“Celebrating Grieg” has a wonderful sound to it
Else Hvistendahl & Rolf K. Stang
The Edvard Grieg Society of New York was founded in 1991 in anticipation of the celebration of Grieg’s Sesquicentennial (150-year birthday observance), in 1993. Even before ’93, things got rolling with lots of enthusiasm, support, and participation on the part of outstanding performers. By now, many years later, the Society, and the name of the composer to whom it is dedicated, are a well-established and respected part of the classical music scene in New York. No question about that!
To attend these Grieg programs is to enjoy touring the outstanding music-performance venues in New York, from Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Merkin Hall, the Juilliard School, to the venerable Liederkranz Society, famous for its support of young, emerging artists and for its beautiful home.
Per and Berit Brevig are the energetic president and organizational force, respectively, behind the Society’s appreciable success.
On Friday, November 21, the Musicians Club of New York, in association with the Edvard Grieg Society, presented this program at the beautiful Liederkranz Society landmark home on East 87th Street, just off of 5th Avenue. Songs by Grieg, with Heather Johnson and lyric pieces with Pianist Makiko Hirata were offered. Karl Kramer played pieces for French horn by Norwegian composers Trygve Madsen and Sigurd Berge.
Mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson, accompanied by Hirata, is well-known and admired by the Grieg Society. She took time from her increasingly busy operatic career to sing several of Grieg’s finest songs: “With a Waterlilly” (Ibsen), “The First Meeting” (Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson) and “I Love Thee” (Hans Christian Andersen). When interviewed briefly by Per Brevig, she smilingly noted that, “Although I am Swedish American, I am enamored of Norwegian song literature and by both of the Norwegian languages!” When Heather sings this repertoire, her mastery and affection for it are delightful to hear.
Hirata chose six pieces from the very popular, succinct, and brilliant Lyric Pieces, Op. 43, including “The Butterfly,” “Little Bird,” and the very famous “To Spring.” Grieg demonstrated repeatedly how much valid sentiment could be expressed in very few pages, an enormous contrast to the lengthy works of Wagner, Mahler, and Bruckner, from the same period. Hirata had the pieces well-in-hand and her playing was very expressive.
Norwegian Karl Kramer is recognized as a French horn player of the first rank, ap pearing often on the music stages of New York. A pillar in the now-defunct New York Jupiter Symphony, before conductor Jens Nygard’s untimely death, he has been recognized in many ways, including with the prestigious American Scandinavian Society’s “Cultural Grant Award.” His first piece, “Sonata for Horn and Piano” by Trygve Madsen, had a very attractive kind of Poulenc flavor to it, which Kramer brought to the fore in the otherwise Northern fabric of the work. It was beautiful. The unaccompanied “Cow Call” by Sigurd Berge was very demanding technically and allowed the audience to experience Kramer’s skills.
Between sections of music, Per Brevig introduced the performers and, using beautiful posters dating from the Grieg Sesquicentennial year, commented on Grieg’s life: Grieg’s early schooling at the Leipzig Conservatory as a teenager, his many gifts beyond music—as a writer, in particular, on music as well as other subjects—and his acclaim by the public as a composer, piano soloist, and conductor.
Brian L. Hunter, president of the Musicians Club of New York, founded in 1911 by Walter Damrosch, opened the evening with welcoming remarks to the strong turnout from his members, and to Per Brevig, president of the Edvard Grieg Society. He mentioned that while this was the first event sponsored jointly by the two organizations, he anticipated that there would be more events presented together in the future.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 12, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.