Young, vital and innovative - those words capture just a fraction of Majorstuen’s growing presence on the Norwegian folk/traditional scene. The expansive musical soundscape created by the all-string ensemble is earning Majorstuen new fans at home and abroad at a fast rate.
“We feed off each other and each member of the band strive to make the other sound good,” says Majorstuen fiddler/viola player Andreas Ljones. “Being in Majorstuen is an intense learning process that involves strong personalities, skilled players and heated debate – necessities to create a good band.”
An good it is indeed. Over the last few years, Majorstuen has emerged as one of the most vital and charismatic young bands on the Norwegian folk/traditional circuit. This young and creative collective succeeds in utilising the totality of artistic ingredients within the Norwegian musical heritage, thus producing breathtaking new perspectives. The listener is treated to a wide range of expressions: from melancholic fiddle-tunes, good-natured folk dance parodies to astonishingly pointed and vital new compositions. The band’s self-titled debut was released on Norwegian independent label 2L to rave reviews earlier this year. Rumour of Majorstuen’s live qualities have spread fast, resulting in extensive domestic touring – the most recent outing being a two-week national tour arranged by the Norwegian Concert Institute.
Says Ljones: “Our inspiration is drawn from traditional Norwegian folk music roots, jazz, classical as well as folk music from other countries. Majorstuen’s forte lies in the rich arrangements that utilise the full timbre of the somewhat unusual line-up of fiddles, violas and cello. We focus on bringing out the full spectrum of expression that is inherent in every instrument, and combine this with arrangements that are created with a healthy dose of improvisation. When we play live we don’t improvise that much but rely more on the framework of the arrangements and we try to convey our musical message by expressing the instruments colourful timbre.”
The six young fiddlers of Majorstuen, graduates of the Norwegian State Academy of Music, bring together indomitable classical chops, a love of Norwegian folk music, and a great playfulness and ingenuity on their debut album and during their hailed performances. Monophonic, choral fiddle music is a mainstay of Nordic dance and ritual music: heard everywhere from wedding processions in small towns to the symphonies of Grieg. Majorstuen brings elements of traditional fiddle and Hardanger fiddle tunes to their compositions, revitalises the musical heritage with a contemporary approach and comes up with a highly individual and striking fiddle sound.
“I feel that what sets us apart from other ensembles in this genre is our untraditional line-up, the thorough and expansive arrangements as well as our sense of humour. We’re not rigid and overly serious when we play live and we try to interact with our audience. Majorstuen is gradually building up a loyal audience, and we seem to be able to strike a chord with the younger crowd. The louder the audience feedback is the happier we are, we want them to move and have fun - that’s why we like to play for a young public.”
At this year’s Førde Folk Music Festival, Majorstuen were featured as one of the event’s central ensembles. Majorstuen was selected as the Norwegian EBU-band causing strong interest from international media. The band’s concert at the festival was recorded and has since been broadcast in a number of European countries. “One specific result of the Førde-gig is that we’re scheduled to play in Paris in January. We’ve received lots of positive feedback from listeners abroad and we feel that it has opened some doors for us.”
The fiddlers of Majorstuen manage to convey a certain purity of sound that results from six fiddles with no other accompaniment, and a real energy that comes from the resulting pulse. At times, this is very much like music for string quartet, and at times, it’s very much improvisational dance music. The common denominator for Majorstuen’s compositions and live performances is a pure, vital and energetic presence that serves as the foundation for wide-searching musical exploration.
“We get lots of feedback from the folk-music community – people appreciate what we do and the innovation that we represent,” says Ljones. “Our new take on improvisation and arrangements has been welcomed by the folk-music circuit – particularly the younger ones.”
Upcoming activities include a concert in Istanbul next April during the Strictly Mundial Festival. The Majorstuen members are also busy composing and arranging new songs for an upcoming album that is tentatively scheduled for release in August 2004.
“We feel that the international market could well be as receptive as the Norwegian one has been. Over the next years we hope to establish ourselves on the international circuit with touring and releases.”
Given Majorstuen’s well-received recorded output and hailed live-performances, the ensemble could be in for some exciting years.
Majorstuen (2L) 2003