Hardanger fiddler takes center stage

  • Article by: LIZ ROLFSMEIER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 10, 2012 - 5:55 PM

Former St. Olaf professor Andrea Een will play the traditional Norwegian instrument during Northfield's Bridge Chamber Music Festival.

Andrea Een

When Andrea Een first heard recordings of the Hardanger fiddle in graduate school, she became entranced with the nine-string instrument. Its four top strings are played like a traditional violin, but additional "sympathetic strings" or "understrings" resonate when the top strings are played to create an eerie, echoing sound.

"It gives it a really lovely, unusual quality," she said. "I fell in love with the music."

The hardingfele is only taught through oral tradition, so she started making pilgrimages to Norway, where she lived on her grandparents' farm and took a bus north to study under Lars Skjervheim, the fiddler she had seen in pictures of weddings on the Een farm.

"It's a really wonderful living tradition in Norway," she said. "It's something that never died."

At the 14th annual Bridge Chamber Music Festival in Northfield Thursday through Aug. 23, Een will play several original Hardanger fiddle songs.

The Hardanger fiddle dates back to the 1600s, and "they are works of art," Een said, usually decorated with intricate floral patterns in India ink, inlaid with mother of pearl, and sometimes accented with pieces of bone. In America, she said, people of Norwegian descent often have one in the attic that has been in the family for generations.

Een recently retired from St. Olaf, where she taught for 35 years and where she established a thriving Hardanger fiddle studio, the only one in the United States. In 2002, she received the St. Olav Medal from King Harald of Norway for her promotion of Norwegian culture abroad.

"I think there is a real growing interest in it," she said of the hardingfele.

Her set includes a springar -- a traditional Norway folk dance -- devoted to Skjervheim; a bridal march called "Platinum" written for parents' 65th wedding anniversary; a song called "Autumn Waltz" composed in a loose-string tuning; "Lullaby for Midsummer: Elegy for Norway," a response to the 2011 Norway attacks; and a schottische (or a reinlender, as it is called in Norway) called "Amy's Reinlender," written for a friend who helped establish the Fund for Folk Music and Dance at St. Olaf.

David Carter, artistic director of the festival, said he enjoys sometimes incorporating folk or jazz traditions into the classical setting. "In chamber music, everyone reacts to each other," he said. "It seemed to me that it was a natural thing to bring together."

The chamber music series begins on Thursday with a free young-artists' recital.

At 7:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at John's Lutheran Church, Twin Cities group Ataria String Quartet performs an intense, introspective piece by Russian composer Dmitry Shostakovich, "Quartet #14 in F sharp minor, Op. 142," and an early quartet by Beethoven, "Quartet in C minor Op. 18 #4." WindWorks, a woodwind quintet, will perform Paquito D'Rivera's "Aires Tropicales," a piece Carter described as "light-hearted" and "fresh."

A program at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 21 at Urness Recital Hall features Een's Hardanger fiddle tunes, one of Mozart's last works, "String Quintet in D major, K. 593," and Brahms' sweeping "Piano Quartet in A major, Op. 26," which Carter said is not often performed due to its length and complexity. Performers are Taichi Cen (violin), Francesca Anderegg (violin), Hector Valdivia (violin), Charles Gray (viola), Andrea Een (viola, Hardanger fiddle), David Carter (cello), and Nicola Melville (piano).

At 7:30 p.m. Aug. 23 at Urness Recital Hall, Minnesota Orchestra Concertmaster Erin Keefe (violin), Andrey Tchekmazov (cello), and Esther Wang (piano) perform "Duo for Violin and Cello" by Zoltan Kodaly, which draws heavily on Hungarian folk influences, Ernest Chausson's "Piano Trio Op. 3," and another late Mozart piece, "Piano Trio in E major, K. 542."

Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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