Concert series presents his songs—all of them
Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American
Next month, Grieg lovers in the Pacific Northwest are in for treat: three beloved artists—soprano Laura Loge, baritone Alan Dunbar, and pianist Knut Erik Jensen—will perform together in “A Norwegian Holiday” at The Old Church in Portland, Ore. and Resonance at SOMA Towers in Bellevue, Wash., on April 3 and 4, respectively.
Jensen will be traveling from Trondheim, Norway, but is no stranger to American audiences. Last summer, he fulfilled his dream to visit all 50 states, and he has performed in many of them. In Seattle, he has collaborated with local soprano Loge on numerous projects. The two first met at the Mostly Nordic chamber music series at the Nordic Museum in 2009, where Loge now serves as artistic director. Both are Grieg specialists, and over the years, they have become good friends.
In 2017, Jensen approached Loge with a big idea: why not perform the entire cycle of Grieg songs—all 173 of them—over a span of three years? He was anxious to perform in the United States again, to discover new works and to see old ones from a new perspective.
For Loge, the project was too enticing to pass up. She had long thought about founding a local chapter of the Edvard Grieg Society and realized the time was right to get started. She became the founder and president of the Northwest Edvard Grieg Society (www.nwegriegsociety.org). When she reached out to me as producer of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Grieg Gala concerts, I was immediately on board as vice president.
Before long, we were joined by Seattle pianist and composer Steven Luksan, Rob Weltzien, manager of Seattle’s Silver Platters music store, and James Bernard, professor of mathematics and computer science at the University Puget Sound and serious hobby pianist, and things began to take off.
The first concerts in the Complete Songs of Edvard Grieg cycle took place in April 2018 in Bellevue and Portland to an enthusiastic response. It was an appropriate year to kick off the project: 2018 was a big Grieg year, marking the 175th anniversary of the composer’s birthday on June 15.
In Norway, Grieg’s entire repertoire was performed at his home at Troldhaugen, in the city of Bergen proper, and in Oslo. The worldwide broadcast of the NRK production “Grieg Minute-by-Minute” generated a lot of excitement and heightened awareness of Grieg. Even professional musicians realized that they could no longer take their national composer for granted. They discovered lesser-known works in his opus and rediscovered more familiar work within the context of the composer’s oeuvre as a whole.
The goal with the U.S. song cycle project is much the same: to discover and rediscover the entire Grieg song production in its overall context. A total of seven programs over three years have been carefully thought out by Loge and Jensen, with the songs grouped together not only in terms of chronology but thematically as well. The decision was made to include Dunbar, an award-winning baritone from Minnesota and winner of the prestigious Edvard Grieg Society of America competition in 2009.
Hours of research have gone into the planning the programs, from reading Grieg’s biography and letters to studying the meaning of the song lyrics. A decision was made to perform the songs in Norwegian to preserve their poetry, with printed English translations provided to concertgoers. For Jensen, it has been a fresh look at Grieg, and for Loge and Dunbar, it has allowed them to deepen their knowledge of their favorite Norwegian composer.
Next month’s program, “A Norwegian Holiday” promises to be just as exciting as the three that have preceded it. This program includes songs about holidays from Christmas to Easter, to grand adventures and Norwegian religious experiences. Highlighted are songs from the incidental music to Peer Gynt. Many tunes will be familiar and some new in this unique musical evening, Grieg at his very best.
For tickets and more info on the Portland and Bellevue concerts, visit www.nwegriegsociety.org/the-complete-songs-of-edvard-grieg-4.
This article originally appeared in the March 22, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.