Dancing Suite to Suite
Dancing Suite to Suite is the fruition of the search for roots musical and genealogical. I first set foot on my ancestral land of Norway in July 1998. Landing in Oslo, I was greeted by my cousin Jens Moe who whisked me straight away to Telemark to meet the hardangerfele player Tarjei Romtveit at his bucolic home in Vijne where we fiddled for most of the afternoon. Lodgings were in a hytte with a sod roof by a rolling stream in Mjonoy where we resumed the fiddlefest the following day.
I had been yearning for a hardangerfele lesson since my childhood, intrigued by the intricately inlaid Norwegian violin with five sympathetically vibrating strings underneath the bridge. Tarjei taught me his favorite tunes, which I preserved on DAT tape for future practice sessions. Jens and I searched for Noekken and other trolls during our midnight hikes in the rustic forest. After several days in Oslo, I made the pilgrimage to the family island near Kragero where I met more cousins, and slept in the same bed as my great uncle Tillman Breiseth had years ago while on vacation from teaching Ibsen at the University of Oslo. I gathered enough Nordic inspiration for the trek to Denmark where I was engaged to play several solo violin recitals at Klint, a community which gathers each summer to study the writings of the Danish cosmologist Martinus. I played the concerts at Klint for an enthusiastic audience.
After the second concert, Ole Saxe invited me to jam with him on drums and piano on any evening after dinner, but I was far too interested in hiking along the coast of Nykoebing Sjaelland at midnight. So our musicmaking did not begin until I received the gift of the score Salsa for Karen in September 1998. The notes leapt off the page, demanding idiomatic interpretation. I learned the gem in a week and it quickly became a staple of my repertoire as an encore, or by adding Nigerian clay pot (udu) played by Ian Dogole during our duo recitals. I was elated to have such a dynamic piece in my arsenal.
Following the suggestions of a friend, I requested an entire suite from Ole Saxe based on the model established by Johann Sebastian Bach: multinational dances related by key comprising an organic whole. Within several weeks Jig for Alan appeared as a gif file on my computer. Then followed the Ziga Dance, Rhumba de la Luna, Redhaired Tango, and finally the Flamenco Alojera, all composed by the end of March 2000. These dances reflect Ole's background in folk themes and rhythms and are vivacious and intoxicating to practice and perform. We finally premiered the Dance Suite in its entirety in Palo Alto, California on December 8, 2000 at 8:45 pm, following a performance of Bach's D minor Partita. Ole was present for the premiere and the subsequent performance at Anna and Frank Pope's ballroom in San Francisco. We were further encouraged by a grant from the Community Foundation of Silicon Valley as well as Maestro Eric Kujawsky requesting Ole to orchestrate the Dance Suite for a performance with the Redwood Symphony in April 2002.
On October 23 and 24, 2001 we recorded Dancing Suite to Suite at Skywalker Ranch. We added Odd Bakkerud's epic hardangerfele tune Fanitullen as a spice to this recording which celebrates the joy released by the chance encounters that led to this Swedish American collaboration. It is purported in Scandinavian mythology that a fiddler must spend time in the water to achieve excellence and inspiration. The cover photo represents a fiddler seated on a rock in a stream at the base of Mount Shasta, absorbing fluidity and virtuosity from Noekken the water spirit.
Dance Suite for Solo Violin, by Ole Pullar Saxe
Salsa for Karen, dedicated to my special violin muse, is the origin of the whole suite. From a concert in Klint in Denmark, where Karen played part of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, as well as the Flight of the Bumblebee by Rimsky-Korsakov, came the idea to write a salsa, especially for Karen. I understood that it would be possible to catch both rhythm and spirit in the salsa music through her capacity, and felt a certain excitement building up inside. We never talked about this at the time, but later I suggested the idea by email, and received the reply "Go for it!" From this point musical scores went to and fro between Sweden and San Francisco, and the suite came to life. The Afro-Cuban music is very much my musical identity. In our world music band Mondo Muziko we often play both salsa and Afro music for multicultural dancing. This is music for joy and togetherness that crosses borders and limitations, and offers a generous and warm experience of love. Salsa music moves your feet and hips and it was not until my 40-year crisis made me buy a drum set that I fully found this joy as a musician.
Flamenco Alojera emanates from a strange recognition of the Spanish temperament and culture within me. Maybe the contrasts in the dramatic mountain view over the little village Alojera, on the Canarian island Gomera, is similar to the ups and downs of this music. So the music was formed after a holiday in the Gomeran mountains. Another association is from a period of my life where I lived in a flat in Stockholm, with an American blues singer Eric Bibb and his Spanish wife Magalida in the flat below, and a Spanish flamenco singer Rogelio in the flat above. So the music was all around, and the rhythm of the flamenco clapped and tapped through the floor with the heartbreaking improvisations of Rogelio's voice on top and Eric's below, shaping my dreams at night and growing seeds of hot passion and mellow blues into my cool Scandinavian blood. Often when I play some lyric Scandinavian folk music, I suddenly find the music changing into burning Spanish rhythms and scales. Where did this Spanish blood come from?
Ziga dance is dedicated to my Bosnian friends Enes Ziga (folk musician) and his wife, Elsa Ziga (folk dancer). Enes has a beautiful voice and can sing mellow ballads from the Balkans all night. These folk songs are influenced by Arabic scales, and the 7-beat rhythm is common in this music. We have made several concerts together (one at the Siljan festival) where the audience would dance in a circle, the Swedes trying to get their hambo, and polska feet to catch up with the elegant Bosnian dancers. Sometimes beautiful belly dancers from Iraq would join the musicians on stage (very difficult for musicians to concentrate on playing though). The light theme is inspired by a Macedonian folksong. This fusion of international music and dance in the Leksand community has meant a lot for the integration of 150 Bosnian refugees in our little Swedish society during the period of war in Yugoslavia.
Jig for Alan is dedicated to my father in law, half British, quarter Scottish and quarter Irish, with a deep interest in music. The Jig is inspired by a magical evening in Danish Skagen. Landing with our little sailing boat on a nice summer evening after sailing all day from Gothenborg, Sweden, we went to a music bar, Visekrogen, to see if some Danish folksingers were on stage. To our surprise it was an Irish evening, with an Irish singer and his band of banjo, violin and pennywhistles. Being the first long trip for Alan in a time of deep personal crisis due to serious illness in near family, this was like paradise. The jigs and reels moved faster and higher and the Danish beer moved down in the warm, family-like atmosphere. This was the climax of a wonderful sailing holiday between Sweden and Denmark that even musically took us way out west to the greens of Ireland.
Redhaired Tango emanates from a childhood memory of a school dance in the huge school auditorium. I was eight years old, deeply in love with the redhaired girl in the class. Gathering courage, it took several hours before I dared go across the endless floor to ask her for a dance. She said "Yes". And guess what the band played? TANGO! My dance lessons had not reached beyond valse and jitterbug, so I struggled through the dance, to the sacrifice of my partner's feet. My childhood's many unhappy but passionate romantic feelings are well symbolized by the temperament of the tango music.
Rhumba de la Luna was actually composed during a night of full moon. I'm not sure of the origin of the inspiration, but I guess the mellow tone is about loneliness in the night. But there is hope and love in the air as well. The secret of the moon resides deep in our subconscious, with our roots and shadows of the past. Maybe these roots go way back in time to our common African roots: the origin of man. So the Afro-Cuban rhythmic glow gives a sharp edge to the lunar softness.
Ole Pullar Saxe, 2000
Karen Bentley's recordings of original music include Electric Diamond, Angel, Konzerto and Succubus, and Ariel View. She collaborates with multipercussionist Ian Dogole of Global Fusion in a variety of musical styles merging violin, viola and Norwegian hardangerfele with African talking drum, udu, dumbek, and mbira. She has concertized throughout Europe, Asia, the United States and Canada, and Russia where she performed Vivaldi's Four Seasons and the Beethoven Violin Concerto. A native of Palo Alto, California, she was in the Bay Area progressive rock band Tesseract, and recorded with Camel on Harbour of Tears. A champion of contemporary music, she has premiered compositions by David Felder, John Halle, Stuart Diamond, Bruce Hanifan, Ole Saxe and others. She attended Indiana University where she studied with Josef Gingold and Yuval Yaron and received both Bachelor and Master of Music degrees. Other teachers include Camilla Wicks, Nathan Milstein, Glenn Dicterow, Phil Cohen and Jean Jacques Kantorow. She is the violinist in the Paul Dresher Electro-Acoustic Band and currently resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Ole Pullar Saxe was born in April 1952 in Copenhagen, and has lived in Sweden since 1973, now at Lake Siljan. As a chiropractor and psychodramatist he is head of the School of Holistic Therapy, giving classes in alternative medicine, relaxation therapy and drama. Apart from piano, he plays the guitar and loves to sing and plays the drums in a jazz trio and a world music band for which he writes songs in various styles. As a composer he has recorded two albums of relaxation music inspired by the seven seas and Scandinavian nature, as well as four musicals, among others the fairytale Travel Companion by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Other compositions include settings of Swedish poems by Gustav Fröding, a string quartet inspired by Cuban salsa rhythms, and in 2000 this Dance Suite of contemporary dances for solo violin. Ole Saxe is a great lover of all waters. Whenever he gets a chance he is either swimming, paddling his kayak, sailing, or teaching his boys to do so.