Per Arne Glorvigen grew up in the Dovre mountains where Ibsen’s Peer Gynt met the Mountain King. Now he has a successful career playing an instrument that originated in the brothels of Buenos Aires. He began to play the bandoneon by chance in 1988. Now he plays with the most prominent European orchestras and cooperates closely with violinist Gidon Kremer.
Glorvigen went to Paris in 1987 to study the accordeon under Richard Galiano. He had been playing guitar and accordeon since he was thirteen and had studied at the Norwegian State Academy of Music in Oslo. He financed his first six months in Paris by playing in the métro for three or four hours a day. “I paid my rent in small change,” remembers Glorvigen.
In October 1988, he met the Argentinian bandoneon champion Juan Jose Mosalini. Glorvigen was curious about the instrument, which is indelibly linked to the Argentinian tango. Almost intuitively, he decided to stop playing the accordeon and start playing the bandoneon. “The two instruments may be similar in appearance, but they are as different as flute and bassoon,” explains Glorvigen. “It subsequently proved to be a wise choice from a commercial point of view. Few people play the bandoneon, so it’s easier to get jobs. The instrument is essential in contemporary music such as that of Astor Piazzolla.”
But the easy-going musician did not choose the bandoneon in order to earn money. “Per Arne’s soul is well suited to mine,” says the uncompromising Kremer of the young Norwegian. “It’s a matter of creating music that seduces and grips the audience.”
“Success can lead to conflict where you think more about your career and everything around the music than the music itself. It is terribly dangerous and sad,” says Glorvigen. He feels that his progression from playing in the Paris métro to concerts in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and the Paris National Opera was almost too fast. For two years Glorvigen learned to play the bandoneon with Mosalini in Paris. In 1989 he met the now deceased tango master Piazzolla in southern France. In Norway he played in the quartet Tango for 3, but Paris became the permanent home of this cosmopolitan Norwegian, who even married an Argentinian psychologist.
A new stroke of luck accelerated Glorvigen’s career. The Nieuwe Muziek festival in Holland needed a bandoneon player at short notice in 1994. Glorvigen obliged, and this was where he played with Gidon Kremer for the first time. Since then they have toured Europe, North America and Asia together and released two Piazzolla CDs. A third has been recorded and will be released next year.
“There is a conflict between the traditional tango and classical music. I had problems with Kremer’s classical style to start with, but we have moved closer to each other and I have learned that good music can be interpreted in several ways,” says Glorvigen.
Piazzolla has dominated Glorvigen’s performances in the 1990s. He has also made a recording of the Argentinian’s only opera, due to be released this autumn. This summer, Glorvigen and Kremer played their Piazzolla repertoire at festivals in Norway and Sweden. However, the musician wants more challenges for his unusual instrument and these he has to create himself.
He has asked younger composers like the German Bernd Francke and Dutchman Wilhelm Jeths to compose for the bandoneon. He likes their music, and when composers like them seek and find, exciting things happen. Francke and Jeths have accepted the challenge, to Glorvigen’s delight.
Contact with Norway is important, although Glorvigen will be living in Paris for the foreseeable future. Last spring he played in a variety show with Norwegian comedienne Herborg Kråkevik which received rave reviews. He has also introduced another Norwegian, Rolf Gupta, into his cooperation with Kremer. Gupta has arranged Piazzolla’s music for the CD that is to be released next year.