Photo: Hilde Holbæk-Hanssen

Climbing Mountains

Within a four-day interval the cellist Truls Mørk was soloist with the Nord-Deutsche Rundfunk Orchestra and Münchner Philharmoniker at the Bergen International Festival and in Munich respectively, both places with conductor Eivind Gullberg Jensen on the podium. Listen to Norway had a chat with the two of them.

LTN: During the last week you, Truls, held three concerts at Bergen International Festival, while you, Eivind, played two. One of them you had together. Now three concerts are waiting here in Munich, after which Truls continues to Spain with two times Dvorak, and three days after that again you embark on a tour with Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Eivind heads towards Hannover and a concert with Hélène Grimaud. – Is this just an ordinary week at work?

EGJ: Not to me. I had my children with me in Hannover, before going home to Bergen, so I had a full program with them between rehearsals and concerts. I slept one hour before I travelled to Munich, had two rehearsals on my arrival day, and another two today. But I prefer it this way: I rather have tight working periods, and then a couple of weeks off to prepare new performances.

TM: I don’t think I ever really have «an ordinary day at work». Every concert is unique. It implicates concentration and nerves. To me every concert is a mountain I have to climb. But after a period of illness a couple of years ago I have become more aware of planning with gaps.

They have played together before, but Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations at Bergen International Festival they played together for the first time. In the next season Mørk visits Gullberg Jensen’s regular orchestra, Nord-Deutsche Rundfunk in Hannover, for the first time in order to play Camille Saint-Saëns’ two cello concertos, the well-known in A Minor, and the lesser known in D Minor, in the same concert.

LTN: For those of us that focus on Norwegian music and musicians it is extraordinary that two countrymen front this week’s concerts with a world top orchestra. Is it just chance that you are going to be at the same podium in Munich this week

TM: I think so. The music scene is international.

EGJ: I agree. But we do have the same management, and they know that we like to cooperate. If Münchner Philharmoniker wished me as a conductor and Truls as a soloist, it is not unnatural if they proposed a combination.

TM: I have to add that it is great fun to work with a Norwegian top conductor. - And we can speak Norwegian without anyone else understanding…

EGJ: Well, today we were surprised by this cellist who actually spoke Norwegian ….

LTN: Anything else you would like to say about the other one?

EGJ: With pleasure. I regard Truls as a teacher within the cello repertory. He is a real authority, with an enormous experience. The first time I conducted the Dvorak and Elgar concertos were with him. It has been very instructive to have his interpretations as a fundament.

LTN: Do you bring his interpretations with you to other cellists?

EGJ: No. In my opinion the soloist has the main responsibility for the interpretation of a solo concerto. Not all conductors agree with me in that. But I put the emphasis on being flexible in my cooperation with soloists.

TM: There are many ways to see a work, and consequently room for different interpretations. But in larger symphonic works, such as the Dvorak concerto, where the soloist only comes in after 3 minutes and 45 seconds, the orchestral opening sets important guidelines for the interpretation.

LTN: In Bergen you played two pure Tchaikovsky programs, Eivind, while Truls had two Russian chamber concertos. Here in Munich you play Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 2 and Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony. Do you both have a Russian period right now, or was this random too?

TM: Generally much of the cello repertory is Russian. It was not random, however: the festival asked me to make two Russian programs to complement that of Eivind.

EGJ: I didn’t know that. But I studied in St. Petersburg a couple of summers, and have lots of Russian music in my repertory. I like it. Last spring we played Tchaikovsky’s three last symphonies with the orchestra in Hannover, - a series I have wanted to do for a long time.

TM: I was always fascinated by Russia. I was completely obsessed by Dostoyevsky in my youth, and the music of Shostakovich appeared as a completely original and mystical world to me. It was alluring.

EGJ: Tchaikovsky’s music is full of melodic creativity, and especially the three last symphonies are characterized by a great freedom in the score. Here, the conductor can really breathe and interpret. The same goes for Shostakovich. With him there are often things hidden behind the notes, both moods and musical messages. Russian music is filled with refinement.

TM: Shostakovich often had hidden messages to the audience. In the second movement of Cello Concerto No 2 he uses a theme from a vulgar, popular song “Give me Bagles”. In the first concerto he included a song people knew that Stalin fancied.

LTN: Who really decides the repertory of your concerts?

EGJ: It depends. As a Chief Conductor, I have a considerable influence in Hannover. As a guest conductor I do not. But nobody can force me to conduct something I don’t want. Sometimes I just ask the orchestras to take it or leave it.

TM: You may suggest, but it can be difficult gain support for what is not viewed as mainstream. World premieres are always popular, but a second or third performance of a new work, are more complicated to get through. For a tour I am planning with Philharmonia Orchestra and Esa Pekka Salonen we suggested the Lutoslawski Cello Concerto. We did not get it through. The reception of the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rauttavaara in London last April, however, I think was good.

The evening following our conversation, at the first concert in Gasteig in Munich, the two gentlemen appear as a fascinating, unequal pair: Mørk is an animated, God-given musician with a high integrity. Gullberg Jensen, with a Paganiniesque appearance, leads the performance with temperament and intensity. There is both long lasting applauds and an encore. - They may be as international as they want; it was great to be a Norwegian attending the concert in Munich on June 1st!

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