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KETIL BJØRNSTAD: VINDING’S MUSIC / ECM 2170/71                               player
                          - SONGS FROM THE ALDER THICKET

For years Ketil Bjørnstad’s work has gathered momentum on two fronts. While each of his ECM recordings has met with positive responses in the international press, Bjørnstad has also been making headway, and headlines, as a novelist. Where once he kept the disciplines separate, with his fictional “Vinding Trilogy” – comprised of "To Music", "The River" and "The Lady In The Valley" – the narratives have recently become interwoven and interrelated. The central character of this trilogy, pianist Aksel Vinding, shares his creator’s musical obsessions. So it seems logical that Bjørnstad now connects his fields of activity with “Vinding’s Music – Songs From The Alder Thicket”, issued by ECM in collaboration with Ketil’s Norwegian and German publishers, Aschehoug and Suhrkamp. A double album as literary soundtrack, its release coincides with Norwegian publication of the one-volume edition of the Vinding trilogy, and with the author's 60th birthday on April 25.

"When I had the idea of writing a trilogy about the young piano student Aksel Vinding, I realised that I would have to grant music access to my world of writing. This felt surprisingly liberating, almost like a confession. Music is a powerful source of inspiration for many writers, and so it was for me when I relived, through the novels, my experiences as a young piano student in Oslo in the late 1960s and early 1970s."

After the trilogy was completed, a concert of music referenced in Bjørnstad's narrative was mounted in Oslo. Pianists Jie Zhang and Gunilla Süssman, with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra, performed compositions by Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Ravel, Rachmaninoff, and Barber, with conductor Christian Eggen also heard as piano soloist in the second movement of Mozart's A major piano concerto. A recording from the concert comprises volume two of the present set. Disc one features Bjørnstad as improvising solo pianist, meditating upon themes related to Axel Vinding. Some tracks are pure improvisations. Others “focus on themes that arose there and then in the studio, which I elaborated on during a session lasting nearly an hour. Nothing was added or taken away. Inspiration can come unexpectedly, from a picture, a musical composition, a theatre production, or a sentence in a book. It was this kind of inspiration that I wanted to convey through the protagonist’s repeated visits to the alder thicket, in the forest by the river…”

As classical pianist, Ketil Bjørnstad made his concert debut with the Oslo Philharmonic in 1969. Encounters with jazz of the late 1960s, however, especially Miles Davis and John Coltrane, changed his priorities and he was fascinated also by the new Norwegian improvising scene ECM was documenting. He switched streams and began playing with the jazz men. Simultaneously he has maintained a career as a writer with many books to his credit – novels, poems, essays and more.

“Water Stories” (recorded 1993) was the first of his ECM albums, followed by “The Sea” (1994), “The River” (1996), “The Sea II” (1996), “Epigraphs” (1998), “Life In Leipzig” (2005), “The Light” (2007), “Remembrance” (2009) and “Night Song” (2009). Further recordings with Ketil Bjørnstad are in preparation.

His music has been incorporated in numerous films, including several by Jean-Luc Godard: “Notre Musique”, “The Old Place”, “Histoire(s) du Cinéma”, “Forever Mozart” and “Eloge de L’amour”.

Gunilla Süssmann, born 1977 in Bergen, graduated from the Norwegian Academy of Music in 2002 and got her soloist diploma from the Music Academy in Hannover in 2003. Süssmann has given recitals throughout Europe as well as in China and South America, and performed with the Bergen Philharmonic, the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Lisbon Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra among others.

Jie Zhang, born in 1984 in the Shandong Province in China, came to Norway after graduating from the High School of Music affiliated to the Shanghai Conservatory in 2003. She studied at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo with Håvard Gimse and with Leif Ove Andsnes, completing post graduate studies as a soloist performer in 2011. Jie Zhang has performed with all major symphony orchestras in Norway.

Christian Eggen, born in 1957 in Drobak, has for more than three decades been considered one of Norway’s leading pianists and conductors, especially favoured for his performances of contemporary music. Also a prolific composer, Eggen has written theatre, film and chamber music. In 1993 he became artistic director of the Oslo Sinfonietta, and since 1988 he has been conductor of the renowned Cikada Ensemble. Christian Eggen has contributed to a number of ECM recordings, including several with Ketil’s occasional partner Terje Rypdal. Eggen appears on Trygve Seims “Sangam” (ECM 1797) and directed Cikada and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra in an acclaimed recording of Morton Feldman’s “The Viola In My Life” (ECM New Series 1798).

© Studio Svengali, September 2020
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