Absolute Music

The Trondheim Soloists are one of the best Norwegian musical fairy tales of our time – and they are real! Young and enthusiastic, they play classical music with an almost shocking energy, beat and raciness that has assured them a “never ending story”-relationship with Anne-Sophie Mutter.


The violin goddess can’t get enough of them. After their successful tour, CD recording and music video last spring, she has booked the orchestra for more projects in 2001. Two million records. That’s recording company Deutsche Gramophon’s sales forecast for Mutter’s and the Trondheim Soloists’ recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Just for a start. There is every indication that the CD that was launched in October and is now burning up the classical hit lists will be one of the yellow label’s big international successes and have a long sales life. The orchestra will certainly not make a million as a result. It has received a satisfactory but not exorbitant lump sum payment for its efforts. Presumably, Ms. Mutter and the recording company will be raking in the royalties from CD sales.

The Trondheim Soloists have taken Manhattan and are currently taking Berlin, though in the opposite order, because they haven’t played in the US yet. But they will. As a result of last spring’s tour, when seventeen of their twenty-three concerts took place in Germany, Mutter has given notice that the 2001 tour will be going to the USA. She has also dropped hints about Japan and New Zealand.

In their eleven-year existence, the Trondheim Soloists have become musical globe-trotters. They have toured Germany, Spain, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Brazil and Japan. They have performed many times on radio and TV and have made several CDs. Nevertheless, last spring’s experience with Mutter was the beginning of a new era.
For the Trondheim Soloists, the next millennium has already begun.

Direct and genuine
The orchestra’s founder and artistic director, Bjarne Fiskum, invests daringly in talent, in young musicians with something to say. They are not necessarily technical virtuosi, but they have that indefinable something that is so difficult to describe or explain but is immediately heard and felt – if it’s there.

“The things we do are not always perfect, but they are totally genuine. We are on the attack all the time. The Trondheim Soloists don’t play it safe. We give it all we’ve got, and we believe people feel and appreciate that. We play without any safety nets. The adrenalin pumps right out to the ends of our hair,” say violinist Erling Skauffel and viola player Bendik Bjørnstad Foss. Both are music students, twenty years old and among the youngest in the orchestra, representatives of the style that has made the energetic, intense, compact Trondheim Sound a guarantee of quality and a branded product.
Recruitment and quality are no problem for Bjarne Fiskum. His only concern on the orchestra’s behalf is money. Even after the breakthrough with Mutter, the orchestra has problems with its long-term planning. It still has to refuse tempting offers because it doesn’t know whether it has the financial wherewithal to plan so far ahead.

Difficult finances
Like their fellow citizens, the Rosenborg football team, the Trondheim Sololists definitely play in the Champions’ League, and with equal success. But there are still many light-years between the football team and the chamber orchestra in terms of finance. Many people are constantly amazed when young boys are followed by agents with cheque books and offered millions as soon as they demonstrate an average ability to kick a ball, while obvious musical talents have difficulty in affording butter for their bread. Football stars like Zinedine Zidane or Ronaldo have not yet called Rosenborg and offered to play twenty-five matches for the team. But violin-superstar Anne-Sophie Mutter personally contacted the Trondheim Soloists to ask them to play with her.

“I took a chance,” admits Mutter. She was looking for a lively ensemble that was good at playing without a conductor. She trusted friends and colleagues in Germany who said very nice things about the Trondheim Soloists. She listened to the CD, which sounded impressive.

“But CDs can lie. I know that, so I finally took a chance and trusted the voice that told me this would be good,” she relates. Now Mutter has put strong pressure on Fiskum to persuade him to increase the size of the orchestra by adding a wind group. All that is required is two horns and two oboes. Then she wants to play all Mozart’s violin concerti with the Trondheim Soloists.

“Mutter’s children”
The chamber orchestra from the periphery of Europe conquered Mutter, audiences and the recording company alike during last spring’s big tour. Under the motto “no prisoners, no surrender”, the young musicians went to war. And they won. Wonderful receptions, standing ovations, bravos, encores. The applause grew with every concert and the bouquets increased in size. Being called back fourteen or fifteen times was not unusual. The German newspapers christened them ‘Mutter’s children’. “They sparkle. There is nothing stiff or boring about this orchestra. They are enthusiasts. I like that. Classical music needs ‘soldiers’ like these,” said Mutter during the tour.

She loves working with these young musicians. They literally found the right tone from the start. They met in Munich to rehearse for four days before the tour began in April. Only two minutes of the first rehearsal had passed before Mutter’s laughter rang through the rehearsal room. Eavesdropping through the doorway on that day and, for three hours, hearing her hum and laugh her instructions to the orchestra about how the ‘Seasons’ were to be played was one of my best ever musical experiences.

Talent factory
The Trondheim Soloists’ first breakthrough was in London in 1990, eighteen months after the ensemble was founded. The blasé Brits gave Fiskum and the orchestra a thunderous standing ovation in St. Martin-in-the-Fields. It was a decisive turning point. London confirmed that the orchestra and the concept were really viable. The Trondheim Soloists have been called a talent factory. It’s not a matter of simple mass production, but of hand-picking and developing talent. About eighty musicians are currently entitled to call themselves Trondheim Soloists. In other words, they have taken part in one or more of the orchestra’s projects. For musicians with ambitions of making a living from music, experience of playing with the Trondheim Soloists has proved to be an impressive reference.

Since the Trondheim Soloists are a project-based orchestra, the ensemble may vary each time. There were fourteen musicians on the Mutter tour. At other times there have been as many as twenty-five. The concept is always the same, however: the orchestra must consist of a mixture of professionals and students. That was the idea when it was originally established for students at the Trondheim Music Conservatory. Music teacher Bjarne Fiskum wanted to give his promising string players the opportunity of practising and performing high quality chamber music with professional musicians.

Despite the name, the Trondheim Soloists is not a place for pure soloists. The orchestra’s success is totally dependent on musicians demonstrating an ability and willingness to take responsibility and, most important of all, work together. During projects, the orchestra is like a living, working collective. The musicians play and live in close proximity. That requires people who are able to inspire others and cooperate on the job. And play well, of course.

“When all that is in place, and it quite often is, there is nothing better. When the Trondheim Soloists get it right, we are actually good. Very good,” says Bjarne Fiskum immodestly. Just ask Mutter.

The farmer’s boy and his fiddle
Bjarne Fiskum (60) is a professor at the Trondheim Music Conservatory. As the oldest son of a farmer in Harran, North Trøndelag county, he was in line to inherit the family farm and there was no precedence for him to become an internationally respected violin soloist, principal violinist and teacher. He fell fatally in love with a stringless violin as a 12-year-old. The local boys threatened to beat him up and “get him” every time he showed his face with a violin case. However, Bjarne was a fairly strong lad even then. He defended his violin with bravura and bloody noses. Mainly the attackers’ noses.

Against his family’s will, he went to Oslo to study music at the age of fifteen. Before he was twenty, he was a violinist in the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. Five years later he was principal violinist. He shocked “everyone” by giving up his job ten years later because he wanted new challenges. Studies in Vienna led to the offer of a post as principal violinist with the Vienna Symphony Orhestra, but
Bjarne refused. He also refused a similar job with the Norwegian National Opera in Oslo.

After a time as County Musician in Troms, northern Norway, he accepted the post of principal violinist with the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra. He played there until an infected tendon and “double tennis elbow” forced him to stop playing the violin for a few years at the end of the 1980s. That period laid the foundations for Fiskum’s career as a violin teacher at the Trondheim Music Conservatory, where he became its first professor in 1998.

Bjarne Fiskum established the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra in 1975 and the Trondheim Soloists in 1988. The Trondheim Young Strings, an orchestra for musicians aged 14-18 and a constant source of new talent, is also his work. In 1998, he was an instructor for the World Orchestra in Taiwan. Bjarne Fiskum can rightly be called an orchestra founder.

Translation: Virginia Siger ©
Printed in the music magazine Listen to Norway, Vol.7 - 1999 No. 3
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