Friday 5 April 2024

Sea Songs: Brighton Philharmonic in Geirr Tveitt's Hardanger fiddle concerto and other delights

Ragnhild Hemsing and Hardanger fiddle (Photo: Nikolaj Lund)
Ragnhild Hemsing and Hardanger fiddle (Photo: Nikolaj Lund)
On Sunday, 7 April 2024, Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra's season finale at the Dome in Brighton features dynamic young conductor Adam Hickox in Sea Songs. Yes, the programme does begin with Britten's Four Sea Interludes from 'Peter Grimes' and ends with Debussy's La Mer (written just down the coast in Eastbourne!), but the real meat is in between these. Ragnhild Hemsing is the Hardanger fiddle soloist in Norwegian composer Geirr Tveitt's Concerto No. 2 Three Fjords, whilst Joanna Macgregor is the piano soloist in music by the great Japanese film composer, record producer and actor Ryuichi Sakamoto, who died last year.

The hardanger fiddle is Norway's national instrument; it probably originated in the 17th century s a hybrid of earlier folk fiddles and the viola d’amore. Its tone is smaller than the violin and‚ with its four sympathetic strings‚ sounds not unlike a treble viol. Geir Tveitt (1908-1981) was a central figure of the national movement in Norwegian cultural life during the 1930s. From the 1940s onwards Tveitt settled in Hardanger and devoted himself to collecting and adapting the Hardanger folk melodies. He wrote two concertos for the Hardanger fiddle.

Tveitt's music has seen something of a revival in recent years. However, the composer's complex relationship with far-right German ideologies has remained a tricky issue. Tveitt was a supporter of the so-called Neo-Heathenistic movement, which centred around the Norwegian philosopher Hans S. Jacobsen (1901–1980) in the 1930s in Oslo. Unfortunately, Jacobsen later became a member of Nasjonal Samling ('National Assembly'), which led the interim, pro-Hitler puppet government during the German occupation of Norway. Even though Geirr Tveitt displayed a deep interest in the theories of the movement, he never enrolled as a member of Nasjonal Samling.  For Tveitt, this proved devastating to his reputation, and contributed significantly to his becoming a persona-non-grata in the post-war musical establishment in Norway.

Ragnhild Hemsing is the sister of violinist Eldbjørg Hemsing [see my interview with Eldbjørg] and the two sisters organise their own festival in Norway.

Full details from the Brighton Dome's website.

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