Thursday, April 12, 2012

Norwegian youth perform at PLU

By Alison Haywood, Copy Editor

Scandinavian sweaters dotted Lagerquist Hall April 3 at noon as an elderly audience waited in anticipation for the concert to start.

Chair of Strings Svend Rønning introduced the performers as the Ung Symfoni, a youth symphony from Bergen, Norway on a tour of Western Washington region.

The strings tuned up. The conductor took the stage and introduced the program, which consisted largely of Norwegian folk music.

Then he opened his mouth and began to sing.

With characteristic quirkiness, conductor Kjell Seim introduced each orchestral arrangement of folk tunes by belting out the melody, singing in his native tongue.

Seim is one of the most demanded conductors in Norway.

Øyvind Andersen, who helped organize the Ung Symfoni tour, described Seim as “a very untraditional, colorful character,” and said Seim was respected professionally.

Seim's antics elicited snickers from the audience.

Violinist Joachim Grimstvedt said, “He’s strict. He knows exactly how he wants it to sound,” but that he was also fun to work with.

The Ung Symfoni is a prestigious audition-only orchestra of high school students from the area near Bergen.

The average age of the performers is 20. The group tours every two years and has performed once before at Pacific Lutheran University in 2004.

Rønning describes Bergen as Norway’s New Orleans due to its importance in Norwegian culture.

Many well-known composers came from Bergen, most notably Edvard Grieg.

The Ung Symfoni’s repertoire consisted of a mixture of classical and folk music, although Rønning said Norwegians don’t make as much distinction between the two genres as most cultures.

Violin prodigy 20-year-old Eldbjørg Hemsing toured with the symphony and since started a solo career.

Hemsing is famous in Norway and has performed all over the world. She also performed on the Hardanger fiddle, a Norwegian folk instrument similar to the violin.

“You can only find it in Norway, so it’s an absolutely unique instrument,” Hemsing said of the Hardanger fiddle.

The Hardanger fiddle differs from a violin mainly in that the body is convex, it is covered in ornate decorations and there are four resonance strings beneath the normal strings, which vibrate and provide harmony when certain notes are sounded.

“It’s sort of the stringed instruments’ version of the bagpipes,” Rønning said, likening the resonating strings to a bagpipe’s drone.

Hemsing also presented the 14th annual Bjug A. Harstad Memorial Lecture in the Scandinavian Center April 5, entitled “The Hardanger Fiddle and the Violin: Two Instruments, Same Inspiration.”

Hemsing performed on a Guadagnini violin from 1754 and a handmade Hardanger fiddle.

When asked the value of her instruments, she said, “They won’t even tell me, which is probably for the better.”

Hemsing performed challenging repertoire on the violin with virtuoso technique that impressed audience members at both concerts.

“You don’t very often in life get to see someone in that intimate of a setting of such virtuosity,” said community member Steve Schmidt at the Harstad lecture.

While the Ung Symfoni mostly performed folk tunes with lighthearted themes such as gossip and drinking, the last piece was a classical “Fanfare and Choral” by Hovland.

This final fanfare brought most of the elderly audience sluggishly to their feet, knitted sweaters and all.