Two days in in Lund

Posted on February 9th, 2019 by

Rehearsal, Lund 10 2 19

Listen up!

With my team. All the composers. celebrated at the end of the concert

This weekend, the repertoire for solo violin became six pieces better. I was delighted to bring to the public ear and eye, the fascinating new works which I have been privileged to study over the past few months of workshops with my wonderful young colleagues from Musikhögskolan i Malmö. Here are the pieces, at Sunday’s concert at Lund Contemporary 2019. Listen here!!!

Daniel Möllås – ‘Capriccio’ (World Premiere)

Alexander Westlund – ‘Snö’ (World Premiere)

Teodor Zimmerman – ‘Parched Earth’ (World Premiere)

Erik Valdemar Sköld – ‘Bagatelle Solitaire’ (World Premiere)

Fritiof Palm – ‘Pythagoras dug over the hypotoneuse’ (World Premiere)

Ia Erlandsson – ‘Altitudines’ (World Premiere)


On reflection: A week later (15 2 19)

Last weekend was my first (and my Danish wife’s) visit to Lund, and we were profoundly moved by the layerings of the city, from Strindberg’s house under our hotel window, the extraordinary juxtapositions of christian and viking imagery and cult objects in the undercroft of the Domkyrka, the extraordinary holdings of Kulturen (particularly the serried ranks of beads, combs, pins), the Futhorks/Runes which seem to pop up all over town, and as a treat at the end of the weekend, the rich classicism of the old University Buildings -playing recent and very new music Odeum, seemed to gather those threads together, and became very much, part of the dialogue with the young composers during the afternoon of the concert.

Bosebo Kyrka, Lund (Kulturen) 1652

Immediately I am thinking of how to build on and reflect on this experience. One thread that can be drawn through this is instruments. I work on very historic instruments, from the late 1500s (Andrea Amati), through his son Girolamo (1620-which I was playing the other day), through to Antonio Stradivari. The fascinating thing about string instruments (one fascinating thing), is the counterpoint between the luthiers’ responses to natural forms (the fern frond), the celebration of exquisite materials (maple, spruce), and the classical geometry of arcs and curves. Whether I am working with the instruments of the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, or a modern artist like Jan Groth, these counterpoints, which are then models for the layering of past and present, high and low art etc, offer vibrant inspiration. This particularly struck me standing inside Bosebo kyrka in Kulturen, which has a striking carving of a baroque violin over the nave (dating, judgling by the fittings and bow, from about 1700, 50years after the church was built). Naturally the building ‘reached’ to the violins which I work on, with which it is contemporary, but also in other directions. For instance,the way of working with wood, the relationship to what sometimes gets called folk art, minded me of the church of Lepramuseet in Bergen (which dates from the 1700s), where I had a residency in 2016.

Playing in the extraordinary chapel of Bergen’s Lepramuseet. 2015

Odeum, as a space sets so many ideas running, from obvious, the opportunity to work in an intimate hall of the later 1800s, and all that that might apply-for some reason Clara Schumann was very much on my mind – through to the enthusiastic disputes of the century as to what ‘classical might mean’, answered, charmingly, all over Universitihuset, by Athene’s Owl, but also in a mindful ‘tipping of the hat’ to the answers offered, for instance, by Thorvaldsen, and all the architectural querelles that raged around the relationship between the classical, and for instance, coloration.

Thorvaldsen Study, Copenhagen, 2005

These might seem like very disparate ideas, but as I have been thinking, musical possibilities flit through my mind – Kent Olofsson’s extraordinary ‘dialogue’ with Tartini (both composers very important to me), Johan Helmich Roman’s responses to the music of the earlier baroque, and many more. I like to allow elements and ideas to swim around, flock, shoal,and then find their way towards a coherent (rather than inchoate idea-as above).


Saturday 9th February 2019

Today, Malene and I arrived in Lund, where tomorrow I will play a concert at the fantastically imaginative ‘Lund Contemporary 2019’. More on this, to follow.

In the Undercroft o Lynds Domkyrka. 12th Century pillar, which I will call the River 9 2 19

Days like this serve to remind me why I do what I do. There’s nothing that Malene and I enjoy more than to arrive at, for us, a new city, and to try and wrap our imaginations around it. Without fail, this process is always inspiring, and for both of vital for our work as musician and writer. There could have been no more startling way of ‘waking up’ than, when we had dropped our bags in our charming hotel, to walk out and realise that the half-timbered cottage next door was where August Strindberg wrote Inferno in 1897.

Strindberg’s novel/poetic masterpiece, his most paranoid autobiographical work, was written here

At this time, Strindberg described himself as wishing to become the ‘Zola of the Occult’. I can only wonder whether the astonishing layerings of culture and history which burst upon one at every corner of this fascinating city, might have intensified this frightening intention.

The extraordinary romanesque undercroft of Lunds Domkyrka

I was determined that we should begin in the famous cathedral. What neither of us were ready for was the impact of the heart of this building, which is the crypt/undercroft beneath the high altar. In Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, it is so often the underbelly of a significant building which it the most significant, the most striking. 12th and 13th century cathedrals in each country, be they Trondheim, Odense or here, often have a ‘stepped’ element: the chancel (and in this case the crossing too) is raised up, over an undercroft. There’s often a particularly heightened cult attached to these crypts, such as the grave of Knud den Stor in Odense. Lunds Domkyrka offers mystery and enlightenment on this front, in equal, perplexing measure. The clue, it seems, is water. I will come to this by a circuitous route.

Adam van Düren’s well (1510) in the crypt. Chained seals….

The most striking thing about this part of the world, is that here, the distinctions between present-day nordic countries and cultures take a pummelling. As well as being a cradle of what we now call Swedish culture, Lund is one of the most important historical Danish sites. Talk to any Dane with a sense of history, and they will speak of Skåneland (Swedish and Danish) /Skånelandene with enormous affection and sentiment. The history is not a comfortable one – today we saw the decapitated skulls of peasants killed by King Frederik Ist’s general, Johann Rantzau, when he put down the peasant’s revolt in the spring of 1525.

11th century Christian artefacts,perhaps from K’yiv in the Culturen museum

And the question of Time, and what it does to our perception of who we are,  and how we view each other, seems to be all around us here. There are extraordinary clocks everywhere, most particularly the astonishing 14th/15th century ‘Horologium mirabile Lundense’. This clock, which was restored to the northwest corner of the cathedral in 1923 (it was first installed in 1380), is a wonder. The ‘tetragraphoi’ lounge around the date board at the bottom of the clock (with the patron saint of the Cathedral, St Lawrence in the centre), two knights joust at the top to mark the hours. And a post 18th century detail, the date board which at present runs from 1923 to 2123, includes all the saints days. I had never thought about the mysterious 29th February-today, this cock informed me that, addition to August 15th (the dormtion), September 8th  (Nativity of the Blessed Virgin) ,  October 15th (Our Lady of Walsingham) , and  December 8th (Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary), the 29th February is also sacred to ‘Maria’.

Horologium mirabile Lundense

If you want to indulge in Scandinavian time-travel, this city offers wonderfully moving possibilities at ‘Kulturen’, the short version of Kulturhistoriska föreningen för södra Sverige.  The most famous part of this collection is a group of historic buildings, all vernacular architecture, which speak to the daily lives of Danes and Swedes from the medieval period to the present day.

Staircase in Kulturhistoriska föreningen för södra Sverige.

There’s no great pleasure than walking a historic interior with Malene. She naturally feels her way around farmhouses or servant’s quarters, always guessing where she will find a ‘Slage Bænk’ or how a house was run. It doesn’t matter what building you go into with her, she will find where a doorway has been filled in, work out which are the public and private spaces, and, perhaps the most important part, express a constant fascination with the interplay between what have been artificially separated, the arts which take place in the fields, the byre, the parlour, and the nursery, and those which separate themselves off, to the marbled concert halls, galleries and opera houses.

Malene Skaerved in the Lund Domkyrka undercroft

All the repertoire that I am playing in tomorrow’s concert is for violin alone. It’s very important for me to to eschew the word ‘unaccompanied’, and to stress that I do not consider that playing the violin by itself is any more extraordinary than performing alone on the piano or the guitar (both of which I suspect, are far more stressful). However I can say that whenever a performer plays to the audience without chamber or orchestral partners, some very interesting chemistry, or perhaps I should say, alchemy, takes place. I believe that the relationship that we have with the rooms which which we perform activates many forms of memory. First of all, a room is never really empty, and never really silent. Quite apart from the sound the vibration which fills it, permeates it, from nearby spaces, from outside, from our presence, it is also suffused with various memories. It has been pointed out, many times, that it is not possible to entirely remove the auditory effects of any event which has taken place in a space. It is not possible to great s tabula rasa, but perhaps only something that reaches for the quality of palimpsest, whilst never reaching it. Put bluntly, any space carries the record of those how have left it, recently or in the distant past.

Malene leaves. Bosmålatorpet (croft) Kulturen Lund 9 2 19

But more than that, wherever we are we project memories, imagination, fancy, on to the spaces which we visit, inhabit, and leave, and take those new impressions and combinations of impressions with us, wherever we find ourselves. Playing ‘alone’ in any space, involves a complex, yet simple, intersect between all, some, or sometimes none of these integers. Each of the pieces that I am playing tomorrow plays with these possibilities, ideas and memories. And most importantly, the listener and listeners bring their own presuppositions to bear on the performance which have a signal impact, not only on how the music is heard, but, and this is not piffle, how it is performed. The smallest things can have the largest outcomes.

Jewellery, religious/cult objects, beads and marbles at Kulturet 9 2 19

So the end of the day, which began at 5am on Wapping Station, is my midnight practice desk in the charming Concordia Hotel in Lund. I have unlimited supplies of hot coffee, books, violins, paper, pencils and great company (my wife barely notices my never-ending practice). Most important, for whenever I practice, my practice mute; the violinist’s best friend!

Practice desk in Lund 9 2 19

Sunday 10th February Concert Day

Birch Tree, Skt Peter Klostr

Six premieres today, alongside the older works. I don’t mind that it is a challenge, as one is constantly trying to find the story, the melos, the texture, the timbre, of each piece, and it is impossible to get it all right first time! The great thing is that there’s a second peformance, at the ‘Connect Festival’ in March, to fine hone the process. But a walk around town on this cold grey morning helps. Hunting for sound, is the same as hunting for light, or for touch … or even as this morning, the decent cup of coffee! So Malene and I wandered the empty streets, talking about Atrid Lindgren stories, reading the gravestones in the St Peter’s graveyard, and talked about the lives of the people, all labelled by their professions, under our feet.

Church Wall, Lund. Nordic everyday. Wonder for me.

This casting about, looking for the story of a town, a voice if you like, turned out to be the key for today’s concert. At 1200 I met up with ‘my’ six composers, Daniel Möllås, Alexander Westlund, Ia Erlandsson, Erik Valdemar Sköld, Teodor Zimmerman, and Fritiof Palm, in the lovely Kapellsalen  of the ‘Palaestra et Odeum’, originally build as a gym and music building by   Helgo Zettervall in 1883. It’s a truly inspiring recital hall, and turned out to be perfectly suited for our afternoon of rehearsal, and a concert demanding concentrated listening (and playing!).

Rehearsal/workshop in ‘Kapellsalen’. Ia listens, Daniel sets the mics and David runs the show. I try not to mess up!

I really had no excuse for rehearsing the ‘old’ pieces, most of which I have played for two decades, to the whole session was given to working with my friends on their new pieces. I am also keyed-up when I work with a composer. I have premiered many hundreds of works, and worked with dozens of composers, but am always concerned to not mess up, to give my best. There’s a simple reason for this: composing is unbelievably hard. Playing the violin is coloured bubbles by comparison. So I don’t want ‘my’ composers to be  unhappy, and I am so relieved when they are pleased. I am never nervous about concerts, but I always worry about rehearsing!

Working on detail with Alex Westlund

It’s fair to say, that whenever I work with a composer, I learn. As an artist, that is all that I can ask. It was fascinating to see what good notes this group of composers gave me.  What is wonderful to observe, is how much this group support each other, and take pride in each other’s work. Just in this group of six composers, there was a veritable bouquet of languages, styles and aesthetics, ranging from writing of enormous complexity, through microtonal writing, dramatic tone-poem styles, extended techniques and a fascinating variety of notations.

With my team. All the composers. celebrated at the end of the concert

I think that,  if there is one theme which runs through all the collaborative workshops that I do, it is exploring  the question of ‘what is the voice’ of the violin. With this in mind, it seemed appropriate to begin the concert with MIchael Finnissy’s ‘Enek’ (‘Voice’) which has been in my repertoire for many years. Lurking behind the question of ‘voice?’ is another: ‘Identity?’. For me, one of the ways that I explore my own identity is to explore my art in counterpoint with places and histories. This is a fascinating occupation whether one is doing it in dialogue with the 17th Century churches of  London’s Square Mile, or, as two weeks ago, in bewilderment at the beauty of the Arctic. Coming to Lund with my Danish wife, the question is enhanced by witnessing her response to a history which she shares: the relationship between the Danish culture in which she grew up, and the story of Skaane, speaks to the layerings of European identity. But seeing her walking in the charming cobbled streets of Lund, eating Kanelbullar, telling Astrid Lindgren stories, is eye-opening. She belongs here, and yet she doesn’t.

Writer Malene Skaerved and composer David Riebe in Universitetshuset, Lund