2010 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Norway’s first international superstar, violin virtuoso Ole Bull. Set against this backdrop, the festival will put a focus on Ole Bull as a freedom fighter, statesman and proponent for traditional music, at home and abroad with the premiere of ‘Ole Bull i Verda’ (Ole Bull on the Global Stage) a new production that features music Bull encountered on his travels and which in turn influenced him heavily.
Ole Bull was born in Bergen 200 years ago. His father, Johan Storm Bull, wanted him to become a minister, but he preferred a musical career, and at the age of five he could play all of the songs he had heard his mother play on the violin. At the age of nine, he played first violin in the Bergen Theatre Orchestra and was a soloist with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. A world-renowned virtuoso violinist and composer, his impassioned dedication to his country’s folk music played a key role in the development of Norwegian culture following Norway’s separation from Denmark. In the course of his lengthy career, Ole Bull travelled and performed throughout the world. He was a musician, networker, promoter, inspiration and widely regarded as Norway’s first international superstar. Bull made a fortune as a performer and composer in the mid-1800s, but unfortunately lost it all in a doomed attempt to establish a Norwegian colony in Pennsylvania.
MIC reached producer of the event, Tellef Kvifte - professor at the University of Oslo’s Department of Musicology, during preparations for the Førde premiere. Says Kvifte on the upcoming ‘Ole Bull i Verda’ production:
“The main idea behind this production is to follow Ole Bull on his journeys around the world and paint a portrait of the music he encountered back then. We will not feature so much of Bull’s own music as we’ll focus on the music that influence him, be it Cuban, North-African or Greek.
The cast of performers that represent the territories Bull visited on his journeys is strong and varied; Per Dimitris Kostopolous represents Greek influences, Cuba Libre brings in an Afro-Cuban touch, Orquestra Chekara Flamenca adds some Moroccan flavour while Kroke represents Poland. Ole Bull’s Norwegian roots are maintained by Hardanger fiddler Per Anders Buen Garnås, violinist Ragnhild Hemsing as well as the duo To Sjantifantar.
Says Kvifte on the approach to the production: “Hemsing will play Bull’s role as the violin virtuoso and play a selection of his repertoire while the rest of the performers are set to perform genuine music from their respective home territories. We’ll keep the production on a simplistic level, allowing the music to speak for itself.”
One of the objectives of the production is to shed some new light on Ole Bull and his role in Norway’s musical history: Says Kvifte: “Here in Norway we tend to think of Ole Bull in national-romantic terms – a performer and composer well rooted in Norwegian culture and traditions. We will not follow down that path; instead we portray him as an internationalist, a man of the world, one that actively sought out new influences abroad.”
Writer, musicologist and professor at Norway’s State Academy of Music, Harald Herresthal, has published a number books and articles on Norwegian music, including a massive Ole Bull biography. The Ole Bull specialist will be the event’s narrator, accompanying the musical elements with vivid spoken passages portraying Bull’s travels.