Composer in demand

Some talents are precocious and reach fame early. Others gain their greatest successes later in life. Johan Kvandal  belongs to the latter cathegory. After entering the retirement age he is more sought-after, diligently performed and popular than ever before. Tomorrow, the composer celebrates his 75th birthday.

In January, The Norwegian Opera premiered Kvandal’s most voluminous work so far, the 921 page operascore ‘Mysteries’. The opera was performed a dozen times for a large audience. Last year his concert for two pianos and orchestra was premiered in New York. This work will have it’s Norwegian premiere in Oslo next week starring two Bratlie’s.

Last week Johan Kvandal got a big bouquet of flowers on the podium of Grieghallen, after the performance of the composer’s still fresh orchestra work ‘Triptychon’. This work has earlier been presented by Mariss Jansons at the Edinburgh festival, among other occasions.

Functional composing

Johan Kvandal writes in a functional way, he knows his craft. His music progresses naturally, which is appreciated by the musicians. They enjoy performing his music, and therefore it is sought-after.

The composer is far from unemployed the future years. The commissions flow into the composer’s workshop at Gyssestadkollen in Asker. Lars Anders Tomter and Leif Ove Andsnes have commissioned music for viola and piano for the Risør festival. The Youth Symphonic Orchestra has commissioned a piano concert and the Trondheim Symphonic Orchestra would like new songs for Ragnhild Heiland Sørensen’s performance with the orchestra. But first in the line is a new work for strings, commissioned by the Arts Council of Norway to be premiered this autumn.

Johan Kvandal is the son of David Monrad Johansen, and grew up in the shadow of this powerful figure in Norwegian cultural life. Already in his twenties he took his father’s original family name. In hindsight he is happy to have avoided the inevitable confusions that would have followed the old name. He was definitely not encouraged to become a musician in his youth, quite the contrary, he has said.

– Maybe it was good, because then I needed to feel a strong urge to become a composer, and not an idea other people had given me.

To Paris
After studies with Geirr Tveitt and Ingebjørg Gresvig he came to Nadia Boulanger in Paris, and retrieved important impulses. But the road ahead was long and tenacious, and for many years there was far between the encouragements for the artist. The climate in Norwegian and international music in the 60s and 70s was not favorable for one who insisted on a traditional platform and a tonal language, and created his own fantasies on folk dances and Norwegian stev (folk) tunes. In the composers’ community he often felt counteracted, and experienced to have only small shares of Norwegian funding resources, intended for example for record productions.

Nevertheless he won major victories on the concert arena. ‘Symphonic Epos’ and ‘Antagonia’ for two string orchestras and percussion were important stages in the orchestra composer’s development. One of the peaks of his career is undoubtedly ‘The Miracle’ (Underet) for choir a capella, based on Arnold Eidslott’s text, performed by Bergen Domkantori on several occasions in Norway and abroad. The choir also recorded the work.

Melodious themes

In the middle of the 80s the avantgardist movement culminated. But the electronics still did not crush the tonality and it’s leading figures.

– You don’t need to be a stubborn reactionary just because you appreciate a piece of melody and base music on voice- friendly melodious themes, Kvandal holds, who over the years has annoyed many collegues for his uncompromising tradition-based stance.

Otherwise, there is little about Kvandal that resembles a war-waging agitator, this quiet composer, whose creative powers are still intact and who will deliver new works over the next few years.

by Reidar Storaas, Bergens Tidende, 7th September 1994