Kjell Bækkelund: His world of sound is international

When today’s Music Norway occupies a natural place on the international map, it is due not only to orchestras and larger ensembles, but to many of our composers` capacities and efforts. The now 75-year-old Johan Kvandal keeps a natural place here.

On a day like this, it may be appropriate to remember this: Johan Kvandal whose central role in contemporary Norwegian music scene is obvious to all does not have his works performed only in Norway, but also in large parts of the world. Recently, his flute concerto was performed on Japanese television.

Concerto for two pianos and orchestra – which will soon have it’s first Norwegian performance – was world premiered in the United States. Earlier this year, and last fall, it was almost Kvandal fever in Germany and the Netherlands, where Concerto for fiddle and string quartet was performed.

One can certainly ask what is the reason for this international interest: Does Kvandal not write music that is often based on folklore? On Norwegian folk musical grounds? He does, quite often. He has repeatedly acknowledged his close relationship with Norwegian folk music and what, for the sake of convenience, is called traditionalism’.

He grew up in an environment that cared for the Norwegian, but the steady composer Kvandal has been internationalized since a long time, both in mind and views. Thus, there is no contradiction between the national and international.

Studies including with Nadia Boulanger in Paris opened his eyes to a world of sound that can easily be said to be international’. It’s exciting, this: How the national in music can be relevant for people far from the origin and not only with Edvard Grieg’s genius in mind. It also applies to Johan Kvandal.

Just this year, I personally experienced how his opus 31 – the Fantasies on Three Country Dancesfor piano based on Norwegian folk music themes – has hit down like a flashing lightning, both in Belgrade, Budapest and Damascus.

I have witnessed how music students in Damascus listened passionately to Kvandal‘s music, and I have read how the the Budapest newspapers describe his music as innovative and original, I have seen and heard how Tel Aviv’s sophisticated music audience and Stockholm’s discerning audience listened to Kvandal’s music with the greatest curiosity.

It is therefore one of our greatest musical ambassadors who reach the age of 75. In all the commotion and tribute, that should also be mentioned by a friend and admirer.

Many congratulations. He has certainly made ​​an effort to remember!

by Kjell Bækkelund, Aftenposten 8 September 1994