“A most Romantic instrument”

Sandra Lied Haga embarks on an American musical journey

Sandra Lied Haga

Photo: Terese Samuelsen
Sandra Lied Haga is at home with the classic cello repertory of the Romantic era, and with her deep roots in Norway, she includes Norwegian composers from this period in many of her performances.

The Norwegian American

Norwegian cellist Sandra Lied Haga always wanted to come to America. As a teenager, she attended the summer Aspen Music Festival School in Colorado in 2009, an experience that left a deep impression. It then became her dream to attend a big university in the United States, to travel and see more of the world—and this dream really did come true.

At 27, Sandra has established a strong footing in the American musical world. In 2019, she was the recipient of  the prestigious Equinor Classical Music Award, which enabled her to participate in the musical scene in the United States, and fulfill the rest of her dream, as she began a post-master program in residence at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. 

Sandra made her debut at Wigmore Hall in London at the age of 12. Since then, the beauty of her music has resonated in concert halls throughout the world and in the major cities of Scandinavia and Europe.

A musical wunderkind, she was born in Oslo into a family of musicians with ties to both the capital and the musical city of Bergen. Her three older siblings all played violin and her mother played the piano. Her exceptional talent was recognized early on, and by age 4, she was studying at the Barratt Due Institute of Music in Oslo, the youngest student ever to participate in their program for gifted children.

She has never questioned her calling as musician, and it is no exaggeration to say that music has always been her life—and somehow this love and devotion to her calling can be heard in what has been described as a “divine” sound. 

I first had the pleasure to hear Sandra play at American Scandinavian Society’s Annual Christmas Ball at the Metropolitan Club in New York City, where she performed J.S. Bach’s “Solo Cello Suite No. 3.” I can attest to an ethereal quality in her playing, an experience of rare musical beauty that almost feels like religious transcendence.

A few days later, I sat down with Sandra at the Norwegian Consulate General in New York City, after she played for a ceremony where Crown Prince Haakon presented a medal to Norwegian War Sailor Karl Aksel Andresen.

“Music is everything to me,” she said, “It’s my passion, my religion, the meaning of life.”

Sandra Lied Haga

Photo: Terese Samuelsen
Norwegian cellist Sandra Lied Haga creates a sound that is at once ethereal and transcendent. Her music has been described as “divine” and “heavenly” by critics around the globe.

We talked about the highlights of Sandra’s career, where she finds herself today, and where she is going.

“I want to play wonderful music in beautiful places,” she said, “for as many people as possible.” Her voice underlined the importance of reaching out into the community and making classical music more accessible.

While Sandra has performed in some of the most prestigious musical venues in the world, she also is out and about in the NYC Norwegian community, in intimate venues that include the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Manhattan.

“Every human deserves to be exposed to classical music,” she said.

We talked about the cello repertory, and the composers Sandra often performs. Bach, Edvard Grieg, Antonín Dvořák, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky were immediately mentioned.

“The cello is a most Romantic instrument,” said Sandra. “With its melancholic sound, it came to the forefront in the Romantic era,” she said, “and I have stayed largely with this repertory.”

As a virtuoso, it is her mission to bring this music to the heart and mind of her listeners with heartfelt devotion and the highest level of technical skill possible. She does not arrange or compose music but rather attempts to immerse herself in the musical score, to understand it, and interpret it in a way that will bring it to life.

I asked Sandra what artists have influenced her musical development. As a chamber musician, she has played with some of the world’s most famous performers, including Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, and American cellist Yo-Yo Ma. She has also been on stage with a list of orchestral conductors no less impressive, including  American-born James Gaffigan and Norway’s Terje Mikkelsen.

But Sandra was quick to answer that it was Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk who was her “absolute greatest inspiration.” When she studied with him, she was “surrounded by his sound,” and its influence still reverberates in her own music today.

“There are differences in the ways we learn music in Europe,” she said, “but there is no recipe on how to learn.” Many artists tend to play more in Europe, others more in North America, but Sandra would like to bridge these two worlds. She plans to travel and tour on both continents, although with the pandemic, there is some uncertainty.

But one thing that is for sure is that Sandra Lied Haga is a Norwegian artist who is going somewhere. She has already amassed an impressive resume that includes a list of musical awards in Scandinavia and top place at four major international competitions. Her debut CD, “Sandra Lied Haga,” released by Simax Classics, features the iconic Romantic works Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations, original version, and the Dvorák Cello Concerto, and was recorded in the Great Hall of the world-renowned Moscow Conservatory. 

Critical reception to her debut recording has been overwhelmingly positive. In the words of Remy Franck of Pizzicato magazine, “The cellist deserves the highest praise… Especially characteristic is her full and unusually rich cello sound.” Christian Busch of Glarean Magazin concurs: “With this, she outshines many recordings by renowned artists and record labels. A beautiful discovery.”

With her radiant youthful beauty and extraordinary talent, cellist Sandra Lied Haga is a national Norwegian treasure. We welcome her to the United States as she continues on her new American musical journey. We look forward to hearing more from her, as she brings the heavenly tones of her “most Romantic instrument” to new heights.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 4, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

Avatar photo

Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.