Ketil Bjørnstad — A passion for John Donne

Ketil Bjørnstad — A passion for John Donne (October 27, 2014)

    Ketil Bjørnstad — A passion for John Donne  Ketil Bjørnstad — A passion for John Donne ρ•ð   Composer and pianist Ketil Bjørnstad had worked with the texts of poet John Donne for many years. This evening he presents one of the results of his meetings with Donne’s poetry, the composition A Passion for John Donne. Ketil Bjørnstad wrote A passion for John Donne for the Oslo International Festival in the winter of 2011/2012 and the premiere performance, documented here, was at the Sofienberg Kirke in Oslo in March 2012. The Oslo Chamber Choir is sensitively directed by Håkon Daniel Nystedt, and passion is personified in the unique performance of Håkon Kornstad, who makes his ECM debut, as both tenor saxophonist and classical tenor singer. Kornstad makes the challenging transition from saxophone improviser to operatic vocalist seem natural in this context, and shines in both roles. Bjørnstad’s curriculum vitae has sketched a similar process in reverse: he began his career as a classical piano soloist before forming alliances with the jazz players.
Location: Oslo, Norway
Album release: October 27, 2014
Recorded: live March 2012
Record Label: ECM (ECM 2394)
Duration:     73:51
01 Introitus — a passion for John Donne     3:08
02 Thou hast made me     7:54
03 A fever     5:44
04 Death, be not proud     3:40
05 Interlude no.1     2:49
06 The legacy     3:49
07 Batter my heart, three personed God     3:28
08 A nocturnal upon St.Lucy’s day     8:34
09 Farewell to love     7:32
10 Interlude no.2     4:02
11 Since she whom I loved hath paid her last debt     2:22
12 A valediction, forbidden mourn     8:21
13 Oh, to vex me, contraries meet in     5:03
14 Interlude no.3     2:34
15 There we leave you     3:51
ρ•ð   Håkon Kornstad saxophone, flute, voice
ρ•ð   Ketil Bjørnstad piano
ρ•ð   Birger Mistereggen percussion
ρ•ð   Oslo Chamber Choir
ρ•ð   Håkon Daniel Nystedt conductor
ρ•ð   Nils August Andresen Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Elin Baustad Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Ketil Bjørnstad Composer, Piano
ρ•ð   Birgit Hvoslef Dahl Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Morten Delbæk Cover Photo
ρ•ð   John Donne Composer, Lyricist
ρ•ð   Birgitte Mydske Egner Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Frode Fjørtoft Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Karoline Dahl Gullberg Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Tone Knutson Holmgren Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Bram Janssens Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   John Kelman Photography
ρ•ð   Sascha Kleis Design
ρ•ð   Julie M. Kleive Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Torfinn Kleive Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Jan Erik Kongshaug Engineer
ρ•ð   Håkon Kornstad Flute, Sax (Tenor), Vocals
ρ•ð   Maria Malene Kvalevåg Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Sigmund Lahn Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Lars Eivind Lervåg Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Ørjan Matre Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Laila Meyrick Photography
ρ•ð   Birger Mistereggen Percussion
ρ•ð   Tuva Narbuvaol Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Astrid Nordstad Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Håkon Daniel Nystedt Conductor
ρ•ð   Oslo Chamber Choir Primary Artist
ρ•ð   June-Elin Ludvigsen Servan Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Marie Hvalgård Smith Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Elin Anita Storjord Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Ådne Svalastog Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Henrik Weisser Choir/Chorus
ρ•ð   Magne Ytterlid Choir/Chorus
»•  Ketil Bjørnstad’s passion for the English metaphysical poet John Donne (1572 — 1631) is a lifelong affair. His settings of Donne’s verse have led to recordings including The Shadow, Grace and the ECM album The Light. “After working with the texts of John Donne for more than twenty years, I still find new approaches to understanding what he wrote and I find music throughout. It is in the language, in the rhythm, in the silence between the sentences — a passionate quest for meaning and reconciliation. »•  Donne's dramatic life is reflected in the texts and everywhere in them you will find the passion, melodies and sounds”. Bjørnstad wrote A passion for John Donne for the Oslo International Church Festival in the winter of 2011/2012 and the premiere performance — documented here — was at the Sofienberg Kirke in Oslo in March 2012. The Oslo Chamber Choir is sensitively directed by Håkon Daniel Nystedt, and passion is personified in the unique performance of Håkon Kornstad, who makes his ECM debut, as both tenor saxophonist and classical tenor singer.
»•  In recent seasons Ketil Bjørnstad seems to have been reviewing the totality of his life’s work; his widely acclaimed trilogy of novels — To Music, The River and The Lady In The Valley — drew on his early classical experience, and both classical and jazz players have rubbed shoulders in projects such as the recent Edvard Munch tribute Sunrise, which also called upon the services of the Oslo Chamber Choir. Bjørnstad’s larger compositions have left areas open for improvised expression, as in the three “Interludes” here, with creative contributions from Kornstad and percussionist Birger Mistereggen, last heard on ECM in the company of the Trio Mediaeval (see Folk Songs), as well as from the composer himself.
»•  Over the years, Bjørnstad has been a highly prolific creator, with more than 50 albums and 40 books to his name. The Oslo–born pianist, composer, improviser, novelist, poet and essayist, described by The Guardian as “a cultural prodigy”, has been an ECM recording artist since 1993, when his Water Stories album was issued. »•  Other ECM recordings include The Sea, The River, The Sea II, Epigraphs, Life In Leipzig, The Light — Songs of Love and Fear, Remembrance, Night Song, Vinding’s Music — Songs From The Alder Thicket, La notte, his tribute to film director Antonioni, and the aforementioned Sunrise, a cantata on texts by Edvard Munch.
»•  The Oslo Chamber Choir was founded in 1984 by Grete Pedersen. The choir is noted for its quality, flexibility and an ability to combine and switch between different genres, such as classical, Nordic contemporary music and folk music. Its innovative exploration of the Norwegian song tradition, in particular, has earned the choir recognition at home and abroad.
»•  Ketil Bjørnstad, Håkon Kornstad, Birger Mistereggen and the Oslo Chamber Choir play A passion for John Donne in a special release concert at the Aula, Oslo, on October 31st 2014. In November, Bjørnstad is on tour with a solo piano programme.
Review by Thom Jurek;  Score: ****
ρ•ð   A Passion for John Donne is pianist and composer Ketil Bjørnstad's fourth recorded encounter with the English metaphysical poet’s work. The first was on The Shadow ‎in 1990, followed by Grace in 1999 and The Light in 2008. Bjørnstad has found a lifelong inspiration in Donne, and here, more so than on the earlier volumes, it is illustrated with the command and vulnerability it deserves. Bjørnstad is accompanied by percussionist Birger Mistereggen and noted tenor saxophonist Håkon Kornstad (formerly of Wibutee), who makes his debut recorded appearance as a tenor singer after three years of opera study. Fleshing out these musical settings is the Oslo Chamber Choir under the direction of Håkon Daniel Nystedt. This recording is the work’s premiere performance at the Oslo International Church Festival in March of 2012. Bjørnstad employs the full breadth of Donne’s writings to create this passion. ρ•ð   The poet lived a full and dramatic life; it was spent mostly in poverty and indulging as many carnal pleasures as spiritual devotions. Famous poems such as "Thou Hast Made Me," "Death Be Not Proud," and "Farewell to Love" are offered alongside lesser known works to reveal the complexity of the poet's psychology, and his generation of meaning amid the most turbulent emotional and spiritual states in everyday living. While largely a work of classical crossover, Kornstad's trademark tenor and flute soloing add just enough of the unruly and expressive spontaneity of jazz to add complexity and texture. His beautiful evocation of Sonny Rollins in "Thou Hast Made Me" is a gorgeous juxtaposition to the choral voices. The other side of his persona can be heard in the vocal solos on "A Fever" and "A Valediction, Forbidden Mourning," which are among the more bracing selections here. There are three instrumental interludes separating each section, the first of which finds Kornstad's spacious, flowing phrasing and granular tone atop an elegant, athletic Chopin–esque piano melody. The pace and intensity increase as the entire trio erupts into spirited improvisation. "A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day" is the set's hinge piece. The saxophonist's tremulous solo atop Bjørnstad's melodic statement introduces, alternately, the male and female sections of the chorus in trading verses. Elliptical piano and stately tom–toms add weight, with the saxophonist using tongue–slapped multiphonics for textured tension in its conclusion. “Since She Whom I Loved Hath Paid Her Last Debt” is an elegy performed a cappella by the chorus, though the harmonic setting makes it a near hymn to resurrection in expression. The languid "Oh, To Vex Me, Contraries Meet In" is emotionally transcendent, carried out by melodic improvisation between pianist and saxophonist. Ultimately, A Passion for John Donne is not only a celebration of the poet’s life and work, but a major entry in Bjørnstad’s canon. It displays his gifts of restraint, elegance, and melodic invention without unnecessary indulgences, while simultaneously offering the full weight of aesthetic exposition and emotional depth. ::
Tim Stenhouse

Ketil Bjørnstad A passion for John Donne