I arrived at Lysebu late on Friday 23rd January, just as a light fall of snow was coming in.
This is the Norwegian arm of the Dansk Norsk Fondet, which has its Danish base at the beautiful Schaeffergaarden, north of Copenhagen. Here I met with my dear friend Anders Beyer, the director of the Bergen Festival, responsible for much of my adventuring in the last two years. More on my other colleagues and the young musicians here will follow. My work here will focus on the ‘hunt for colour’, which has marked out so much of my work with composers over the years.
But a word of exploration about the morning workshop. It has always been clear to me, that one great challenge is to find the language which each composer, or group of composers needs. Of course, along with that, when there has been the opportunity to work, very long term, with a composer, comes the exciting possibility of forging a shared syntax, colour, even an imagined instrument. This all links to the possibility, that, as musicians, we have a chance to ‘open the workshop door’, and get inside the process of composition, and hopefully/maybe, be of some use. So workshops exploring colour, seem to be exciting, and I have pursued this, with colleagues of all ages, on three continents. But now, to work…
Later same day: This morning, I had the great pleasure of sitting down to work with the great young players here, Edvard Erdal,Amalie Kjældgaard, Cecilie Emtoft,Minna Svedberg, Theodor Lyngstad, Brage Blix, Stinius Maurstad, Bjørn Sanders, Theodor Lyngstad.
The morning session revolved around the question of compositional colour, and ended with a performance of a short piece build by the students, of colours and textures emerging from what I like to call the ‘omnichord’… We worked in some detail on issues of timbre, technique, and close listening. I am very aware that there is an important gap to be bridged between notation and precise control of expression and colour.
There’s no question that this was inspired by the extraordinary beauty around us-there was heavy snow over the last 12 hours, so the ploughs have been in today. It’s undeniable, that so much of this is the counterpoint between the natural beauty outside, and the atmosphere of the architecture of Lysebu, the art gathered in it’s walls, and most importantly of all, the sense of a haven for ideas, for thought, for the nourishing of the mind and body, which this extraordinary place achieves.
In the afternoon, Tim Fredriksen (the wonderful Copenhagen based violinist and viola player) and I alternated working with the separate quartets, on Haydn, Schubert and Britten. It has been fantastic to exchange ideas with this pioneering player for the first time. He was a student of Erling Bloch, and later, Max Rostal. I was so excited to meet him, and to talk to this musical idealist; and of course, to ask for the stories of his teachers and colleagues. If there is one thing performers love, it is to share stories, and these few days were full of them.
The workshop relies as much on the ideas which flow from my colleagues, and their responses to the materials I brought with me. The pieces which I pulled from the pile which I had in my suitcases included works by Nigel Clarke, Sadie Harrison, Hans Werner Henze, Philip Glass, Haflidi Hallgrimsson, Jorg Widmann and more. Later in the day, I was talking with the cellist Jakob Kullberg about the performer’s obligation to take a possibly ‘invasive’ approach to the score-reminding me that the border between the fields of activity of performer and composer is one which should shift, and often, be broken down!
In the afternoon, we worked with the young quartets, the Alba and Ergo groups. In my case, that meant Haydn and Britten 3; quite strange to be thinking about this piece, which is so much about Suffolk, and about Venice, on a mountainside in Norway, with the snow piled outside.
In the afternoon, I was honoured by a visit from the great scholar of Ole Bull and Nordic music making in the 1800s, Harald Herresthal. His work has been a great inspiration in my own rather idiosyncratic pursuit of Bull over the past two years. So it was fantastic to sit and talk, and to share ideas about this pioneering musician. Here’s a link to some of my work on the subject: LINK
A place like this makes me reflect on the importance of the various counterpoints that we have to what we do as artists. This can be, obviously surroundings, food, conversation, the other arts, and of course, reading. Over the past three days, the Lysebu project put in high relief the impact of the books which I was reading. These were: Samuel Pepys-Letters, Rachel Hewitt’s history of the founding of the Ordnance Survey, and a book by the prodigious Robert Byron-‘First Russia, Then Tibet’. I realised that a line from this book became a ‘motto’ for my whole weekend, describing drawing on the Jong mountain in Tibet, in 1933: ‘….this friendly, almost proprietary interest in my doing filled the afternnon with soothing and content, as the shadows drew out and I sat on the heights absorbing the remote and gorgeous beauty unfolded at my feet’ (P.219). This summed up the experience of being in the care of Dansk-Norsk Fondet this weekend.
Returning home, and back to practice for the upcoming concert of Beethoven and David Matthews LINK, I find that the impressions of this sojourn on the mountain, however short, are still with me. I am preparing for an exhibition in Cyprus in March LINK, and the watercolour that has emerged since returning from Norway is profoundly influenced by being there. To see more of this cycle, go to LINK