Chinese composer produces rare work with Norwegian violinist
Norwegian violinist Eldbjorg Hemsing vividly recalls her first meeting with renowned Chinese composer and conductor Tan Dun, saying it was full of good musical energy.
Tan is best known for his soundtrack for movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by Ang Lee and Hero by Zhang Yimou.
He is also a recognized composer of orchestra and ensembles.
In 2010, Hemsing was invited to premiere Tan’s violin concerto, Love, with the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra as part of the World Expo in Shanghai.
Hemsing, 28, was nervous. And before she played the piece Tan asked Hemsing about her thoughts on the theme of the concerto and how she interpreted the story.
“The theme was love and its development was through three parts of music. I explained how I imagined the character in the music, and when I was finished, he said: ‘That’s exactly the way I describe it’,” says Hemsing.
Since then, music has taken the two to a number of performances in China and Europe, as well as premieres, including the most recent Hemsing recording with Oslo Philharmonic of a full album of Tan’s works, comprising the premieres of Fire Ritual-A Musical Ritual for Victims of War, Rhapsody and Fantasia, done along with Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra and Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra.
The works musically connect two of Tan’s biggest inspirations — the rich traditions of Peking Opera and the cultural impulses of New York.
Speaking about the Fire Ritual premiere in Oslo, Tan says as Oslo is a peaceful city and Norway a peaceful country, it was fitting for the piece commemorating peace and the victims of the war to be performed in the city, and that it was a magnificent experience and full of positive energy for the future.
“It was an honor to work with Norway’s best — the Oslo Philharmonic and Eldbjorg Hemsing — on this piece. It was also an honor to share the love of China and the wishes of its people for a peaceful future through this piece,” he says.
The duo will release the recordings in China alongside performances in January. But, before that, Hemsing will give three shows in Beijing and Shanghai over Oct 16-19, working with Tan again and featuring works by him and Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.
“My inspiration for the repertoire selection is China and Norway, a celebration of the cultural heritage of both countries,” says Hemsing.
“The selected pieces celebrate the two cultures that constantly inspire me. And in a way my main objective is to use the music to focus on the connections that might have been previously overlooked, following the division between the East and the West.”
The violinist says Tan has shown her the beauty and richness of China and the composer’s strong cultural roots as well as the very contemporary melodies, in a way, that go “directly to her heart”.
Like Tan, Hemsing also has her roots in traditional music.
As a child, she received classical violin training, besides learning Norwegian folk violin and Hardanger fiddle.
“In a way, the two very different music approaches have given me a very strong foundation and flexibility in both the music as well as the technical aspects.
“Though we are classically trained musicians we must not forget our roots, which have also inspired some of the music heroes, including Brahms, Bartok or Tan Dun,” she says.
Hemsing, who was born in Nord-Aurdal, Norway, grew up in a family inclined to music, with her mother being a violinist.
Hemsing started her music career with her first performance for the royal family at the age of 6 and made her orchestra debut at the age of 11 with the Bergen Philharmonic.
Her debut album, which was released in March, is a pairing of Norwegian composer Hjalmar Borgstrom’s violin concerto written in 1914 with the iconic Shostakovich violin concerto No 1.
“The violin concerto by Borgstrom reminds me of where I come from — the rugged landscape of Valdres and Jotunheimen, where the surrounding mountains rise dramatically over the valleys — and the music makes me yearn for my roots,” she says, adding that after Borgstrom’s death in 1925, the violin concerto was largely forgotten.
She also recorded albums of Dvorak’s Violin Concerto and Suk’s Fantasy and Love Song with the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra in September.
Norwegian violinist Eldbjorg Hemsing (left) collaborates with Tan Dun (right) to premiere Tan’s new violin composition TwoRhapsodies, with the Oslo Philharmonic in Norway in September.
Norwegian violinist Eldbjorg Hemsing