Part II: From the contemporary to the traditional music and back
We met Frode at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo where he teaches accordion to master students. We present now the second part of the interview. If you missed the first one:
LP: At the last Ultima festival in September 2013 the public was numerous, I saw many people interested in contemporary music. Does this fact reflect the good musical culture in Norway?
FH: Ultima is the biggest festival in Scandinavia for contemporary music. It started in 1991, a little bit more than 20 years ago. They worked a lot with reaching out to new audiences the last years. It’s not a conservative festival, they are now doing more stage performances, mixing art, video, dance, crossing the borders between different genres. I really appreciate that they were able to create such an interest. I still do some projects there now but it’s not a festival I play every year anymore. I think they are doing a good job, they attract every year bigger and bigger audiences.
LP: Some years (2011) ago with POING (the trio in wich Frode plays with saxophonist Rolf-Erik Nystrøm and double bass player Håkon Thelin) you have been artist in residence for the festival. How was your experience?
FH: That year we have been programming the festival together with an Italian composer, Luca Francesconi. It turned out very well.
LP: Did and does the Henie Onstad Kunstsentrum (HUK) (the art museum situated nearby Oslo Ed.) have relevance in promoting contemporary music? Every year since the opening there has been a meeting with prominent musicians such as John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis and Frank Zappa.
FH: Henie Onstad has a very interesting role in Norwegian music, especially experimental music. I guess it was especially because of Ole Henrik Moe, director for quite a few years (from 1968 to 1989, Ed.). He was very much into the fluxus movement, the Cage “philosophy” (a short and curious description of the days Cage spent in Norway in 1983 Ed.) and he also had the merit of inviting Xenakis. They built an electronic music studio at Henie Onstad. It was very important at that time for contemporary music and art, for a country like Norway it was huge to have artists like John Cage here, and that was thanks to the center.
Then it faded a little bit away, it lost kind of importance but in the last years they invited foreign artists and composers to work there; they are again trying to create new works.
Note: The first project at the HUK was Solitaire by Arne Nordheim in 1968, at the opening of the center. The same installation, with tape and projected lights, was repeated this year in occasion of an art exhibition on the figure of Nordheim, where also Frode played, in a monographic concert, Dinosauros and Flashing. To listen to Solitaire:
LP: Were this events also an opportunity for meeting other Scandinavian musicians, composers and in general artists, for discussing and knowing each other’s music? There was no YouTube at that time.
FH: Certainly it was very important to have these international influences. This connects to what we were discussing in the beginning of this talk (read the first part of the interview). I’m not sure if I managed to put it clear; its essence is that, because of this kind of outsider position, we have learned to be curious, we are very interested in international trends. Compared to Denmark I think there is a bigger interest here for inviting foreign artists, composers for example. At the same time we have learned to acknowledge our own, I would almost say local character in the arts.
LP: Is it there a composer that sounds Norwegian; you listen to his works and immediately think: this is Norwegian? A Norwegian … Joaquin Rodrigo?
FH: I think that a big part of the identity grounds on the folk traditions, and probably the national romantic movement. But as for the painters in the 19th century, the composers went abroad to study. Even the national Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg studied in Germany and to me his music sounds quite German: the harmonic treatment, the Romantic ideal, is very much there. Even though if he used a lot of traditional music the result is to me just as much German as Norwegian.
There are some composers that have gone deeper in the traditional folk music; I would especially mention Geirr Tveitt who lived later (1908-1981 Ed.) than Grieg (1843-1907 Ed) (listenings: Suite N.1 op.151, Variations on a Folksong from Hardanger, for orchestra & 2 pianos ). But the closest to a true Norwegian musical identity lies in the Norwegian traditional music.
The national instrument is the hardanger fiddle that has four sympathetic strings. The vocal tradition is also very peculiar, it’s mainly performed solo, the text is often based on old epic poems.
Quite unique about the singing and the fiddle tradition is that it has been continuous until now, it’s truly an old and oral tradition.
The Hardanger fiddle (or in Norwegian: hardingfele) is, in modern designs, very similar to the violin, though with eight or nine 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, providing a pleasant haunting, echo-like sound. The Hardingfele is used for dancing, accompanied by rhythmic loud foot stomping. The instrument often is highly decorated. (from Wikipedia)
The traditional Norwegian singing is really suggestive: Kirsten Bråten Berg
LP: Is it there a further character, besides the traditional music influences, that transpire from the music, something that can be a common Scandinavian quality?
FH: It’s a delicate question, because it’s easy to generalize. But perhaps you can talk about a certain kind of modesty that you find in the Scandinavian character, and that shines through in some of the music. How to create great art, music, but keeping a sort of Scandinavian personality. It’s something that I find, for example, in Bent Sørensen‘s music. I think his music is somehow non-continental, it could not have been composed by, let’s say, a French composer.
But I wouldn’t really define Scandinavians or Scandinavian contemporary music as “this or that”. Nowadays you can get influence from the other side of the world in your own music. I personally had a big awakening when I listened to gagaku music, Japanese classical music performed at the Royal Court for several centuries. And the shô, the japanese mouth organ which sounds so much like an accordion but it’s played in such a different way than what we learn to appreciate here: it’s not about fast fingers at all.
Note: the gagaku wind instruments:
The interview with Frode Haltli continues.
List of topics
Part I: Introduction to the Scandinavian culture and society
Part II: From the contemporary to the traditional music and back
Part III: Ellegaard and Nordheim, accordion meets Norway
Part IV: A personal experience, New Scandinavian music for accordion
Part V: Maja S. K. Ratkje – ‘Gagaku Variations’, Ich bin ein Japaner!
Part VI: Bent Sørensen – ‘Looking on Darkness’, researching a new sound
Part VII: Atli Ingolfsson – ‘Radioflakes’, new virtuosism
and much more. Stay tuned!
Frode Haltli (b. 1975, Norway) studied at the Norwegian State Academy of Music, then at the Royal Danish Music Conservatory in Copenhagen, graduating in 2000. In 2001 the Norwegian Concert Institute named him Young Soloist Of The Year, he was also placed second in the International Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition 1999 in the Netherlands.
Concerts throughout Europe, USA, Canada and Asia. Directing his career into explorations of new music, he became associated with like-minded musicians mainly in Europe where the development of adventurous forms has grown throughout recent years.
Haltli has established links with several composers, notably Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje who is one of several who have written especially for him; others include Bent Sørensen, Rolf Wallin, Atli Ingólfsson, Hans Abrahamsen, Jo Kondo and Sam Hayden.
He has also cooperated with several string quartets, among them the Arditti String Quartet.
His debut CD ‘Looking on Darkness’ was released on the prestigiuos German record label ECM in 2002.
In 2012 Haltli released ‘Arne Nordheim Complete Accordion Works’ (Simax Classics) to great critical acclaim.
He has played regularely with the trio POING, alongside saxophonist Rolf-Erik Nystrøm and double bass player Håkon Thelin. They have commissioned more than 60 works from composers all over the world and recorded several albums.
Since the release of the duo album “Yeraz” on ECM in 2008 Haltli has also toured regularly with saxophonist Trygve Seim.
Frode Haltli has developed several transcultural music projects, in India, China, Japan, North Korea, Egypt. He has also played music rooted in Norwegian traditional music, notably with RUSK in which he is teamed with singer Unni Løvlid and violinist Vegar Vårdal.
On his 2007 recording ’Passing Images’ (ECM), Haltli is joined by trumpeter Arve Henriksen, viola player Garth Knox, and vocalist Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje, for a selection of lyrical explorations of folk themes couched in the form of contemporary improvised music.
This theme and combination of old and new music is further delevoped in duo with Norwegian violinist Gjermund Larsen and in The Snowflake Trio with Irish flute player Nuala Kennedy and Norwegian fiddler Vegar Vårdal.
Frode Haltli teaches accordion at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo.
To know more about check http://frodehaltli.com/.