Famed Danish String Quartet returns to Santa Barbara in a pair of settings—a Nordic folk concert at Rockwood and a Danish composer-themed concert at Campbell Hall.
Danish String Quartet
When: 7 p.m., Tuesday at Rockwood, 670 Mission Canyon Rd. and Wednesday at 7 p.m. at UCSB Campbell Hall.
Tickets are $40 general and $10 UCSB students for Rockwood concert; $25-$40, general, $10, UCSB students for Campbell Hall concert.
One of the more rewarding instances of repeat visitors in Santa Barbara’s rich classical music calendar in this decade has come to us from Copenhagen, in the form of the Danish String Quartet. Though still young, the DSQ ranks among the finest string quartets in existence.
Making a dazzling local premiere at Hahn Hall five years ago, the quartet has been invited back on more than one occasion, through the auspices of UCSB Arts & Lectures, which has upped the ante this year by presenting two very different programs on consecutive nights. On Tuesday, the subject is “Nordic folk music,” arranged for string quartet, in the accommodating venue of the Rockwood Women’s Club, suitably adjacent to the rustic charms of Rocky Nook Park and Mission Creek (a creek currently even flowing water).
On Wednesday night, the handsome foursome shifts to Campbell Hall for a classical concert, proper, and one which brings together the string quartet form’s architect, Haydn with two Danish sources—Carl Nielsen and respected living composer Hans Abramansen’s Quartet No. 1, recorded for the quartet’s first ECM album in 2016.
More than a lark or a nod to a “side trip,” next week’s two-night folk-classical affair in Santa Barbara makes for an artistically logical and illuminating move. The group recorded its fascinating 2017 album (on the ECM label) “Last Leaf,” focusing on folk music from various Scandinavian sources, tailored and arranged for this group.
Meanwhile, Beethoven (soon to be celebrating his 250th birthday) is very much on the brain of this quartet, which has launched its “Prism” project, combining Beethoven with other composers and exploring the inter-connections thereof. Last fall’s album “Prism 1″—admixing Beethoven, Shostakovich and J.S. Bach–was one of the revelatory classical releases of the year.
The Santa Barbara/DSQ love affair continues, on campus and creekside. We recently checked in with violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen about the next local encounter(s).
News-Press: Do you have any particular feelings about a connection to Santa Barbara, and do you get a sense of continuity when returning to a particular city, which is off the New York/Los Angeles, etc.?
Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen: Well, we love going to California–especially in February where Denmark is freezing cold. Coming back to a place like Santa Barbara is always a nice thing, ?cause it means we must have done something right the first time.
NP: Does this kind of a double-concert presence, showing the classical and folk aspects of your group, work as an ideal showcase for the music that drives and defines this group?
RTS: I think it does, yes. We love the flexibility of being our own artistic directors, and we are very happy to get the chance to perform twice with such different programs.
NP: At UCSB, your program starts with the grandfather figure of the quartet form, Haydn, and features the Danish music of Carl Nielson, to close, and Hans Abramansen’s “Ten Preludes” Quartet you recorded years ago. Is there a certain thematic logic behind the program, beyond the Danish element and accent?
First and foremost, it is music that we enjoy playing. But we also like to present a window into the Danish sound – whether it be our traditional folk tunes, Carl Nielsen, who was the most prominent composer to define a Danish/Nordic musical language, or the contemporary composer Hans Abrahamsen. Studying in the 1970s and composing music in a constantly more globalized world where you have access to all kinds of music with a single click, Abrahamsen is from a generation where the notion of “a Danish sound” is fading out.
Nevertheless, Abrahamsen writes great and truly original music, and the Ten Preludes is a piece that has been following us for the last 15 years, so we feel very connected to it. And Haydn is Haydn – always fun to play.
NP: “Last Leaf,” which I assume will be at least partly the basis of your folk concert here, is a wonderful celebration of Scandinavian folk sources in the somehow perfect sonic context of a string quartet. A speculative question: would you say folk music has a stronger impact on or cultural role for Danes and other Scandinavians coming up than in other parts of the world? Were you all more tuned into folk music than rock/pop of the day, for instance?
RTS: The folk music plays a very central role in Sweden and Norway. People here consider the local music to be of big importance in how they identify themselves. Many musicians know how to play a traditional tune or two. In Denmark this is not so much the case.
But within the last decade, things have started to change in Denmark, and people are beginning to appreciate our own folk music traditions more and more.
In the quartet, we have all been listening to all kinds of different music through the years – also pop/rock. But since we knew how to play the folk music, it seemed like a natural thing to start arranging this music for our group.
NP: The “Last Leaf” album also seems, somehow, to reflect some of the artistic interests of the soon to be 50-year-old ECM label, which has always managed to cross lines from first jazz and folk traditions and then, through the New Series, classical music of the ages and including folk elements, Is ECM an ideal home label for the quartet, for this and other reasons?
RTS: ECM is the perfect label for us, and we feel very privileged to be working with them. After various collaborations with both Dacapo and AVI, it seemed like we found a home in ECM. Apart from the always perfect sound of the recordings, one of the great things about this label is the constant strive for the highest quality. Everything is done with such integrity and respect to the music.
NP: I was very impressed with your recent ECM release, Prism 1, which brings together J.S. Bach, Shostakovich and Beethoven, the anchor of the Prism concept. The music flows so naturally back and forth around the music of Beethoven. Can you tell me about the origin of this project, and how Beethoven has affected the group over its existence?
RTS: Having read the Beethoven biography by Lewis Lockwood, we realized that Beethoven in the final years of his life was very fascinated and inspired by Bach. It was also in the last couple of years that he wrote his five late string quartets. Bach’s music–especially some of the fugues from “Das Wohltemperierte Klavier” is ever present in these late quartets, and therefore it seemed like a natural thing to combine Bach and Beethoven in a series of albums.
But we also wanted to present some of the important composers who were inspired by Beethoven. Great composers like Mendelssohn and the 20th century masters Shostakovich, Bartok, Webern, and Schnittke were all carrying on the torch and by showcasing the direct line from Bach though Beethoven and on to more modern composers, our hope was to create a new way of listening to Beethoven’s music.
NP: The Quartet seems to be in a very creatively strong and forward-moving place by now. Do you have the feeling that the group’s musical life has worked out in a way you all dreamed of, or have things taken you by surprise? Or both?
RTS: Since we took the decision to go full time with the quartet in 2014, things have been going really well and a lot of interesting projects are in the pipeline for the coming years. We feel a freedom to be able to do what we want, and that is definitely a dream coming true.