NEW YORK, NY – On April 1, 2017, Aurora Contemporary releases Variations Over Variations [ACD5096], a recording featuring four works by Norwegian contemporary composers commissioned and premiered by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and led by its Chief Conductor, Miguel Harth-Bedoya. The CD includes Alfred Janson’s Variations Over variations Over a Norwegian Folk Tune with trumpet soloist Tine Thing Helseth; Songr for Orchestra by Jan Erik Mikalsen; Knut Vaage’s Mylder; and Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje’s Paragraf 112.
In his 17th season as Music Director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Miguel Harth-Bedoya has long championed music by many living composers, including those from his native Latin America. One of his first tasks after becoming the Chief Conductor of the Norwegian Radio Symphony Orchestra in 2013 was to celebrate the Bicentennial of Norway’s Constitution. The works on this recording are by some of Norway’s most celebrated contemporary composers, three of which (except Knut Vaage’s Mylder), were commissioned for the celebration. For Harth-Bedoya, the idea behind the recording was to create a legacy of these works, and to share Norwegian contemporary music with as many new listeners as possible. The four works represented on Variations Over Variations reflect a dialogue between contemporary Norwegian music and a music history that connects them. In some places the quotations open a door to something Norwegian; at other places they put the idea of a national music into perspective.
Composed for Norwegian trumpet player Tine Thing Helseth, Alfred Janson’s Variations Over Variations Over a Norwegian Folk Tune was strongly inspired by Edvard Grieg’s variations for piano, Ballade in G minor (1875-76), a reworking of a Norwegian folksong entitled, “The Norwegian Peasantry.” Grieg’s Ballade, which is believed to have been composed after the loss of his parents, takes on a warmer, more relaxed feel in Janson’s hands, as he inflects the work with jazz-like twists and turns evoking how Grieg’s work evolved from the original folk tune. All the variations are notated and the music is clearly through-composed, but both in sound and harmony it is drawn towards the improvisatory by Janson, who is both concert composer and a jazz musician. The composer dedicated the work to “Edvard Grieg and my piano-playing mother, in the hope of forgiveness.”
The title of Jan Erik Mikalsen’s Songr is taken from the Old Norse word for song (or more broadly, music). Written in three movements, the work opens with “distorted sounds, as if the music is dried up and broken.” Slowly it builds in intensity with the dramatic use of percussion and low bass instruments, although never losing contact with its delicate opening. Songr features a harp tuned in quarter-tones, two violins tuned down a quartertone, and a Hardanger fiddle with open sympathetic strings touches that displace a conventional orchestral sound. Between large-scale outbursts, a distorted string trio regularly appears, repeating a surprising chord sequence. The work oscillates between two borders: large-scale orchestral uproar and distorted, three-part echoes.
Knut Vaage’s Mylder (Multitude) has the subtitle “2011 overture fragment.” Mylder was written with a companion work, Mylder 2, a shorter version, which is not included on this recording. Both works were written for a concert to mark the 250th anniversary of the Aula in Oslo University. The “fragments” are taken from both standard repertoire orchestral music and the composer’s own works.
Rounding off the recording is Paragraf 112 by Maja S.K. Ratkje, which was co-commissioned for a national orchestral relay to mark the 200th anniversary in 2014 of Norway’s Constitution. It was performed as an opening Fanfare by seven Norwegian orchestras. The title, Paragraf 112, refers to the paragraph in the Norwegian Constitution dealing with the environment. The text of the article is quoted in the score and says, amongst other things, that citizens have the right to a natural environment whose productivity and diversity are maintained. Paragraf 112 does not open as one might expect from a traditional orchestral fanfare, rather it begins with the sound of a slowly falling chain reverberating in a kettle drum. The work employs various extended techniques, gradually building in intensity and becoming darker and more threatening. At one point a short, tonal figure is heard on harp and cellos, which resembles the main “walking” theme in Edvard Grieg’s Lyric Piece Vektersang (Watchman’s Song), perhaps serving as a warning.
ABOUT THE COMPOSERS:
Alfred Janson (b. 1937) began playing the accordion at the age of twelve, received piano lessons from his mother, and made his debut as a classical pianist in 1962. He developed an interest for jazz early on, and from the end of the 1950s he worked closely with the renowned Norwegian singer Nora Brockstedt as an accompanist. After his piano debut he has touched on several genres as a composer, and has drawn extensively on elements from jazz, particularly timbre and improvisation, even when writing within the framework of international modernism. Janson’s diverse work as a composer and musician, and his crossing over of different genres and musical expressions, everything from pop to contemporary music, classical and jazz, has made him a central figure in Norwegian musical life since the 1960s and an innovator in the Nordic musical scene.
Jan Erik Mikalsen (b. 1979) currently lives in Oslo, Norway. He has studied at the Grieg Academy in Bergen, Norway and at the Royal Danish Music Academy in Copenhagen, Denmark. He has had a number of pieces performed by orchestras, including world premieres and commissions performed by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, Oslo Sinfonietta, Bodø Sinfonietta, Orkester Norden, omas Bloch, Quartet Artis Vienna, Reykjavik Chamber Orchestra, Björn Nyman and Norrköping Symphony Orchestra.
Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje (b. 1973, Trondheim) is a composer and performer with a background from the Norwegian State Academy of Music in Oslo. Her music is performed worldwide by performers such as Ensemble Intercontemporain, Klangforum Wien, Oslo Sinfonietta, ¬e Norwegian Radio Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Fretwork, Cikada, Mivos and Bozzini String Quartets. Portrait concerts with her music has been heard in Toronto and Vienna, and she has been composer in residence at festivals like Other Minds in San Francisco, Trondheim Chamber Music Festival, Avanti! Summer Festival and Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.
Knut Vaage (b. 1961) lives in Bergen where he works as a composer. He graduated as a pianist and composer from the Grieg Academy in Bergen, and has served as a board member of the composers’ group Ny Musikk, the Norwegian branch of ISCM, and the Norwegian Society of Composers. Vaage has worked in different styles of music, though concentrating on improvised and contemporary music. Many of Vaage's projects have investigated the boundaries between improvisation and composed music, particularly in the trio JKL, as well as an acoustic/electronic hybrid-sound.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS:
Tine Thing Helseth (b. 1987) started to play the trumpet at the age of seven, and is one of today’s leading trumpet soloists. She has acquired an impressive merit list including performances at several European festivals and engagements such as her debut at the BBC Proms in Royal Albert Hall and London’s Wigmore Hall, and performances with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Bergen and Copenhagen Philharmonic orchestras and Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. Helseth’s recent engagements include performances with the Belgrade and Helsinki Philharmonic orchestras, NDR Radio Philharmonic Hanover and Dresdner Kapellsolisten. She has been Artist in Residence at the Bodensee Festival, and has curated Manchester Camerata’s UpClose series. In addition, she also curates her own festival, Tine@Munch, which was launched in 2013 in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Edvard Munch.
Grammy-nominated and Emmy Award-winning conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya is currently Chief Conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra in Oslo and in his seventeenth season as Music Director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. Born and raised in Peru, Harth-Bedoya received his Bachelor of Music degree from the Curtis Institute of Music and Master of Music degree from The Julliard School. Winner of the 2002 Seaver/NEA Conductors Award, Harth-Bedoya was previously Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic and Associate Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and has also served as Music Director of the Auckland Philharmonia, Euguene Symphony, Lima Philharmonic and the New York Youth Symphony at Carnegie Hall.
Harth-Bedoya has conducted the upper level of American orchestras, and frequently returns as a guest conductor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He nurtures a number of close relationships, and is a frequent guest, with orchestras worldwide. Noteworthy European performances have included collaborations with soprano Renée Fleming and tenor Juan Diego Flórez. Harth-Bedoya is the Founder and Artistic Director of Caminos del Inka, a non-profit organization dedicated to discovering, preserving and disseminating the rich musical legacy of the Americas, as well as an active recording artist.
He has released several albums on labels such as Harmonia Mundi, including his 2016-recording with works of Lutoslawski and Brahms, Avie and Deutsche Grammophon. Since his accession as Chief Conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra he has developed a strong passion for the rich musical legacy of Norway.
Founded in 1946, the Norwegian Radio Orchestra is today regarded with a unique combination of respect and affection by its public. The orchestra´s repertoire is exceptionally wide, ranging from baroque, classical and contemporary to jazz, pop and rock. The Norwegian Radio Orchestra meets its audience at many different venues and central for the orchestra philosophy are concepts like play, curiosity and flexibility. The orchestra has enjoyed enormous success over the past years, harvesting critical acclaim, and has a pivotal role in Norwegian music as it represents a versatility that is unique in Norway. In the past years the orchestra has collaborated with first class musicians and conductors from all over the world, as well as having the privilege of performing every year at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert. From fall 2013, Miguel Harth-Bedoya is the orchestra's chief conductor, a conductor with many exciting projects and a large international footprint.