Father and son on the same CD

On their new record, Håvard Gimse and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra perform piano concerts by David Monrad Johansen (1888-1974) and Johan Kvandal (1919-1999). The two were father and son, but colliding personality types.

– They had quite different temperaments. Monrad Johansen was more choleric and quick, Kvandal appeared to be a tad more calm. But I have met people who experience a more temperamental Johan, he was just more restraint, says Håvard Gimse. The master pianist knew Kvandal well and performed his piano concert in 1999, the most recent concert performance of the work to date.

– Monrad Johansen was called ‘The Boss’?

– Yes, and he was probably a dominating figure. Johan was a very modest guy and didn’t get a lot of support and respect from his father growing up. He took composition lessons with Geirr Tveitt and piano lessons with Tveitt’s wife, and she might have tought he was a quiet and a bit timid fellow, who did not really get things going. He did not exactly float on a cloud of success in the years prior to the war.

– The Kvandal concert was a work commissioned by the Youth Symphonic Orchestra and the Elverum festival?

– Yes. The premiere was supposed to be in `98, but Johan could not finish it in time. Many things were troublesome for him at the time, and it is from this periode the famous story about the Elk sonata originates. He was delayed because he was constantly bothered by an elk. It was staring at him through the window. ‘Every time I look up, this elk is standing there…’, he moaned.

– When he at last had finished the two first movements, he hesitated to write a third movement?

– He insisted that he would not be able to do it. I suggested a swift, short movement, but no, he wasn’t so sure. But he called me the next day and said: ‘Now I have startet!’ And then it went fast.

– The Monrad Johansen concert was premiered by Jan Henrik Kayser around 1950. How did you discover it?

– Leif Ove (Andsnes) tipped me about it when we were studying in Bergen. The Danisk conductor Dausgaard had recommended it to him. Leif Ove didn’t have time to rehearse the concert then, and wondered if I was interested.

– It sounds inspired by Ravel?

– Yes, Monrad Johansen went in many stylistic directions and is a conglomerat of many things. His concert has alot of energy, whereas Kvandal’s is more lyrical. I find Kvandal’s sound quite touching, a form of urgent voice saying: ‘Please listen to what I have to say, even if I am unable to speak very loud’. He was very aware of standing on the tradition-keeping side, unlike other contemporary composers who were more modernist. He talked alot about that he thought he had been hard hit by his collegues.

– Was he bitter?

– No. But he was a man who had experienced adversities since childhood. I do believe that Kvandal with time will grow as a composer. His craftsmanship is so amazingly skillful, and even if he in many ways was living 50 years too late, he is not the only one. Geirr Tveitt, for example, has a renaissance now, but according to his friends, he lived many centuries too late. So it may be fine to be a bit out of sync with the times.
by Terje Mosnes, Dagbladet, 23th September 2008