Trondheimsolistene: An exceptional chamber orchestra

On February 4th Trondheimsolistene, The Trondheim soloists, leave for Los Angeles to attend the Grammy awards that will take place on February 8th. With the record Divertimenti the ensemble and their label 2L are nominated in three categories: best small ensemble performance, best surround sound album and best engineered album (classical). We had a talk with Trondheimsolistene’s director Steinar Larsen about their new won status as Norway’s most celebrated chamber orchestra; an ensemble of international renown.

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Trondheimsolistene 2008

    -The Grammy nominations are the climax so far, says Steinar Larsen. It is unprecedented you know, for a Norwegian orchestra to be nominated. Because it is the orchestra itself we are talking about; we’re not hiding behind a soloist. To achieve this kind of independent status is something we’ve worked towards for twenty years.

    Founded twenty years ago to offer ensemble-experience to students at the Conservatoire in Trondheim, the orchestra is now the most sought-after chamber orchestra in Norway with an increasing number of international projects.

    There seems to be a unique philosophy behind this ensemble; an operative mode that comes across as very attractive to collaborators, clients and sponsors. Can you let us in on the special mind-set that has secured Trondheimsolistene such brilliant progress?

    -We have earned a reputation for enthusiasm and the ability to create a special kind of excitement around our projects. This has to do with a fundamental sense of commitment and the fact that everyone involved has the right kind of attitude. We find that demanding projects become matters of course because there is a special drive inherent in the group: a love for audacity and innovation and a will to stay true to our trademark balance between collective spirit and uncompromising professionalism. These are things that the ensemble has been conscious of all along; a character that has been developed over many years. We are mindful of not being a professional orchestra. We are a hybrid in this sense, with 10 professionally employed musicians –co-employed by the Trondheim Symphonic Orchestra– a few students and a number of freelance musicians. In sum we draw on a fairly large group of musicians, and the key idea is to be a dynamic and versatile orchestra where people come and go to a certain extent, meaning that with every project we bring the right people together, thus securing a high level of enthusiasm every time. Our way of working relies on a strong sense of personal commitment to the specific job, and on the musicians themselves having a clear vision of what they want to achieve. Becoming fully professional would almost certainly mean that some of the zeal would be lost. Instead of moving in that direction we constantly expand our sphere of associates, inviting talented students to Trondheim, enlisting freelance musicians from across the country and so forth.

    So Trondheimsolistene is becoming a national orchestra? How strong of a link remains to Trondheim and the Trondheim region?

    -It is true that we are becoming a national orchestra and we use musicians from abroad too. But we still retain a strong link to Trondheim, and our activities will always be centred around this area; both in terms of associated people and in terms of projects. Our sponsors, Statoil and NTNU (Trondheim’s Technical University) play a role here too. We have a very good understanding with them as to how we form our activities. Both parties share an enthusiasm for innovation and unusual projects, and this common mind-set has been instrumental to our success.

    The orchestra has done projects in every kind of musical genre. Is there a specific idea behind this? How are the different projects organised and who comes up with the ideas?

    -To answer the last part first, ideas can come from all corners, including our sponsors. We have a very creative artistic leader in Øyvind Gimse, he has been a fantastic catalyst, but ideas can come from almost anywhere. The point is that we have an open mind and an audacious attitude towards what we can pull off.
    Working with different genres, and with some of the best artists and bands in these genres, is a key factor in developing the orchestra further. We always want to move on, without becoming professionalized, and in that respect working with diverse projects across the musical spectrum is very important. Our core activity is classical music, but all the other projects serve to expand our musical register as well as sustain the sense of adventure and excitement. Putting together the right orchestra for a specific project is always a challenge, but it is also one of the things that keep us alert and hungry.

    With three Grammy nominations, 2008 is a year that it will be hard to surpass in the future. What does the road ahead look like?

    -Our principal goal is to keep developing within the framework and artistic philosophy we have talked about. But it is also a goal to strengthen our name further internationally and to be able to do bigger and even more exciting projects with top people around the world. We want to continue to attract the best soloists. However, with the Grammy nominations we have proven that we need no soloist to hide behind, and we want to continue to develop the brand name of the ensemble as an independent concert orchestra.

    The most famous soloist you have worked with is Anne Sophie Mutter. Can you describe how she discovered Trondheimsolistene? And what it was that she fell for, so to speak?

    -I think that Anne Sophie sensed immediately that we always make an extra effort. The spirit of the ensemble makes people push themselves and there is always a notion of common achievement. We first started working with her back in 1997, after we had done a tour of Germany and she had heard rumours of the special spirit of our orchestra. She invited us to go on a tour of European with her in 1999, which eventually resulted in us doing a Vivaldi CD together, the Four Seasons. It is actually one of the best selling classical CDs in modern history. After that we have done four major tours with Mutter, and the relationship is set to last I think. She appreciates what we stand for, and she is such a generous and brilliant musician, which we honoured to be associated with of course.

    You are also using your growing renown to promote Norwegian music, including an increasing number of commissions from Norwegian composers. Trondheimsolistene is becoming a moving force for the rest of the national classical scene then?

    -Yes, Norwegian and Scandinavian classical music is about to establish a very strong trademark in the world, and this is a development we want to be part of and contribute to. Trondheimsolistene can be an auxiliary for spreading Norwegian music. We are about to become a kind of locomotive; we get innumerable requests all the time and this is a position we want to use for the benefit of Norwegian and Scandinavian music. It means commissioning pieces form Norwegian composers and keeping up a high level of activities with Norwegian soloists

    It sounds like you want to do everything, and pass on nothing. Will this extraordinary and diverse level of activities be possible to sustain?

    Everything we do is based on a community feeling. Everyone has to be keen on the projects and we are very conscious of avoiding that people say yes to things they are not really into. That is why we keep a loose organisational model and a hybrid, semi- professional make up. When these things are in place, and the relationship to our sponsors functions well, I don’t think there is any need to exclude ideas or projects. We are able to make diverse projects function in mutually enhancing manner, and develop the ensemble as we go along. So long as we have good ideas and enthusiastic people there is no need to put on the brakes.

    If the Trondheim soloists should pocket a Grammy next week, there is little doubt that their speed on their international classical scene will only increase. The decision falls on February eight.

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