Ballade’s Ida Habbestad has a talk with up-and-coming Norwegian trumpet player Tine Thing Helseth in relation with the release of her first solo album. Her primary concern, she relates, is that people be given the opportunity to hear classical music, and further that it be apparent that it is for the sake of the audience that the music exists. –I don’t know if they realize themselves, but the audience is a decisive factor of a performance, almost more important than a good orchestra and a good conductor, says Helseth in this interview.
By Ida Habbestad
Translated and abridged by Christian Lysvåg
-The trumpet is very versatile! You can almost muffle a whole orchestra, and be heard through a great many violins. At the same time it has lyrical properties, so you have a range –both in terms of force and in terms of timbre – and a spectrum of moods.
Tine Thing Helseth talks enthusiastically about her instrument. However, in advance of the Virtuoso Competition in 2006, she was in doubt whether a trumpeter could win. Habitually it is pianists or string musicians that prevail in such competitions, and when Helseth signed up, it was more in order not to regret it later, than it was because she thought she could win.
-Perchance it also has to do with repertoire, she muses:
-We have a chasm in our repertoire; between Vienna classicism and the 20th century. In romantic orchestral works it is evident that the composers like the trumpet. But still, we don’t have our Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and Brahms – or Grieg for that matter - constituting the typical soloist repertoire.
In hindsight she and many others are very happy that she did sign up for the contest, because the second place she won in the grand finale, performing with the Wiener Symphoniker, became the start of a career that many think will reach very far.
In November she will release her first solo record, with a selection of the most celebrated trumpet concertos. Included are works by Haydn, Hummel and Neruda –all of which date from late 17th and early 18th century. -As well as Albinoni’s obo concerto, which has been transcribed and become standard trumpet repertoire.
Why did you choose these works specifically?
-It was simply the repertoire I most desired to record. Many will wait to record standards until after they’ve released several CDs and feel that they really master the genre classics. But for me it’s simply the material I like the best, and I feel that it is really me, 100 percent.
Critical voices often argue that one should not record standard material if one has nothing novel to contribute. What are your thoughts on this, and what is it that you’ve wanted to contribute with your recording?
-Naturally, with a repertoire that’s been done so many times it can be difficult to give the music a personal imprint within the given framework. Yet I think that really good musicians are able to give a personal voice also to this kind of repertoire. I’m most concerned with not letting the instrument and the technical aspects bar the actual “music-making,” which is where and how I want to let my voice become apparent.
A good network
After the finals in Vienna, Helseth is no longer only an especially gifted trumpet player in Norway, but a much sought-after soloist internationally.
How has this transition been for you?
-First of all I’m glad that a lot is happening. I was pretty busy before Vienna too, but of course the format is of a different order now. It was a transitional period in many ways; I was about to start on my advanced musical education, and then I got management, and people started calling form abroad. But I have a well-functioning network, so I’m well informed and I’ve been able to prepare underway.
Does performing with big foreign orchestras make you nervous?
-Sure, but I’m always nervous, relates Helseth, -if not I’m not up to my personal best. It is however good to have someone to talk to before the concerts, that helps.
At what time she decided to become a musician is uncertain, it has rather always been that way.
-I’d seen that it was possible, she says, referring to Ole Edvard Antonsen, whom she’s known since childhood. –But I did not know what it took!
And this is now changed?
-Well, it’s the first thing I think of when I get up in the morning; that there is one thing I’m doing today and that is to practice. And then I have to decide when. It sounds gruelling, but it is obligatory.
So how does a day of rehearsing unfold?
-I practice the necessary amount, which is about three or four hours. The most important thing is to decide when to do it, so that I’ll have time to do other things as well. And it is vital to take breaks. Not just for physical reasons but also mentally; to remind yourself why you’re doing this, and what it is you want.
And in your case this is?
-To convey music –that is what I enjoy most of all. Sometimes, before big important concerts, I find myself wondering why I put myself through all the suffering. But it’s like that for everyone, and one soon forgets that feeling.
High standards in Scandinavia
20-year-old Helseth has been compared with some of Norway’s foremost musicians, such as Leif Ove Andsnes and Truls Mørk. Does that entail too high expectations, or does she see it as an advantage?
-It is flattering of course! They are fabulous musicians and I regard it a big boost that people believe in me like that. I think the standard in Scandinavia is very high in general, which is also recognized by people form other countries.
The audience is everything
Helseth is not only active as a professional musicians, she also heads the youth division of the Listening Society for Classical Music.
-Our main objective is make classical music apparent in society as such. We want it to be equally cool to know how many symphonies Mozart wrote as how many songs a pop band has made. I want everyone to have the chance to experience classical music, and discover the profound experiences one can have with it.
Is this your message when travelling the world as a soloist too?
-Well most of us play for the sake of the audience, and henceforth we bring with us the part of the experience that comes from them. Oftentimes I think that the audience is unaware of how decisive they are for a performance. The audience is almost more important than having a good orchestra and good conductor, says Helseth.
Diverging motivations, same result
Are there specific musicians or other individuals that you look up to?
-In general I find it fascinating to study many of the great musicians as individuals and characters; what they talk about in interviews and how they relate to their vocation. There are different motivations and bearings, but a recurring trait is that music is something they have to do; it’s not a matter of choice or discussion.