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KETIL BJØRNSTAD: A PASSION FOR JOHN DONNE / ECM 2394                   player

Ketil Bjørnstad’s passion for the writings of English metaphysical poet John Donne (1572-1631) is a lifelong affair. The Norwegian pianist-composer’s settings of Donne’s verse have led to recordings including The Shadow, Grace and the ECM album The Light. “After working with the texts of John Donne for more than twenty years”, says Bjørnstad, “I still find new approaches to understanding what he wrote - and I find music throughout. It is in the language, in the rhythm, in the silence between the sentences – a passionate quest for meaning and reconciliation. Donne's dramatic life is reflected in the texts and everywhere in them you will find the passion, melodies and sounds”.

Ketil Bjørnstad wrote A passion for John Donne for the Oslo International Church Festival in the winter of 2011/2012 and the premiere performance, documented here, was at the Sofienberg Kirke in Oslo in March 2012. The Oslo Chamber Choir is sensitively directed by Håkon Daniel Nystedt, and passion is personified in the unique performance of Håkon Kornstad, who makes his ECM debut, as both tenor saxophonist and classical tenor singer. Kornstad makes the challenging transition from saxophone improviser to operatic vocalist seem natural in this context, and shines in both roles. Bjørnstad’s curriculum vitae has sketched a similar process in reverse: he began his career as a classical piano soloist before forming alliances with the jazz players.

In recent seasons Ketil Bjørnstad seems to have been reviewing the totality of his life’s work; his widely acclaimed trilogy of novels – To Music, The River and The Lady In The Valley – drew on his early classical experience, and both classical and jazz players have rubbed shoulders in projects such as the recent Edvard Munch tribute Sunrise, which also called upon the services of the Oslo Chamber Choir. Bjørnstad’s larger compositions have left areas open for improvised expression, as in the three “Interludes” here, with creative contributions from Kornstad and percussionist Birger Mistereggen, last heard on ECM in the company of the Trio Mediaeval (see Folk Songs), as well as from the composer himself.

Over the years, Bjørnstad has been a highly prolific creator, with more than 50 albums and 40 books to his name. The Oslo-born pianist, composer, improviser, novelist, poet and essayist, described by The Guardian as “a cultural prodigy”, has been an ECM recording artist since 1993, when his Water Stories album was issued. Other ECM recordings include The Sea, The River, The Sea II, Epigraphs, Life In Leipzig, The Light – Songs of Love and Fear, Remembrance, Night Song, Vinding’s Music – Songs From The Alder Thicket, La notte, his tribute to film  director Antonioni, and the aforementioned Sunrise, a cantata on texts by Edvard Munch.

The Oslo Chamber Choir was founded in 1984 by Grete Pedersen. The choir is noted for its quality, flexibility and an ability to combine and switch between different genres, such as classical, Nordic contemporary music and folk music. Its innovative exploration of the Norwegian song tradition, in particular, has earned the choir recognition at home and abroad.

CD booklet includes all song texts and photos from the premiere performance of “A passion for John Donne

© Studio Svengali, May 2024
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