It would be difficult to find a musician more well-rounded than Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud. The Scandinavian virtuoso is famed for his extraordinary reach as an artist, with a career that spans across performer, artistic director, composer, arranger, and improviser – an approach that recalls the style of early 20th-century icons, including Fritz Kreisler and Eugène Ysaÿe.
Henning joins us in September for a national tour – Grieg and Beyond – that celebrates the music of Norway’s most well-known composer. Ahead of the tour, Henning sat down with us to discuss Grieg’s influence on him, and how he in return interprets his music.
In what ways did Grieg’s natural surrounds influence his compositions?
Grieg was often out in nature, travelling into the fjords and mountains, getting inspiration from natural sounds and even more so from the folk music of the herd girls, calling for the herd and singing. He was also grateful for the violinist 'Ole Bull' who showed him the beauty of Norwegian folk music, who convinced his parents to get an education in Leipzig from Ole Bull, a composer and totally autodidact teacher.
Does being Norwegian yourself influence how you interpret Grieg?
It probably does in various ways. But let's look at it another way; Grieg also influences what it is to be Norwegian. Today we say much of his music sounds so Norwegian, but let's look at 'Morning Mood' from his Peer Gynt Opus which today is used in advertisements for Norwegian products. It is in fact written over a pentatonic scale and describes a sunrise in Morocco. In Grieg's own time it sounded foreign and not Norwegian at all, today we think of it as Norwegian.
What was your first experience with Grieg?
I think it was 'The Hall Of The Mountain King' which had such a striking melody. I also remember going with my school class to the theatre and trying to hide for my classmates that I was crying to the music of 'Death of Aase'.
What compelled you to rewrite Grieg’s violin Sonatas as Concertos?
Grieg wrote to his publisher and offered to write a violin concerto. The publisher asked for more piano music. It was distressing reading this, but then I thought, so much of Grieg's orchestral music started as piano music. The 'Holberg Suite' was originally for solo piano. The famous Norwegian Dances were orchestrated 3 times by others during his lifetime.
So together with Bernt Simen Lund (cellist in the Arctic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra), we ordered all the music Grieg had orchestrated himself to study what how he did that.
To keep the dialogue between violin and piano with different timbres in the orchestral versions, we decided to use four wind players. So now we have 3 violin concertos by Grieg with the orchestra. I still play the original versions, but people ask why we have developed interpretations when originals work so well, but they miss a crucial point.
Recitals and orchestral tours are 2 different things. I couldn't have played the original versions on an ACO tour. And for a chamber orchestra and soloist, there isn't much romantic repertoire at all.