“No art without blood from the heart!”

An interview with Norwegian concert pianist Oda Voltersvik

Oda Voltersvik

Photo courtesy of Oda Voltersvik
Bergen-based pianist Oda Voltersvik will perform at the National Nordic Museum in Seattle and at New York’s Scandinavia House this October as part of her new international tour.

Christy Olsen Fleld
Taste of Norway Editor

Oda Hjertine Voltersvik is an internationally recognized Norwegian concert pianist, regularly performing solo and chamber music recitals in Norway and abroad.

During her international solo tour this October, Voltersvik will present two concerts in the United States: Oct. 17 at the National Nordic Museum in Seattle, in conjunction with the Northwest Edvard Grieg Society, and Oct. 20 at Scandinavia House in New York City.

I had the opportunity to interview Oda Voltersvik about her work as a concert pianist as well as her upcoming tour.

Christy Olsen Field: Can you tell me about how you got started with music?

Oda Voltersvik: I started to play the piano I was 7 years old, and I decided to try to become a performing pianist when I was around 15 years old.

From early on, I loved to sing. While in primary school, I took part in a choir, which inspired me to compose half of a children’s musical. In addition, I am grateful to my primary school teacher, Aase Andersen, as she always encouraged her students to perform in regular house concerts for the parents. I remember performing Mozart, Haydn, Paderewski, and even Gershwin during those years.

COF: Can you tell me a little more about musical  education  in  Norway  in  general, and then more specifically about your own studies?

OV: In Norway, it’s unfortunate that the government recently has considered omitting music lessons or singing in primary and middle school. A combination of singing in school and instrumental lessons was crucial to my growth and inspiration in my early years, both personally and musically.

I had both private piano lessons with Grace Anker and later at Siljustøl Music School (the home of the Norwegian composer Harald Sæverud) until high school level. After this, I went to Langhaugen High School, which included music subjects, alongside a wide range of general subjects. I also took part in the young talent program connected to the Grieg Academy, with Signe Bakke as my teacher.

My college years included: two years of undergraduate degree at the Grieg Academy; four years at the Royal College of Music, London, finishing the undergraduate degree and a master in performance degree; and two years for the postgraduate artist diploma at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, London.

COF: You have spent most of your life in Bergen, the home of the famous composer Edvard Grieg. What does Grieg’s music mean to you?

OV: Edvard Grieg has been important for my growth as a musician and has been an enormous inspiration. His pieces challenge you to find a particular atmosphere for every piece and to acknowledge and create the smallest nuances, which are always meaningful.

COF: Do you have a particular favorite among Grieg’s compositions?

OV: Edvard Grieg is a favorite composer when it comes to short piano pieces, but I would choose the Ballade in G minor, Op. 24, written soon after the loss of his parents. I have performed this piece several times, and it includes the full range of lyrical and folk characters. Grieg brings you through an emotional, honest journey. It perhaps resembles the picture of walking up three of the seven hills in Bergen, ending at the highest (Ulriken) with a new insight or awareness. Although Grieg was struggling with bigger forms, he needed to be honest and once expressed: “There is no art without blood from the heart!”

COF: You perform in a number of ensembles. Can you share some recent highlights from this past summer?

OV: Yes, I have a regular piano duo with Giulio Potenza, the Volt&Potenza Duo. We started to collaborate in 2015 during our studies in London and have performed together internationally since then. You can learn more at our website: www.voltandpotenzaduo.com.

At least once a year, I have arranged concert tours and attained funding for the Volt Ensemble as the group’s project leader. This summer, the concert series in Lofoten, “Music in Movement 7,” was met with positive feedback. It had support from the Lofoten International Chamber Music Festival, Arts Council Norway, and Fund for Performing Artists Norway. You can watch a new video from this series on my YouTube channel.

COF: You have performed in the international arena, with performances throughout Europe and the United States, and now you are coming back to back to the United States to perform in Seattle at the National Nordic Museum and Scandinavia House in New York. What are you looking forward to about this tour?

OV: Yes, I have performed around Europe and in the United States as a competition winner at Carnegie Hall. I also love to perform for the American tourists who come to Grieg Museum [in Bergen] to hear lunchtime concerts yearly. Although I have managed to sell some CDs, due to the changing music market, it’s important for artists today to perform live as often as possible, both in a wide range of concert venues and internationally. I am very happy to have received invitations to these two nice venues. Otherwise, the tour this October will be going to Berlin, Copenhagen, Stockholm, London, Bergen, Stavanger, and Oslo.

COF: What  pieces did you select for  the new tour, and why?

OV: I will present a program that focuses on music from countries at the edges of Europe, with an extra trip to Argentina. There is a folkloristic thread between the “Norwegian Dance & Spring Dance Op. 47” by Edvard Grieg and the “Danzas Argentinas” by Alberto Ginastera. There is also a lyrical thread between the lyric pieces by Edvard Grieg, the “Barcarolle Op. 60” by Frederic Chopin, the “Fantasy Op. 28” by Alexander Scriabin, and the selection of pieces by Jean Sibelius. In addition, I look forward to presenting a piece by Edvard Grieg that is seldom performed internationally.

COF: You have just released your CD “Firebird,” which reflects the unpredictable character of the magical glowing bird in Slavic folklore. What inspired this project?

OV:  My  idea  behind  the  “Firebird”  was to give the CD a theme that could include pieces with contrasting and unexpected musical elements, with a rhythmical touch to add variety for the listener. I also made a music video, choreographed by Mary Ellen Beaudreau, who is based in New York City. It can be found on my website at odavoltersvik. com/firebird.

COF: Looking to the future, where does it go for you from here?

OV: In general, for a classical freelance musician today, a career can take any turn. You have to be patient, work hard, and have a strong inner wish to express a wide range of repertoire to a wide range of audiences, including solo, chamber music, and concertos.

In the coming year, I am doing a new CD recording for the Rubicon label and many upcoming concerts, both solo and with my piano duo. In November 2020, I am also coming back to the United States for a performance with the Northport Symphony Orchestra in New York.

Oda Voltersvik

Photo courtesy of Oda Voltersvik

To learn more about Oda Voltersvik, listen to her music, or obtain information about her upcoming performances, visit her website: www.odavoltersvik.com.

For information about Voltersvik’s upcoming concert in Seattle, visit: National Nordic Museum: www.nordicmuseum.org/product/2729.

Oda Voltersvik’s performances in Seattle and New York were supported by the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Assocation and the Northwest Edvard Grieg Society.

This article originally appeared in the October 4, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Christy Olsen Field

Christy Olsen Field was the Taste of Norway Editor from 2019 to 2022. She worked on the editorial staff of The Norwegian American Weekly from 2008 to 2012. An enthusiastic home cook and baker, she lives north of Seattle with her husband and two young sons.