'Spotlight on Norway': Young and vital fiddler Gjermund Larsen fronts a trio that brings folk music to places it has never been.
Gjermund Larsen enjoys a position as one of the most respected and active performers and composers on the contemporary Norwegian folk music scene. The Norwegian State Academy educated fiddler and composer is a member of ensembles Majorstuen, Frigg, Brødrene Larsen, Ragnhild Furebotten trio and Christian Wallumrød ensemble. Larsen’s proper debut as a composer came in the form of the work ‘Brytningstid’ which was commissioned by the Telemark Festival two years ago. The majority of the work is devoted to new, contemporary and original folk music which draws inspiration from the local dance music traditions of the Verdal area in the Trøndelag region. Double bassist Sondre Meisfjord and pianist/organist Andreas Utnem were featured at the premiere of ‘Brytningstid’ and the three have continued the fruitful collaboration to date. The pieces featured in ‘Brytningstid’ still constitute the base of the trio’s repertoire, a repertoire that has continued to grow in magnitude and diversity during the last two years. The three band members represent a wide range of genres ranging from classical and contemporary to jazz and pop as well as traditional folk music – a diverse background that results in a highly aesthetic and rewarding sonic landscape.
Critics call Gjermund a uniquely poetic folk musician distinguished by the gentle warmth of his tone, the natural lure of his melodies and the broad range of his poetic sensibility: from catchy dance tunes to tranquil meditations. Last year saw the record debut of his own Gjermund Larsen Trio. «Ankomst» (Arrival) reaped unanimous acclaim and won a Spellemannspris award – the Norwegian equivalent to the Grammy. Even amidst the brilliant revival of Norwegian folk music this was a record that truly stood out; a selection of songs so rich and diverse in emotion and so beautiful and well tempered in execution that the whole horizon of Norwegian folk music seemed to have been broadened.
‘I am inspired by all kinds of music, says Gjermund, even though the traditional music of my home region has always been most important. This is primarily dance music, with a pretty rough and aggressive style of playing. However, my chief source of influence is Hilmar Alexandersen who was a local fiddler and composer with an unusually rich and diverse repertoire. There are strong lyrical elements and a lot of melancholia in his music. I think my so-called poetic vein has to do with this influence. I always put emphasis on the ambience of the music and the melody. My goal is to make good melodies.’
Gjermund composes his music on the violin, sometimes on a foot bellow organ, and occasionally using computer software.
‘Sometimes I want the music I write to sound entirely traditional, and so I simply work within the conventional framework. But other times I take my starting point from something that is clearly in breech of the traditional formula, like an unconventional rhythm pattern. The challenge is to retain the folk elements and make them stand out and shine in a new context, which could mean untraditional instrumentation or novel rhythm patterns. I am not interested in merging traditional expressions with other genres really; it is more about expanding the horizon of folk and exploring the possibilities.’