In the past, the Hardanger fiddle was a male domain – female players were few and far between. Now, a number of young and spirited voices are making themselves heard, and several of the strongest are female masters of this traditional Norwegian instrument. Two well-trained, diverse and highly skilled players are Synnøve S. Bjørset and Liv Merete Kroken – prime representatives for Norwegian folk music’s most central instrument.
Synnøve S. Bjørset
Mention traditional Norwegian folk music and it's very likely that the first instrument many associate with this genre is the Hardanger fiddle. In the hands of a master, it lends a unique tonal character to the folk tradition. And a master is just what young Synnøve Sæmundsdotter Bjørset is. Her control of technical skills, dynamics, expression and innovation is an indication that the future of traditional Norwegian folk music is in good hands, indeed. In her playing on Ram, her debut album, she emphasises the rhythmic and melodic subtleties of Norwegian fiddle music, and she manages to convey these elements vividly to the public. The integral groove she achieves is one of the distinctive characteristics of the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle tradition – a tradition that's set to survive given unique talents such as Synnøve S. Bjørset.
Bjørset is not confined to performing solely for a domestic audience. She has toured extensively in Scandinavia, England and Ireland. In addition to her focus on traditional works from the Sunnfjord and Sogn regions, Bjørset is also an active member in such acclaimed ensembles as Marylands and Majorstuen.
Ram has also received international attention. The Wire magazine, one of the world's most respected music publications, embraced her album upon its international release. This is what The Wire journalist Clive Bell said of Bjørset's album: “Synnøve Sæmundsdotter Bjørset is a powerful young player of the Harding fiddle. Still in her early twenties, Bjørset has studied with Håkon Høgelmo, a master of the traditional Hardingfele style, whose Utla Trio have devised their own overdriven, semi-improvised music that some might call power-folk. For her part, Bjørset is more extrovert and muscular than her teacher. "Hei So Dansa Jenta Mi" begins with wailing and howling thrills, "Halling" is flung out with abandon. Yet this is dense music, weaving shifting drones and counter-melodies around every line; when the bow jumps from one string to another, the resonating strings below ring out. Strange harmonies collide on ”Hamlagrøen," evoking a peal of bells in a storm. A few tracks add guitar accompaniment and the album's predominantly fierce mood breaks down for the slower paced melancholy of "Stillelåt." We may scorn the Taliban for outlawing cassette tapes, but as recently as the 19th century, Norwegians were burning Harding fiddles during religious revivals. These days, people are less inclined to ban such music as the devil's work, or ascribe its power to Trolls. Yet Bjørset's eyes have a mad glint, and her playing melds traditional discipline with lunatic abandon."
When asked about The Wire's portrait of her music and persona, Bjørset says, “I am flattered by such reviews. I know that I am a bit mad and it's rewarding when somebody can identify parts of my personality through my music.”
Synnøve S. Bjørset: Ram (NOR CD / Musikkoperatørene – 2001 NORCD 0140)
Liv Merete Kroken
Liv Merete Kroken is considered to be one of the most prominent representatives of the young generation of Norwegian folk musicians. She was among the students at the first class in 1996 of the so-called “Fiddler’s School” at the Ole Bull Academy at Voss in western Norway.
These days Kroken keeps a busy schedule as a solo and ensemble musician. She has performed at the Bergen International Festival, as well as at the folk music festivals in Førde, Ål and Falum (Sweden), and at Norrsken. She has given recitals all over Norway with the Norwegian Concert Institute (Rikskonsertene), and international appearances have taken her to South Africa, Russia, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Scotland, Palestine etc.
As a member of popular duo Spindel (Web) and the acclaimed trio Fjøgl, Kroken has managed to reach out to a wider audience beyond the traditional folk-music aficionados. A striking stage presence, inspired performances and a complete mastery of her challenging instrument has put Liv Merete Kroken at the centre of the Norwegian folk-music scene.
Kroken is not only a skilled practitioner performing renditions of old traditional pieces. In 2003, Kroken was one of three highly accomplished fiddle players picked out to perform works commissioned by the Ultima and Osa Festivals for solo Hardanger fiddle. These challenging works by composers Michael Finnissy (U.K.), Malin Bång (Sweden), Kevin Volans (Ireland), Kunshu Shim (Korea) and Asbjørn Schaathun (Norway) put the players to a test as the pieces put the Hardanger fiddle in a totally new contemporary/post-classical setting. Not many performers share the ability to link traditions of the past with cutting-edge contemporary exploration, but Kroken is one of the few fiddle players to earn such a distinction.
A willingness to explore coupled with a thorough understanding of and respect for Norway’s traditional musical heritage makes Liv Merete Kroken one of the most integral performers to emerge on the Scandinavian scene in recent years.
Spindel – Spindel featuring Sigrid Moldestad (Heilo/Grappa 2001 HCD 7163)
Synøve S. Bjørset, Fiddler
Liv Merete Kroken, Hardanger fidler