their future plans in podcasting. See below for our full Q&A.
HEMSING: During the lockdown and numerous concert cancellations due to COVID-19, I finally had the chance to do projects that I usually don’t have the time to fit into my calendar. And during a normal concert season, when performing around the world one of the most common question I get asked is “what is typically Nordic” and “what is the sound of the north”. As a Norwegian, you don’t really ask yourself this question, so I became very curious myself to find out! As a passionate communicator, I thought let’s combine the best components in the situation and share the passion of music to my core audiences and people, who might not know much about classical music.
DISCOVER PODS:In your own words, why should listeners tune in to The Nordics Unveiled?
HEMSING: I really hope people will join me on the journey to discover what the Nordic is, whether its music, history, art, design or just some of the societal values. It is particularly the societal values that are underlying all the conversations, so I would it say the Nordics Unveiled is almost an introduction ahead of your first or next visit. With exceptional guests and surprising discoveries, I hope this podcast will offer new inspiration and insights for listeners to dive into the Nordics.
DISCOVER PODS:What kind of feedback have you heard from your listeners?
HEMSING: We are still on the early side, with only 3 episodes released, but the feedback from listeners is very positive. I particularly feel so humbled, once reading a review from fellow Norwegians, who live on the other side of the world saying “the podcast really makes me feel like I am back home in the North”. So I hope this curiosity from audiences will continue.
DISCOVER PODS:Describe your recording set up? What equipment are you using?
HEMSING: I am quite lucky that I have a technical support to make the podcast sound as good as possible. As a recording artist, the quality of sound is something I would not be ready to compensate on. If not mistaken, we are using the Zoom recorder that is supposed to be one of the best.
DISCOVER PODS:What’s the biggest challenge you face as a classical musician in a role podcaster?
HEMSING: I think the biggest challenge creating a podcast is starting from scratch, without having any mainstream media to lean on as a full promotional challenge. Luckily, I have was able to introduce the podcast also to my performing audiences. On the other hand, I personally like to challenge myself being innovative and not following any other podcasting styles and trends.
DISCOVER PODS:Where do you want to take your podcast?
HEMSING: I would love to take the episodes of podcast on TV – I think we could make a truly fantastic series!
DISCOVER PODS:What other podcasts are you listening to now?
HEMSING: I mostly listen to Norwegian podcasts mostly. In general, I like a big contrast to my artistic profession, so I enjoy listening to the very fact and analysis based podcasts, rather than comedy.
DISCOVER PODS:Anything else you’d like to add?
HEMSING: Subscribe to the podcast and I hope you will join me on the journey to the mystical North!
In the new episode of the Nordics Unveiled, Eldbjørg Hemsing is joint by one of Europe’s most accomplished and innovative percussionists Terje Isungset. With over two decades of experience in jazz and Scandinavian music, Terje has already made a significant mark in pushing the musical boundaries far beyond tradition. His distinctive artistic works are exploring the interdisciplinary performances of sound and shamanistic rituals.
Crafting his own instruments from natural elements such as arctic birch, granite, slate, sheep bells and most remarkably the ice. Terje is highly recommended to those sensible to the poetry and simplicity of sounds, with ‘timbres’ and ‘colours’ being central in his music and compositions. Media praises him as innovative, visual, energetic and different from any previously known concepts. Percussion Profiles publication has listed him among the 25 of the world’s most creative percussionists and he was also named the Norwegian Jazz musician of the year.
“It was years ago, when I was asked to do a concert in a frozen waterfall in Lillehammer. I thought what should we do, work against or with nature? So I decided to work with nature, went to location and started to collect stones, wood and since I was there in the winter I also checked the ice… When I head the sound of ice and saw it, I just simply fell in love and from then on, cannot stop it.“Terje Isungset, The Nordics Unveiled
“First you need to harvest the ice, which is the most challenging part. But even before harvesting, it is crucial to know that the lake (where the ice will be harvested from) has sound – not every lake has the sound. If the ice is there, I can make instrument in between two to three days. Then we can make various types of horns, ice drums, iceophones that can be tuned.” Terje Isungset, The Nordics Unveiled
“If I go to perform in India, China or Japan, we always make the instruments there. Sometimes I bring a little box of ice also from Norway, because I have experienced, for example in Japan that it is difficult to find a well-sounding ice. I can of course always tune it, but the sound difference would effect the music because of the resonance. The range of sound is really big, from a completely death sound, to almost singing. The longest resonance I had with one instrument was 18 seconds.” Terje Isungset, The Nordics Unveiled
More information about Terje Isungset and his music on the following link.
Hallgrim Hansegård has truly made a name with bringing the rich traditional folk dance ‘halling’ to the global audiences, both through live performances, TV productions and even video games. Known for his innovative and playful dance projects, Hallgrim is continuously breaking physical, psychological and cultural barriers. His projects had been performed in more than 30 countries and have reached over 100 million views on YouTube. Most interestingly, his performance has also been censored by Catholic Church in Italy. Hallgrim has in 2006 founded his own dance company FRIKAR, artistically leading a space where Norwegian traditional folk dance and other sub-cultures within dance community can experiment, develop and nurture the heritage by sharing it to the future generations.
“In the Nordic countries we share a common heritage of social dances, with a lot of whirling in a couple formation. There is a common use of circle dances, but Halling is kind of different, almost a ‘Flamingo dance of the Nordics’. … I tend to disagree from the majority of dances who believe Halling is a male dance, as there is several written sources from 1700 about high-quality female dancers.” Hallgrim Hansegård, The Nordics Unveiled
“It is both interesting and strange that we have such big regional differences. Even in the mood with music and dance. In the Southern part of Norway they are known for a more dark mood, heaviness in the dance. And in Valdres, most of Hallings are pretty happy and light, and our Springar is the most leaning forward, which is really good for the trance dancing.” Hallgrim Hansegård, The Nordics Unveiled
More information about Hallgrim Hansegård and his work with FRIKAR work on the following link.
Guest of the new episode of “The Nordics Unveiled” is renowned Norwegian art historian and curator Dr. Knut Ljøgodt. Previously working at the National Gallery in Oslo, as Director at the Northern Norway Art Museum in Tromsø and Founding Director of Kunsthall Svalbard, dr. Ljøgodt is today leading the Nordic Institute of Art, which he co-founded in 2017. His curatorial work has been praised both in the Nordics and internationally. As a leading scholar on Nordic and European 19th century art, including Romantic landscape painting and history painting, he is the perfect guest to unveil the mysteries of the Nordic of fine arts.
“We have many images of the North – what do we mean by the North, is it just generally the Nordic region (Norden) or individual Nordic countries. The Swedish national anthem has the line ‘Ja, jag vill leva, jag vill dö i Norden.’ or ‘I will live, I will die in the North’, but for the Swedes the North is Sweden. When we speak about the far North, or as we like to call it today the Arctic, above the Polar circle, Svalbard, Spitzbergen, North Pole, the image about Scandinavia and particularly Arctic has been seen as mystery, part of danger, dark place.” Dr. Knut Ljøgodt, The Nordics Unveiled “It is interesting to look at Nordic region as a whole, rather than as specific countries. Even though we know 19th century artists were striving to create the national identity, the culture of the region is so close that it makes more sense to be discussing it as a whole, rather than seeing it in national contexts. And at the same time the challenge of course is that most of the art, music or literature history is written from the national point of view.” Dr. Knut Ljøgodt, The Nordics Unveiled
Hva er typisk nordisk? Hva karakteriserer vår historie, utvikling og hvem er vi i dag? Disse spørsmålene stiller Eldbjørg Hemsing i sin nye podcast, The Nordics Uveiled, som lanseres i disse dager.
Hun tar sikte på å nå et internasjonalt publikum som for tiden er sulteforet på levende konserter, og inviterer dem til å legge ut på en reise nordover for å utforske temaer i nordisk mytologi, folkemusikk og samisk tradisjon, samt oppdage glemte nordiske verk innen musikk, filosofi, arkitektur og natur.
– Den såkalte «nordiske klangen» er sterkt inspirert av natur, stemninger og forskjeller, fra nordlys til høye fjell, dype daler og vann. «Lyrisk», «melankolsk» og «forsiktig optimisme» er ord som ofte brukes om det nordiske; det rene, enkle og pittoreske. Samtidig det modige og kraftfulle, som man forbinder med nordiske folkeeventyr – gjerne forbundet med varm humor. Mange av disse trekkene kan man finne igjen i andre kunstarter. Hvordan har historien formet oss og hva kan vi lære av hvordan vi er i dag? skriver Hemsing i sin presentasjon av podcasten.
De tre første episodene ligger allerede ute. Der presenteres Lasse Thoresen og hans bruk av folkemusikk, Mette Henriette med bruk av sin samiske arv og Ottar Kåsa som spiller «djevelens instrument» hardingfele. Hver episode har en kort skriftlig presentasjon, en spilleliste og lenker til aktuelle nettsteder for videre lytting.
Fiolinisten Eldbjørg Hemsing har lansert podcasten The Nordics Unveiled, der hun ønsker å utforske temaene nordisk mytologi, folkemusikken, samisk tradisjon, oppdagelse av glemte verk innenfor musikken, filosofi, arkitektur og natur. Slikt blir det spennende lytting av.
Eldbjørg Hemsing har vokst opp i en bygd og et dalføre som har en rik folkemusikktradisjon som har påvirket og inspirert komponister som Grieg, Ole Bull og Halvorsen. Folkemusikken har vært en stor kilde til inspirasjon for mange komponister. Den nordiske lyden er også sterkt inspirert av naturen, stemninger og forandringer. Alt fra nordlyset, til dype fjell og daler, til vann. Den lyriske, melankolske og ofte forsiktige optimismen er et nøkkelord for å forklare hva som ofte kan karaktiseres som nordisk. Det rene, enkle og ofte billedlige. Samtidig som det er et mot og en pågangskraft som kan hentes fra nordiske eventyr, ofte med en lun humor. Mange av disse egenskapene vises også i andre sjangre enn musikk. Hvordan har historien formet oss og hva kan vi lære av hvem i er i dag?
The bold and charismatic Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje is most definitely on the forefront, when it comes to the musical avant-garde, known for stark contrasts and a nuanced balances. She is celebrated and awarded with prizes both in Scandinavia and abroad, including the Edvard Prize and prestigious UNESCO Rostrum Award.
“The Nordic expression in music can be clear, often very strong and intimate. It’s probably not the right to say it in such way, but it is ‘very often to the point’. Even in making complex contemporary music, there is still a clear music expression. Arne Nordheim, probably the most famous Norwegian composer after Edvard Grieg, is the first name that comes to my mind, when people talk about Nordic music. And it is still full of warmth, directness and in some way comfort.” Maja S. K. Ratkje, The Nordics Unveiled
“We need to re-define what the Nordic identity is, as the world around is changing and we are becoming a bigger part of it. We need artistic reflections on what the rest of the world does to us and not only being nostalgic. We need the good art that lifts up the dark spaces and criticizes things that we too often take for granted. We need art that is beautiful in new ways and does not play only on clichés.” Maja S. K. Ratkje, The Nordics Unveiled
Eldbjørg Hemsing med podkast om det mystiske nordiske: – Jeg ser på podkaster som lydbøker som har tatt et steg videre
Det såkalte nordiske uttrykket har blitt en sjanger både innenfor litteratur og musikk, men hva er egentlig typisk nordisk? I podkasten «The Nordics Unveiled» dykker Eldbjørg Hemsing ned i det nordiske kulturhavet med spennende gjester som kartlesere.
Det nordiske uttrykket beskrives ofte som lyrisk og melankolsk uten de helt store faktene. Dramatikken i naturen, nordlyset, den mørke vinteren er så langt unna blinkende neonlys man kan komme. Sagt på annen måte: Det er stor forskjell på interiøret i en Volvo og en Kia, og musikken til den finske samtidskomponisten Kaija Saariaho kan helt sikkert beskrives som litt av hvert, men neppe svulstig og pompøs.
Hjemme er best
Med 95 prosent av spillejobbene satt på vent, fant Eldbjørg Hemsing ut at hun måtte ha noe finne på mens hun gikk og klødde i fingrene hjemme i leiligheten i Oslo. For ja, verdensmusikeren har flyttet fra Berlin og bosatt seg en trivelig biltur unna hjembygda Aurdal, et trekk hun er glad hun gjorde for ett år siden.
Ottar Kåsa is renowned Hardanger fiddle player and violinmaker, praised for making first class instruments. After attending the prestigious Ole Bull Academy in Voss, he established his own workshop, continuing nurturing the expertise of craftmanship of Hardanger fiddle making and playing.
The oldest found Hardanger fiddle dates back to a year 1651, belonging to Ole Jonsen Jaastad (1621 – 1694), who lived in the village of Ullensvang in Hardanger. Frequently referred also as “the instrument of the Devil”. Hardanger fiddle throughout the centuries remained an important part of Norwegian social and cultural heritage.
In modern designs, Hardanger fiddle is very similar to violin, though with either 8 or 9 strings (rather than four as on a standard violin) and thinner wood. Four of the strings are strung and played like a violin, while the rest, aptly named understrings or sympathetic strings resonate under the influence of the other four.
The instrument is often highly decorated, with a carved animal (usually with a dragon or Lion of Norway), extensive inlay with the mother of pearl on tailpiece and fingerboard as well as the black ink decorations called “rosing” on the body of the instrument.
More information about Ottar Kåsa and the heritage of Hardanger fiddle on the following link.
Nordic sound is not easy to describe, when being part of the scene yourself (…) Perhaps there is not really a Nordic sound, but rather a Nordic rhythm. I perceive there is a different temporality in the music of Nordic countries, including Baltic. Lasse Thoresen, The Nordics Unveiled
In the new episode of the Nordics Unveiled, Eldbjørg Hemsing is joint by the exceptional multi-faceted artist Mette Henriette. Norwegian Sami saxophonist, composer and performing artist has been captivating audiences and critiques around the globe – the youngest artist to be signed to the legendary label ECM, Mette’s debut album was also named the “Jazz Record of the year” (Independent).
“Havingboth Norwegian and Sami roots, this diverse origin taught me a lot about the cultural perspective. In contrast to the Western cultures, indigenous people have nurtured the relationship to the nature in a different way. And here the landscape has profoundly shaped people’s emotional as well as their time perception.” Mette Henriette, The Nordics Unveiled
An artistic voice of today, Mette Henriette joins Eldbjørg Hemsing for a conversation about her inspiration and connection to the nature in the North, discovery of her Sami heritage and the Nordic sound.
“I think all the impressions and experiences that we have and we share here in the North are unique. Nature is certainly one of the big shapers on how to interact with our surroundings. Just looking at the spectrum of emotions, in lightness and light or the darkness. Too frequently it is either negative or positive connotations, instead of being the beauty that can be explored through creative crafts and expression forms” Mette Henriette, The Nordics Unveiled
The lyrical, melancholic and often cautious optimists are a key words to explain what can often be characterized as Nordic. The clean, simple and often pictorial. At the same time, it is a courage and a force to be reckoned with, as can be drawn from Nordic fairy tales, often with a warm humor. Many of these features also appear in other artistic disciplines. How has history shaped us and what can we learn from who we are today?
Eldbjørg Hemsing receives the 1707 ‘Rivaz, Baron Gutmann’ while Janine Jansen has the 1715 ‘Rode, Duke of Cambridge’
Two of the world’s leading female violinists have been granted the use of ‘golden period’ Stradivari violins. Norwegian soloist Eldbjørg Hemsing is now playing the 1707 ‘Rivaz, Baron Gutmann’ Stradivari violin, owned by the Dextra Musica foundation. Its most recent player, Janine Jansen, has been gifted the use of the 1715 ‘Rode, Duke of Cambridge’ Stradivari, courtesy of a European benefactor. ‘I want to thank Dextra Musica for having given me the fantastic opportunity to play on one of the finest Stradivari violins for these past years,’ said Jansen. ‘The velvety beauty, depth and richness of sound have been a true inspiration for me. I wish Eldbjørg Hemsing and the “Rivaz, Baron Gutmann” a wonderful journey together.’
‘Being part of the Dextra Musica family for over twelve years, I am thrilled and grateful to continue expanding this fruitful collaboration,’ said Hemsing. ‘Having the support of a foundation loaning me this incredible violin, one of the world’s finest, is truly a honour as well as a huge artistic inspiration. I am very much looking forward to continue building the artistic legacy of the instrument as well as inspiring audiences with its sound.’
For pieces that are not often heard in the concert hall, the violin sonatas of Edvard Grieg are well-served on disc. The third sonata is the best-known of the three; we have recordings from Fritz Kreisler, Toscha Seidel, Jascha Heifetz, and Josef Suk, among others. The abandonment of the sonatas by modern violinists is mystifying, particularly when hearing such persuasive performances as found on this disc.
The first, composed in 1865, is the least-played of the sonatas. This sonata is a more assured composition than the piano sonata (op. 7) written in the same year; harmonically, it is much more interesting, and the overall structure is less stilted. The op. 8 sonata seems to draw more inspiration from folk music than the other violin sonatas; Hemsing successfully imitates the twang of the Hardanger fiddle in the second movement, while Trpčeski doesn’t shy away from the rustic dissonances that Grieg would fully embrace in the much later Norwegian Folk Dances (Slåtter), op. 72. This sonata is a delightful discovery.
Hemsing and Trpčeski have nothing to fear from their storied competition in the other sonatas. The duo combines a sophisticated color palette with a wide dynamic range, and the results are stunning. Hemsing draws forth a husky, whispered timbre in more intimate moments, but is capable of exploding with the sort of concentrated tone that would do Heifetz proud. She is also not afraid to use a bit of old-school portamento; it is a wonderful effect, particularly in the climaxes of the third sonata. If only more modern violinists could be convinced to play with this sort of swing and joie de vivre! Trpčeski digs into the meaty chordal batteries with gusto, but also provides impressive clarity in softer, speedier fingerwork.
The final piece on the album is Hemsing’s own composition, a short set of variations for solo violin on a “folk tune from Valdres.” Piano buffs will recognize the tune used as the basis for Grieg’s “Ballade in the form of variations,” op. 24. The piece is conservative, and does not seem out of place alongside the sonatas.
In trying times, we have a responsibility to find joy wherever we can. Hemsing and Trpčeski provide that joy in spades with their vivacious, probing, and ultimately life-affirming performances.
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907) Violin Sonata no. 1 in F Major, op. 8 [22:58] Violin Sonata no. 2 in G major, op. 13 [20:27] Violin Sonata no. 3 in C Minor, op. 45 [23:48]
Eldbjørg HEMSING (b. 1990) Homecoming: Variations on a folk tune from Valdres [3:33] Eldbjørg Hemsing (violin) Simon Trpčeski (piano) rec. 2018/19, Sandesaal, Bremen, Germany; Aurdal Church, Norway BIS BIS2456SACD [72:30]
Recorded with pianist Simon Trpčeski, the disc features Grieg’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in F Major Op. 8, Violin Sonata No. 2 in G Major Op. 13, Violin Sonata No. 3 in C Minor Op. 45, andEldbjørg’s original work, ‘Homecoming‘ for Violin & Piano – based on traditional Norwegian folk tunes.
”Edvard Grieg is a name I have heard for as long as I can remember, and for me, his music is the sound of my childhood in many ways …” Eldbjørg has told The Violin Channel.
“I have always loved the purity and lyricism of Grieg’s music and to finally have the opportunity to record the three sonata works is for me both exciting, as well as a little intimidating – especially given how iconic they are …” she has said.
“I hope this CD will inspire listeners to explore the works of Edvard Grieg and of all the great Norwegian composers … our music is so wonderfully linked and inspired by our rich folk music heritage.
As Quarantine time is a perfect time to expand your repertoire, Quarantine Classics provides a series of musicians sharing their favorite Nordic gems. Violinist Eldbjørg Hemsing is on something of a mission in bringing Borgström’s music back to life.
A few years ago, I was introduced to the music of Hjalmar Borgström, a name I was not previously familiar with, and I was very surprised to learn that he had been famous as both a composer and critic in Norway at the beginning of the 20th century.
Born in Kristiania in 1864, Hjalmar Borgström played both piano and violin from an early age. He studied composition with Johan Svendsen (1881-83) and with Ludvig M. Lindeman (1883-87). After that, like many Nordic composers in preceding generations, Borgström went to Germany to study and spent some years at the Leipzig conservatory. However, in contrast to Grieg who returned from Germany firmly resolved to carve out an authentic, Norwegian idiom, Borgström came back a staunch proponent of new German symphonic music. His Violin Concerto in G major was first performed in 1914 as part of a celebration of the centenary of the Norwegian constitution.
When opening the score of his first violin concerto for the first time I was immediately intrigued. This concerto is incredibly beautiful, full of Norwegian Nationalist sentiment so typical of its time but also worthy of international attention. It reminds me of where I come from – the rugged landscape of Valdres and Jotunheimen, where the surrounding mountains rise dramatically over the valleys – and the music makes me yearn for my roots. At the same time, the concerto is very technically demanding and Borgström clearly knew how to compose for a virtuoso violinist. The first movement has a bit of an unusual form, there are many fragments and hints of Norwegian roots without going too deep into it. A bit into the movement comes the theme which has one of the most beautiful moment; completely pure in harmony and expression, making the dialogue between the cellos and solo part shimmer. The second movement is as if taken out of a Wagner-opera; the violin sounds like a soprano and is given a big palate of colors to paint with. The third movement is the most Norwegian-sounding with a bit of a “Halling”-feel in rhythm. It is the most virtuoso part of the whole concerto and gives the violinist a big challenge to make it sound effortless. The ending of the concerto is as unusual as the format; it ends in peaceful quietness and gives the audience a chance to breathe out after 32 mins of music.
After many years of composing, Borgström became a music critic and was very respected and feared for his sharp pen. It is said about him he was a humble servant of the art and always listening within to music. But there was a lot of fire and passion in his music, a constant fight of unsolved thoughts and questions as well as a bitterness and soreness. His compositions calls upon reflection and a quest to look into the deepest of ones´s soul. The music´s ability to express thoughts was something Borgstöm firmly believed in.
After Borgström’s death in 1925 the concerto was completely forgotten and today I am on something of a mission to help do my part in bringing this composer’s music back to life. Being able to record it with the Wiener Symphoniker /Vienna Symphony Orchestra was a fantastic opportunity I am so grateful for. My big wish is that many people will play this concerto and continue to bring life to Borgström´s music.
A champion of Norway’s rich musical tradition, Eldbjørg Hemsing has been a household name inher native country since childhood and made her solo debut with the Bergen Philharmonic at the age of 11. After winning various international competitions and prizes at the age of 18 her desire was to continue intensive studies with Boris Kuschnir in Vienna, during which time she fine-tuned her performance-style and absorbed a wide-range of repertoire ranging from Bach, Beethoven, Bartok to Tan Dun. Together with Tan Dun she has collaborated on numerous projects in both Europe and Asia and has most recently premiered and recorded composer’s new violin concerto “Fire Ritual – A Musical Ritual for Victims of Wars”, together with the Oslo Philharmonic.
Her upcoming engagements in the 2019 / 20 season include her début with the Argovia Philharmonic, Orchestra TON at Lincoln Center NY, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Calgary Philharmonic, Slovene Philharmonic, as well as the re-engagements with orchestras in Europe and Asia. Eldbjørg Hemsing will furthermore perform the Chinese, Swiss, Canadian and German premiere of the forgotten Borgström violin concerto. With recitals Eldbjørg Hemsing also makes her debut in the prestigious ElbPhilharmonie Hamburg as well as at the Dresdner Festspiele and Stiftung Mozarteum Salzburg. Eldbjørg Hemsing plays a 1754 G. B. Guadagnini violin on kind loan from the Dextra Musica Foundation.
Die Geigerin Eldbjørg Hemsing hat sich auf eine Reise in die Vergangenheit der norwegischen Musik begeben. Heraus kamen überraschende Zusammenhänge zu ihrer eigenen Familiegeschichte, die Eldbjørg dazu inspirierten, für ihr neues Album selbst zu komponieren.
Musik hat schon immer zu ihrer Familie gehört. Eldbjørg beginnt schon mit vier Jahren Geige und Fidel zu spielen und so hat es sie auch nicht verwundert, dass bei ihnen zuhause Noten an der Wand hängen. Als sie als Rising Star kurz vor dem Durchbruch steht, erzählt ihre Mutter ihr, dass dieses Notenskript eine Leihgabe der National Gallery sei und die Melodien ihres Ur-Ur-Ur-Großvaters zeige. Eine dieser Melodien habe sogar Edvard Grieg in seiner Musik verarbeitet.
Name: Eldbjørg Hemsing Geboren: 1990 in einem winzigen Dorf in der Region Oppland in Norwegen Instrument: Geige und Fidel Haarfarbe: Hellblond Verrückteste Eigenart: Liebstes Hobby und Entspannungsquelle sind Finanzen und Zahlen Lieblingsmusik: Ella Fitzgerald – “Reaching for the moon”
Den Norwegern bedeutet Edvard Grieg genauso viel wie ihre Volksmusik. In der Region bei Bergen aufgewachsen, hat er die Melodien und Klänge in den Stuben und Dorfplätzen aufgesogen und sie in seiner Musik verarbeitet. Es steckt also ein Stück Norwegen in der Grieg‘schen Musik und die Norweger haben auch sehr konkrete Vorstellungen, wie ein Konzert mit Grieg zu klingen hat. Dieses Ideal zu erreichen hat sich Eldbjørg zur Aufgabe gemacht und ein Album eingespielt.
“Ich möchte mit dem Album zeigen, das viele bekannte Stücke, wie zum Beispiel von Grieg, einen traditionellen Hintergrund haben.”
Eldbjørg Hemsing über ihr neues Album ‘Grieg – The Violin Sonatas’
Für Eldbjørg sind die drei Violinsonaten von Grieg eine perfekte Umschreibung seines Lebens. Also wurde es ihr zur Passion und zum Herzensprojekt, diese drei Sonaten einzuspielen. Dafür hat sie sich näher mit Grieg auseinandergesetzt und festgestellt, welche Verbindung der berühmte Komponist nicht nur mit der norwegischen Musik selbst, sondern auch mit ihrer Familie hatte. Erst durch ihr Album wurde ihr die Bedeutung der Noten an der Wand ihres Elternhauses bewusst.
Wie Eldbjørg zur Komponistin wurde
Fast niemand weiß, dass diese Melodie aus dem Stück nicht von Grieg, sondern von einem ihrer Vorfahren stammt. Diese Tatsache hat Hemsing dazu bewegt, ihr erstes eigenes Werk zu komponieren: “Homecoming”. Mit diesem Stück will sie ihren Ur-Ur-Ur-Großvater ehren. Sie hat seine Melodie weitergesponnen und verändert sowie die norwegische Melancholie hineinfließen lassen. Und es sollte ein kurzes Stück sein, um es überall spielen und die Entstehungsgeschichte erzählen zu können.
Die Arbeit an diesem neuen Album weckte in Eldbjørg Hemsing wohl das Heimweh. Nach fast zehn Jahren im Ausland ist die Geigerin im vergangenen Herbst wieder zurück nach Norwegen gezogen, genauer: nach Oslo. Sie habe einfach die Sprache und die Menschen dort vermisst, erzählt sie im Gespräch mit SWEET SPOT – und das Skifahren. Schon als Kind ging es mit den Skiern zur Schule. In Berlin, ihrer letzten Heimat, war Eldbjørg ab und zu mit ihrer Freundin auf Rollski unterwegs, bereut aber nicht, zweieinhalb Jahre in der deutschen Bundeshauptstadt gelebt zu haben. Sie liebe die Stadt und die Kultur, sagt Eldbjørg.
“Besonders diese versteckten Orte, bei denen man denkt: Wie könnte hier ein Konzert stattfinden? Und dann kommen plötzlich Musiker und der Abend wird unglaublich magisch.”
Eldbjørg Hemsing über Berlin
Anscheinend war es für sie Zeit, nach Hause zu kommen. Die Noten an der Wand ihres Elternhauses haben sie auf eine ganz eigene Reise in die Geschichte der norwegischen Kultur und ihrer Familie geleitet – und schließlich auch zu ihrem ganz eigenen Homecoming.
Eldbjørg Hemsing in SWEET SPOT
Am 16. März ist Eldbjørg Hemsing im Radio bei SWEET SPOT von 21.05 bis 23.00 Uhr zu Gast. Leider nicht persönlich, aber live zugeschaltet aus Norwegen. Wegen der Corona-Krise hängt die Geigerin aktuell in ihrem Heimatland fest.
Eine Kulisse, wie man sie schöner nicht malen könnte! Glitzernder Schnee, strahlend blauer Himmel, eine traumhafte Aussicht, nachts ein klarer Sternenhimmel. Das Hemsing Festival, zu dem die Schwestern Ragnhild und Eldbjørg Hemsing ins norwegische Aurdal einladen, spielt rein landschaftlich in der Festival-Champions-League. Mindestens!
Vom 19. bis 23. Februar kamen hier befreundete Künstler zusammen, um an besonderen Orten intime Kammermusik zu spielen. Etwa in der Kirche in Aurdal, der Bergkirche unweit des kleinen Skigebiets oder dem gemütlichen Festivalhotel Nythun, ruhig in den Bergen oberhalb des Tals gelegen. Drei Stunden braucht man mit dem (winterfesten) Auto vom Osloer Flughafen hierher. Für Ragnhild und Eldbjørg Hemsing bedeutet das Festival: nach Hause kommen. Hier in Valdres wuchsen die Schwestern auf, hier verinnerlichte Ragnhild neben der klassischen Geigenausbildung auch die mündlich tradierten, von Dorf zu Dorf verschiedenen Melodien auf der Hardangerfiedel, die auch beim Festival nicht fehlen dürfen. Genauso natürlich wie die Musik des Nationalkomponisten Edward Grieg.
Thematisch kreist das Programm der neunzehn Konzerte, etwas allgemeiner gehalten, um die Themen Freiheit und Transformation. Das betrifft witzigerweise auch den sogenannten „Rakfisk“, unter dem man bis zu eineinhalb Jahre fermentierte Forellen versteht, die hier als Spezialität gelten. Und so gelingt es dem Hemsing Festival, Klassik und Kulinarik zusammenzubringen. Ob beim Frühstückskonzert mit Rachmaninow oder dem abendlichen Vier-Gänge-Menü mit musikalischen Häppchen von Chopin bis Ravel. Um dem Alltag zu entkommen, bietet dieses familiäre und freundliche Festival genau den richtigen Zufluchtsort. Und für den ärgerlichen Fall, dass man doch in dieser Idylle einschneien und nicht zurück nach Deutschland kommen sollte, trotz „mildem“ Winter in Norwegen durchaus denkbar, gibt es eine einfache Lösung: Man bleibt einfach dort. Alle Probleme gelöst.
NRK will attend the rehearsals this week and met Eldbjørg Hemsing and Tan Dun for an interview before the concert.
It wasn’t the first time they met – Tan Dun (61) and Eldbjørg Hemsing (28) have known each other for many years.
A world-renowned New York-based Chinese composer and girl from Aurdal in Valdres – how does that relate?
“The Princess of Norway”
In 2010, the World Expo exhibition was held in Shanghai, China. (This was before the Nobel Prize for Liu Xiaobo soured the relationship between Norway and China).
Eldbjørg represented Norway at a large joint concert entitled “Love Concert”, Tan Dun’s native China.
Eldbjørg talks about a magical meeting. The collaboration created so much creative energy that they have done several projects together since.
Tan Dun takes it longer:
Eldbjørg is famous in China. We call her “The Princess of Norway”. In China, people only know Ibsen and Grieg. When they learn that she is from Grieg’s homeland, the Chinese get the impression that Norway is as beautiful as this girl.
And adds with a smile that at that time in 2010, many people thought that Eldbjorg’s fantastic music could help even more Chinese to eat Norwegian salmon.
The peaceful shaman
The violin concerto Tan Dun has written for Eldbjørg Hemsing is called “Fire Ritual”, and is a memory of the victims of the war. Every warrior. Old rituals from the east and the west, told through the music, will awaken the soul of the dead and contribute to no more wars.
Tan Dun has given the Norwegian violinist the role of Shaman of Peace.
To deliver this message we had to have one of the most peaceful people we could imagine. Eldbjørg was a simple choice. For Chinese who have followed her since the Expo, she represents the beauty and belief that the memory of the victims of war can create a future without war, says the composer and conductor.
FACTS ABOUT: Eldbjørg Hemsing
– Born in 1990 in North Aurdal. – Played violin since she was five years old. – Debuted as a soloist with the Bergen Philharmonic in 2001. – Won Virtuos and was a Norwegian participant in Eurovision Young Musicans in 2008. – Is now one of Norway’s most sought after soloists internationally. – Two new CD releases in 2018. Brilliant reviews.
NRK overvar prøvene denne uka og møtte Eldbjørg Hemsing og Tan Dun til intervju før konserten.
Det var ikke første gang de møttes – Tan Dun (61) og Eldbjørg Hemsing (28) har kjent hverandre i mange år.
En verdenskjent New York-basert kinesisk komponist og jenta fra Aurdal i Valdres – hvordan henger det sammen?
«Prinsessen av Norge»
I 2010 ble verdensutstillingen World Expo holdt i Shanghai i Kina. (Dette var før Nobel-pristildelingen til Liu Xiaobo forsuret forholdet mellom Norge og Kina).
Eldbjørg representerte Norge på en stor felleskonsert med tittelen «Love Concert», Tan Dun sitt fødeland Kina.
Eldbjørg forteller om et magisk møte. Samarbeidet skapte så mye kreativ energi at de har gjort flere prosjekter sammen siden.
Tan Dun tar det lenger:
Eldbjørg er berømt i Kina. Vi kaller henne «Prinsessen av Norge». I Kina kjenner folk kun Ibsen og Grieg. Når de får vite at hun er fra Griegs hjemland, får kinesernes inntrykk av at Norge er like vakkert som denne jenta.
Og legger med et smil til at den gang i 2010 tenkte nok mange at Eldbjørgs fantastiske musikk kunne bidra til at enda flere kinesere spiste norsk laks.
Den fredfulle sjaman
Stykket Tan Dun har skrevet for Eldbjørg Hemsing heter «Fire Ritual», og er et minne om krigens ofre. Alle kriger. Gamle ritualer fra øst og vest, fortalt gjennom musikken, skal vekke sjelen til de døde og bidra til at det ikke blir flere kriger.
Tan Dun har gitt den norske fiolinisten rollen som fredens sjaman.
For å levere dette budskapet måtte vi ha en av de mest fredfulle menneskene vi kunne tenke oss. Eldbjørg var et enkelt valg. For kinesere som har fulgt henne siden Expo, representer hun det vakre og troen på at minnet om krigens ofre kan skape en fremtid uten krig, sier komponisten og dirigenten.
FAKTA OM: Eldbjørg Hemsing
– Født i 1990 i Nord-Aurdal. – Spilt fiolin siden hun var fem år. – Debutere som solist med Bergen Filharmonien i 2001. – Vant Virtuos og var norsk deltaker i Eurovision Young Musicans i 2008. – Er nå en av Norges mest etterspurte solister internasjonalt. – To nye CD-utgivelser i 2018. Strålende kritikker.
For her debut solo recording (out now on BIS), the Norwegian violinist Eldbjørg Hemsing pairs Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with a very different (and far less familiar) work: the lush 1914 Violin Concerto by composer and music-journalist Hjalmar Borgstrøm, who initially studied in Oslo with his compatriot Johan Svendsen but went on to pursue a consciously Germanic style after spending time in Leipzig and Berlin.
I spoke to her recently about why this attractively lyrical work has fallen off the radar, where it sits in relation to other early twentieth-century concertos, and her immediate plans for further recordings…
The Borgstrøm concerto is a real curiosity – how did you come across it in the first place?
It was a bit of a chance encounter, really: a family friend sent a pile of sheet-music to my home in London which included the score, and I set it to one side for a while but when I started to go through it in detail I was really intrigued because it’s just so beautiful. It had only ever been performed twice (in Norway), so essentially it was completely forgotten: no-one knew about this piece, and I think it’s a great discovery!
Do you have any theories as to why his music never really entered the repertoire?
There are several factors, I think. First of all it’s because Borgstrøm was a little bit behind the curve in many ways: his timing was not the best! He was composing in this late Romantic style at a time when people were already branching out and moving away from that; of course there had been Grieg, who spent a lot of time travelling around and using folk-music in a very different way from Borgstrøm, who was much more interested in Romantic ideals. He spent a total of fifteen years in Germany, initially studying in Leipzig and then living in Berlin for many years – but by the time this concerto was premiered in 1914, World War One had broken out and in Norway it was considered almost improper to continue in this very German musical tradition. He also composed quite a few symphonic poems, an opera and some piano music, but I haven’t been able to find out very much about them because there aren’t that many studies in print!
You pair the Borgstrøm with Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto – what was the thought-process behind the coupling?
When the offer came to make my first recording I knew I wanted to include the Shostakovich – I studied the piece from a very young age and have performed it a great deal. It’s painfully emotional and really dark: you’re really pushed to the limit of what you can express as a human being, and I thought that with a piece like that you need something that’s very much a contrast. I wanted something that was the complete opposite, something much more lyrical and ‘white’ in sound, something Romantic…and the Borgstrøm seemed to fit the bill perfectly, particularly because people don’t know it!
Are there any other Norwegian concertos that you’d like to bring back to life – Sinding, for instance?
I used to believe that if something wasn’t performed very often there was probably a reason for it (ie that that quality wasn’t good enough!) but I have to say that since discovering Borgstrøm I’ve actually become very curious about what there is out there, so I definitely would like to go on a journey to see what else I might find…!
Given that many listeners will be new to this work, could you point us in the direction of one or two personal highlights in the piece?
I think there’s a particularly special moment in the first movement: there’s quite a long introduction before you come to the first melody, which initially comes in the strings, and it’s very pure and lyrical and tender. And the second movement is my favourite in many ways – it’s like an operatic aria, and it reminds me of something but I can’t quite put my finger on what…It’s very familiar in a sense, but at the same time it has its own very individual sound.
Do you see any parallels with other violin concertos which were written at around the same time? I hear echoes of the Sibelius concerto here and there…
Yes, there’s definitely something similar about both the melodies and the chords – the Sibelius concerto was written 10 years prior to this, so it’s not unlikely that Borgstrøm knew it! But there’s also an operatic quality to the work that reminds me of Wagner in places…
What are your immediate plans on the recording front?
I’m about to start recording with the Oslo Philharmonic and Tan Dun, whom I first met eight years ago. We’ve done a lot of projects together, and this one includes one brand-new concerto and some other smaller pieces.
And the two of you share a passionate interest in the folk music of your respective countries…
Indeed. I started playing the violin when I was very young and I also studied the Hardanger fiddle alongside it, because the area where I come from is very rich in folk-music; I’ve continued to play both instruments and I try to make sure that every year I do some projects which include folk music because I think it’s very important to keep it fresh and alive.
Violinist Jack Liebeck curates this strings edition of Classical Music encompassing his many artistic passions, from music education and photography through to practical advice for performers on maintaining healthy technique and taking instruments on tour. Professors Brian Cox, Robert Winston and Brian Foster explore the relationship between science and music; the benefits of hand therapy for common musicians’ injuries; CITES and travelling with instruments; the art of photographing performers; and what happens when students exercise their rights as consumers in higher education?
Plus, violinist Eldbjørg Hemsing turns up the Romantic heat in Norway; Joanna MacGregor celebrates the 70th anniversary of Dartington International Summer School; Orchestra Manager of the Year Sue Mallet; percussionist and conductor Thomas Søndergård; the role of a recording producer; Gallicantus tackle Orlande de Lassus’s sibylline prophecies; and osteopathy for musicians.
In a classical recording industry seemingly obsessed with marketing beautiful young female violinists, but very often presenting them in repertoire to which most of them seem to have little individual to add, how do you make your mark? Norwegian Eldbjørg Hemsing came up with a bright idea typical of a thoughtful approach in which the music always comes first: to twin a 1914 concerto she genuinely admires by a compatriot very few people will know, Hjalmar Borgstrøm (1864-1925), with what is perhaps the ultimate 20th century challenge to violinists, Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto.
Is the Borgstrøm concerto a neglected masterpiece? No. Is it worth hearing? Absolutely, not only for its authenticity and sincerity of utterance, but also because Hemsing uses it to showcase the lyrical soul of the violin (it’s rich in melodies, some more distinctive than others). Graham Rickson expands in this week’s classical CDs roundup. I admired the new BIS disc enough to make the trip to Bodø above the Arctic Circle in Norway to hear a live performance, not least because I was interested to see how it withstood the “live” test in this much-redeveloped town’s jewel, the concert hall designed in conjunction with the library on the harbour by London-based practice DRDH (architects Daniel Rosbottom and David Howarth).
It held the attention throughout, not least because Hemsing was as much the guiding force behind the work as Eivind Gullberg Jensen, conducting the combined NOSO (North Norwegian Opera and Symphony Orchestra) and Arctic Philharmonic (the performance pictured below by Synne M Tommersberg for Stormen Konserthus). Hemsing was vivacious company at supper afterwards, and the next morning we sat down to talk not only about the work but also about her focused philosophy of music-making.
DAVID NICE Can we start where everybody will, with the debut disc and this very clever idea of twinning a concerto which most of us don’t know with the Shostakovich First Violin Concerto, which we do. Was that your idea or in conjunction with Robert von Bahr of BIS?
ELDBJØRG HEMSING No that was my idea, actually, and first I really wanted to record the Shostakovich, which is a piece I’ve had inside me since I was young, and I was studying with Boris Kushnir, who knew David Oistrakh [the dedicatee of the concerto], had the direct link, and was brought up in this whole environment, this political difficulty and the pain and the sorrow and the distress, and I felt fairly safe just knowing that there had been this contact, also that I played it quite a lot, I thought, OK, what do I play Shostakovich with? And I really wanted the biggest contrast possible, not only in having something unknown but also something that would give the biggest change in sound. For me Shostakovich, to put it simply, is really dark and heavy and you’re pushed as far as you can go as a human being.
And the audience is too…
Yes, it’s really that you are on the edge of your seat, hopefully, and Borgstrøm to me was the complete opposite, there were the beautiful, lyrical Nordic sounds, and I thought, that can be an interesting pairing.
It’s very daunting to be in a market with so many great recordings of the Shostakovich. You say it was the link back with the Oistrakh – did you know any of his recordings of the concerto?
Of course. By the way, this was actually recorded some time ago, and already I’m thinking, did I really do it like that?
You do it differently now?
I do, definitely. But that’s a whole part of why I waited so long for the recording. Because I was a bit afraid of this idea, that when you do something in a four-day recording sequence, that’s put on CD for ever, because music develops all the time, and that was a little bit limited to that time, OK, that’s how it sounded then, and maybe later it will sound different.
Then you can do the Second Concerto, which is astonishing.
It’s beautiful, so dark, too, but in a different way.
The Borgstrøm – my impression was that it’s a wonderful gift for a violinist, and it is your lyricism that carries it. It’s full of great ideas but it could sound a bit loose, you could think, where is this going? You’ve lived with it for quite some time. Do you feel that you’ve become more bound to it the more you’ve played it, and that there’s something deep underneath?
I think so, and there’ something about the piece that from the first moment I opened the score really spoke to me. It is as you say especially in the first movement quite fragmented, so it is a challenge which I think is quite fun to make sense of it, that it leads somewhere, that it has a long line hopefully, because it is very broken down, and the second movement luckily is more like an aria –
The way it opens up towards the end with the pizzicato accompaniment is a “wow’” moment, because you get a lot of breadth…
Exactly. It reminds me of something, I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, but it’s a really beautiful moment, I think, and then the third movement is more like a folk dance, but it’s very hard to play, very up and down. It is definitely the challenge to try to keep the orchestra involved, not necessarily to make all one line, but to make it cohesive, and it’s fairly long – 35 to 36 minutes.
And the first movement feels big. That fantastic cadenza makes you really sit up, it’s a big event. Is it all written out?
Yes, and it’s quite a funny cadenza, because everything else is virtuosic, but not to that extent, and suddenly comes this up and down, here and there moment, but Borgstrøm obviously knew how the violin works, because it’s quite well written, actually.
You say you hear Norwegian intonations, we hear a few but to me it’s much more the lingua franca of late romanticism. What strikes you as particularly Norwegian?
There is a particular moment in the first movement when after a few of the runs I have a few trills and then I go on to the A string – it’s just very pure, not many layers, it’s only with the orchestral strings, then the wind come in shortly afterwards, it’s something about the chords and the purity, it’s not overly romantic, which I think is also the Nordic sound in a way, that it’s quite pure.
The orchestration some would call plain, but I think it’s very candid and one feels it comes from somewhere, it’s not “I’m writing a virtuoso concerto,” there’s real feeling. Yet he likes playing with what at the time would have been fairly forward-looking harmonies.
That’s true. He was quite an interesting composer, I think, and it was unfortunately for him just a case of bad timing. He really fell between two chairs, as we say.
Do you think he didn’t seem nationalistic enough to the Norwegians?
I think it’s a mix of different things. It’s a bit like you said because we had the union with Denmark and Sweden altogether for 500 years, at that point everyone was searching for national identity, for what is Norwegian, it was really a big search, and Grieg of course came in there, went round the country gathering folk tunes for his inspiration, and even to this day people identify that with what is Norwegian. Borgstrøm was more focused on Germanic and romantic ideals, and this is the school he wrote in, he spent at least 16 years in Berlin and Leipzig, his development took place there. Also when he wrote the concerto, that was 1914 and there were already new sounds around, it was just a bit old-fashioned in a way. With the two world wars, especially in Norway, it was not the most popular thing to continue with the old German ideas. I think it was a mix of all those things that kept him away from the centre.
It’s very refreshing to come back to a violin concerto that is entirely grateful to the player, because you must find this with a lot of new works, you’ve worked with Tan Dun quite a bit, but many contemporary composers work against the idea that the violin sings…
And I really hope they will come back to that, because I think it’s the purpose of the violin, it has to sing, it’s like a soprano, I really love playing something where you can find the right colours in the sounds, and if it’s too much effect then I feel there’s not really that much you can do with it as a performer.
It often seems to be the idea to make every sound but the legato.
Which is a bit weird, isn’t it? I think so.
I agree. But I think that time has probably passed, you’ve got people like John Adams writing fantastic works.
That’s true. No, I think the lyricism and the melodies have to be there, and I hope people will start writing like that again. Which may be a rather dangerous thing to say, but something more in that direction would be so refreshing it that point.
You may want to say something about Tan Dun, but do other contemporary composers stand out for you for writing gratefully for the violin, that you can think of?
There are many great ones, for sure, I haven’t worked so much on contemporary music other than with Tan Dun and some new Norwegian pieces, I have done a few of those. What I really love about Tan Dun is how rewarding it is to work with a living composer, who takes part in the whole process, and you can actually ask, what do you think of this piece, what is your inspiration, what character do you want at this point? Tan Dun also plays the violin himself so he knows how to write for it, and it’s really inspiring, and fun, too.
With Borgstrøm, you get a sense of his personality, and we were talking a bit last night about how this very dark music almost takes over the finale before the jolly melody comes back. Do you sense the melancholy figure underneath the freshness?
I think when you play the concerto and look at the picture of Borgstrøm, it’s two very conflicting images. Because he seems to have been very conservative and strict, he was also a music critic towards the end of his life, and famous for having a really sharp pen, he didn’t have any inhibitions about saying exactly what he meant, then you have this concerto which is so innocent and somehow a bit naive, it’s fun and playful and it’s bizarre to see that this piece came out of that picture.
As a critic, was he against certain modern tendencies?
Yes, he said that what he really loved and thought people should be more focused on, is programme music. And the late romantic era was his cup of tea.
But I suppose these composers who lived through times of great change had to be true to their roots, or what they heard when they were developing.
Exactly. And that’s him, that’s how he was.
You got to know Borgstrøm’s music through an enthusiast?
That was a family friend, the conductor and bassoonist Terje Boye Hansen. He has been very passionate about Norwegian music and especially about Borgstrøm as a really good composer who deserves to be heard, so he gave me a pile of Borgstrøm’s music, and I took it home to my village, about three years ago, and the Violin Concerto leapt out at me. He told me it had only been performed twice, with a 50 year gap in between. It was a strange and fantastic discovery, and especially now that I’m able to show people. I had pretty much similar reactions both when I was recording with the Vienna Symphony and also with this orchestra, from the first rehearsal – in Vienna we had two days on the Shostakovich, as you know it’s extremely demanding physically, so to come in on the third day and be asked, what is this Borgstrøm? Is it modern, what is it? I said, you won’t know until you actually start playing and they were sitting relaxed and casual, and the minute we started playing the whole atmosphere changed, everyone just had this moment of discovery all together, which was really fantastic. And to be able to see that is really worthwhile, when people become aware of great music.
The conductor was there alongside you last night, but you also seemed to be leading in a sense, they were taking as much from you as from him.
It is a very intertwined work in certain parts, and they overlap a bit and then take over…
I think it’s very cleverly orchestrated, actually, and also not to have to fight as a violinist to be heard, that sometimes happened. But I find it’s really well balanced. And most concertos should ideally feel like chamber music.
All music should – it was Abbado’s dictum, that everyone should listen to each other. But this is quite rare in a concerto partnership, because the soloists are jetting around and there isn’t a lot of time to work together. And I don’t know if you find this, but for me there are not that many conductors who are very soloist-sensitive.
No, definitely. And I think what is the most disturbing thing I know is when there is someone who is overly active…
Who tries to impose…
What I rely on is the sound, because that’s what matters, but it’s disturbing in the eyesight to see someone who is over-active, and that stresses me. But I thought Eivind did a really fantastic job last night, and he’s also very easy and just does what he wants to do.
The orchestra sounded like it was inscaping – there was no forcing.
What struck me is that you too have this wonderful inwardness, and you can go from ppp to fff in a couple of seconds, but the audience has to come in to hear you – there’s no forcing out but rather bringing in. Do you have a philosophy about that?
Actually I do, and one of the most important things is to make people really listen. There’s always noise around in daily life, and I think it’s extremely important to try at least to create these moments when magic can happen, and I personally like to listen in a concert to someone who has you on the edge of your seat, when you think, what’s happening, what’s going on, and you need these moments of something different. Those are the moments when you think, that’s why we do this.
The older I get the more I think it’s entirely about communication. You can be a wonderful musician but if you don’t give out, it’s pointless. You could see the music in you when you weren’t playing, and that doesn’t happen a lot with soloists. There was never a moment when one lost concentration, and when I listened to the CD I thought there might be, but it’s a matter of approach.
And I think now that I’ve played it more it is definitely one of those pieces which is better to play live, because it is very interactive, and if it gets too square then it will lose people. Because the piece is a bit fragmented and goes somewhere or takes off…
Which is one of its charms. You were playing in public at a young age. Have you found that the ideals of communication have come more over time, or with certain teachers? Have you learned more about that?
I think from quite a young age it was always important to show what a joy music can be. It’s quite simplistic when you’re young, but there’s so much fun and you want to show that. But I must say that the person who taught me most about that was Boris Kushnir – I studied with him for years, but he told me so much about how the importance of what you have to communicate comes through and even if you feel it and think it, it has to come through the violin, you have to carry the sound, to have this voice as nerve, something that makes people listen, and also to make the colours as if you were speaking to someone.
Oistrakh always said about the first movement of the Shostakovich First Violin Concerto that it’s like a soliloquy in Hamlet – you are the great actor, the monologuist, and people have to be listening to every word. The Norwegian side of it – there’s been a remarkable upsurge of superb players. Is it partly to do with the Barratt Due Institute of Music in Oslo?
I think so. I went to that school for 11 years. And what they do so well is that they have this crazy environment of just friendship and musical freedom, which I personally think is a great thing in Norway, because we don’t usually have these long traditions like Austria or Germany. It’s quite free in that you can try out different styles and play as you like, there’s no “this is how it should be”.
That’s the essence of good teaching, isn’t it, to bring out the player’s personality rather than impose?
Oh yes, yes.
But there is also the folk tradition. Did you grow up with that?
Yes, I grew up playing the Hardanger fiddle. I still play it, I make sure I have several projects a year, because it’s important to keep the style. It’s equally important to the classical violin here. Especially the valley that I’m from, Valdres, each valley or place has its own tradition. So with the tonality and the rhythms, I grew up with that and it’s a huge part of my heritage.
Have you given encores where you’ve changed to the Hardanger fiddle?
Sometimes, I will make sure I bring it our more often. But a little challenge with it is that it’s quite tricky to tune. You should take at least 10 minutes to warm it up. And you have to have one you really trust, because gut strings move around quite a lot. But it’s a beautiful instrument.
Do you have one that is special for you?
No, at home I have quite a few of them, my mum and sister also play them. They’re beautiful and well decorated.
So do you and your sister play duos together?
We used to. Nowadays we tend to play in a festival together. We both do artistic work for it. She’s a great violinist, she lives in Valdres.
You’ve led chamber orchestras as a leader-conductor?
Not so much now, but when I was young I was the concert-master of a chamber orchestra, and we always played without a conductor, and without scores also. It’s really good training, because then you have a much greater understanding of what is happening rather than just playing your part, and you see what’s happening too.
This is a great move now – the Aurora Orchestra too, and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra do it a lot. Was that your idea?
No, it was from the school, that they wanted us to learn in such a way. I love it with chamber orchestras, when they have this core of really great players who just love to play together.
I was impressed with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra – but they need money to do it, because it costs to take your time.
And this is something I always find a bit confusing in London especially, how musicians are having to rush from one project to another, I have friends there who say, sometimes we don’t even have time to rehearse everything before the concert. What is the point of playing if you don’t prepare for it?
London orchestras are famous for being brilliant sightreaders.
It’s impressive that they can pick up a new score and play it immediately. It’s a very different mentality, though.
Festivals are a good place to develop, and your generation is much more enterprising in gathering together friends and working over a week or two, developing work in the community and so on.
I think many people in my generation and even the generation above have been a lot more aware of how much more you can do yourself, not only in terms of audiences but also your own platform, because there are so many opportunities to do that on social media. It’s like one part has gone out and another has come in. Some people don’t even have agents any more, they have their own YouTube channels. But also now because there have been a lot of chamber music series that have closed down. I also noticed it for myself, that I play probably most of the time with orchestras and very few recitals.
Why is that? Lack of money?
Mostly, yes, because the audiences are there, it’s more like giving a different platform. The reason why we wanted to start a festival in my home village of Aurdal, it’s small, there are 700 people living there, and the whole community has always been very supportive and in the last few years especially, I’ve been travelling a lot and living in Berlin, and I wanted to give something back.
Does it happen in the summer?
No, actually, it’s a winter festival. Because this area is also about skiing. So we wanted to combine that with music and nature. One of the concerts was up in a mountain church, and you can have a guided ski trip before you come to the church, then you hang your skis up on the wall, get a coffee and a cinnamon bun perhaps and then go in and listen to the music for one hour, and then head back on skis. This year we had 30 international artists coming, a great group of people. We did Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht [for string sextet], we left the quartets to the regular team [pictured below: Hemsing and colleagues after a concert earlier this year].
Does that feed into your work generally?
Definitely. And there’s so much buried repertoire I wish I had more time for, and just getting some friends together and playing the quartet repertoire would be good, because it’s such a huge part of music history. Being in a quartet takes a lot of time and commitment, but just to know the repertoire…
This idea of leader-conducting, does that interest you as something to develop further?
I would love to do that, and it was interesting yesterday when someone asked Eivind, does the orchestra need a conductor? And in theory with the top-grade orchestras, they could play perfectly on their own, if they have a really good concert-master and they all function together, but the conductor or leader should give the musical input and shaping. And I love that part, actually, just to have the full picture. I’d love to do that. Have to look into it.
Are there any concertos you really want to champion in the next few years?
Definitely. I don’t have a next project like the Borgstrøm, because that was quite special, but I would love to also play more things that haven’t had the spotlight on them, if a work is really good quality, it’s just a question of having the right feeling for it, that also requires that the piece has something in it. But I’d really love to do the Elgar Concerto.
She takes her concert public by storm all over the world with her 265-year old violin. The lauded musician Eldbjørg Hemsing from Valdres often expresses the sounds of the raw and beautiful Norwegian nature.
Eldbjørg Hemsing brings the sound of Norway to the world
“Eldbjørg is famous in China. We call her ‘The Princess of Norway’.”
The bold words belong to Tan Dun, who is among the world’s leading composers. The Chinese has collaborated with the Norwegian violinist for years and has even dedicated a specially written musical work to her.
Eldbjørg Hemsing started playing the violin when she was a four-year-old growing up in a picturesque village in Valdres in Eastern Norway. Now, people sit quiet and listen every time Eldbjørg lets the bow hit the strings on her G. B. Guadagnini from 1754.
236 years separate Eldbjørg and her musical tool, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a more close-knit duo.
She plays all over the world, in cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong, Valencia, Frankfurt, Koblenz, Leipzig, Berlin, Cologne, Abu Dhabi, Oslo – and in her home town of Aurdal. In March 2018, she released a record with music written by Norwegian composer Hjalmar Borgstrøm.
“When I hear Borgstrøm’s compositions, I think of fjords and mountains and the feeling of moving through nature.”
What sounds did you grow up with in Valdres? “I remember that the silence intensified all sounds, like the trickling of the water in a mountain stream, the summer breeze through the valley, or the gust of the wind in the tree branches. My mother was a music educationalist and my father worked as a mountain supervisor, so I grew up in a harmonious mixture of music and nature. I often went with my father to work in the mountains to check out the danger of an avalanche or measure fish stocks and water depths. I learned things like building a campfire for preparing meals”, Eldbjørg says.
Valdres is known for traditional folk music that is often mixed with new genres, and it was important to Eldbjørg’s mother that rehearsing should be fun. She could even get 15 minutes of rehearsal in before the children’s television programme started in the evenings.
And now you have played on the rare instrument you have on loan from a foundation for nearly ten years? “The violin is very personal to me. The sound coming out of its body feels like my own voice. It has a heartfelt depth and warmth, and a wide array of colours. The first Hardanger fiddles are said to be from the 1600s. It’s incredible to think about how much my instrument has been through.”
Growing up, Eldbjørg took time off from the school in Valdres every Friday to travel about three hours to Oslo and the Barratt Due Institute of Music. Her first trip abroad went to the Czech Republic when she was eight. Later, she took lessons in the USA, and from then on concerts all over the world have filled up her calendar.
In March 2018, Eldbjørg released her debut album, including her discovery of the forgotten Violin Concerto in G major signed by Norwegian composer Hjalmar Borgstrøm (1864–1925), who was inspired by German Romanticism. She wanted to share her own enthusiasm about the work with her audience.
You draw a connection between Borgstrøm’s work and Norwegian nature experiences? “Yes, I perceive his music as a very physical piece – complex and craftsmanlike. When I hear Borgstrøm’s compositions, I think of fjords and mountains and the feeling of moving through nature. The tones can resemble a smell or bring out memories of other encounters with nature.”
Chefs, like the one at Maaemo in Oslo, also say that they serve memories from Norwegian nature? “Yes, and that is what is so strong about music – it can call forth a personal, but very distinct feeling.”
What is the most enjoyable thing about being a violinist? “To resurrect a several hundred years old violin, and to breathe new life into old compositions so that both new and traditional audiences get to appreciate how great they are. I am not that interested in interpreting and renewing historical pieces of music, but rather in emphasizing their original strengths.”
Was classical music the rock ’n’ roll of that time? “You might say that, and classical music is just as cool and relevant still. My line of work has much in common with elite sports. When I perform, I have one chance to deliver my absolute best. I set off with maximum tempo and concentration and don’t stop until I’m finished.”
In 2013, Eldbjørg and her sister Ragnhild started a yearly chamber music festival in their home town of Aurdal in Valdres. The sisters invite top-level musicians, many of whom have become their good friends. And even though the Hemsing Festival has grown bigger every year – in 2018, about 30 international artists performed for 12,000 people, and the festival was broadcasted on national television – the sisters want to keep the intimate feeling the acclaimed musicians get at this stunning place in Eastern Norway.
“International artist friends praise the clear light and clean air in Valdres. They say that it sharpens their senses. They get to taste local food like moose and wild fish, and we take them on skiing trips and other activities,” Eldbjørg says.
How much money is your violin from 1754 worth? “I honestly don’t know, and that is fine with me. If I’d known, I would probably get the jitters.”
How do you preserve such an old instrument? “It has to be looked after and cared for, because the wood is still alive even though it’s so old. The case has a humidifier and a hygrometer, and I go to a ‘violin doctor’ twice a year.”
Do you keep the violin as hand luggage when you fly, or do you check it? “Always as hand luggage. No exceptions. I’d never let something that personal out of my sight.”
Are you ever longing back to Valdres? “I know that I can always take a break there and find peace of mind. But it is important to emphasize that even though you come from a small and beautiful place, you can still travel and work wherever you want in the world.”
Eldbjørg Hemsing står foran sitt store, internasjonale gjennombrudd. Med seg på reisen har hun en norsk fiolinkonsert som har vært glemt i hundre år.
Publisert 05.02.2018 | Ingvild Amdal Myklebust
Hovedscenen på Nationaltheatret i Oslo har aldri vært større enn den maidagen i 1996. På klakkende bunadsko inntar hun flomlyset sammen med storesøster Ragnhild på åtte. Bak seg aner hun konturene av det tunge sceneteppet og av moren som viser dem riktig neieteknikk. Foran dem venter et bekmørkt folkehav. Hun vet at kongefamilien sitter der ute. Og Wenche Foss som hun møtte i stad. Snart er de framme ved scenekanten. Da skal de løfte opp felene til haka og spille Briskjehauga slik de pleier. Bare en meter igjen nå.
Skandinaviske violinister graver i disse år i egen baghave og finder alternativer til de kendte violinkoncerter af Tjajkovskij og Mendelssohn. På den måde er noele romantiske violinkoncerter dukket op i både Denmark, Norge og Sverige, der ikke er til at sta for.
En overraskelse er også violinkoncerten af nordmanden Hjalmar Borgstrøm (1864-1925). Han var en ægte senromanti ker, der elskede Wagner og komponerede store orkesterværker. Hans Violinkoncert blev skrevet i 1914, lige inden den gamle verden gik under. Et stykke nordisk romantik, beslægtet med Griegs norske toner, Peterson-Bergers sommerlyrik og Sibelius’ store vidder. Borgstrøm havde en overlegen kompositionsteknik, og det giver hans Violinkoncert en glamourøs karakter. Den måler sig med andre senro mantiske koncerter og har potentiale til at smelte hjerter. Og med det iiber-skan- dinaviske komponistnavn ‘Borgstrøm’ fortæller overskriften alle, at her kommer den nordiske lyd!
Koncerten blev indspillet første gang i 2010, men nu kommer Borgstrøms Violinkoncert længere ud, når den norske virtuos Eldbjørg Hemsingtil maj udgiver den på det nordiske plademærke BIS, indspillet sammen med Wiener Symfonikerne. »At jeg overhovedet blev klar over, at koncerten fandtes, skyldes dirigenten Terje Boye Hansen«, fortæller Eldbjørg Hemsing.
»Han er en stor forkæmper for musik, som af forskellige grunde er blevet glemt, og gav mig en hel bunke noder, blandt andet denne violinkoncert, jeg aldrig havde hørt om før. Det var vældig spændende. Jeg begyndte at spille lidt af den og fandt ud af, at musikken er utrolig fin, melodisk og godt skrevet for violinen. Man hører tydeligt det norske og det nordiske, samtidig med at den har et internationalt præg. Stakkels Borgstrøm var lidt uheldig med timingen, og hans violinkoncert var kun blevet spillet to gange nogensinde i Norge. Så jeg tænkte, hallo, mange burde da spille det værk, når nu det er så fint. Der er jo ikke ret mange norske violinkoncerter, der nyder anerkendelse«.
Hvordan fik du lov til at indspille en ukendt nordisk violinkoncert på dit debutalbum?
»Det var mit privilegium at vælge selv! Jeg havde vældig lyst til at indspille Sjostakovitjs Violinkoncert nr. 1, som jeg holder meget af. Men det er så sort og så tungt og emotionelt krævende, at jeg havde lyst til at kombinere den med noget helt anderledes. Noget nordisk og lyst i tonesproget. Borgstrøms violinkoncert er fra den helt anden ende. Det er en interessant kombination«.
Det er vel en satsning at bruge kræfter på at indstudere sådan et ukendt stykke?
»Jo, men det er faktisk det bedste ud gangspunkt, for så er der ingen referen cepunkter. Jeg kan gøre akkurat, som jeg vil og skal ikke tage hensyn til, hvordan andre har spillet den. Borgstrøms violin koncert har mange kvaliteter, man kan arbejde med. Det er en rigtig skat, og jeg er vældig glad for at få muligheden til at give Borgstrøm revanche«, siger Eldbjørg Hemsing, som i år har opført violinkoncerten et par gange og til næste år spiller den tre gange til, blandt andet med dirigenten Paavo Järvi.
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