Bergen or bust!

Sister cities team up for Yuletide musical magic

By Lori Ann Reinhall, President, Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association

Introducing the Seattle-Bergen String Quartet: Zoë Kohen Ley, Rachel Nesvig, Allion Salvador, Aleida Gehrels Photo: Lori Ann Reinhall

A new friendship forms

It was the fall of 2015 when I received an email from Jim Nelson, an old friend and colleague in the Midwest, that a Norwegian musician was in Seattle and wanted to talk to someone about Scandinavian immigrant music. Not too long before, Jim and I had released a CD, Emigrant, so I was excited to make the acquaintance of the famous Hordaland singer Reidun Horvei.

Little did I know that this one brief meeting would lead to a new friendship and musical collaboration that would stretch over the Atlantic between Seattle and Bergen, with cultural exchange in both directions.

I first met Reidun Horvei in Seattle in 2015, and we have been friends ever since. Photo courtesy of Reidun Horvei

We met up at the home of Beth Kollé, another good friend and Seattle musician well versed in Norwegian folk music, and started to exchange ideas for Horvei’s project Migrasong, which would tell the story of the Norwegian emigration to America. Beth and I played music and sang together, there was apple pie with coffee, and lots of laughter. There was much to share, many cherished songs and fond memories.

I left Beth’s place with an invitation to Norway, and fortunatlely, I was able to accept a few months later in Febraury 2016, when I traveled to Bergen with Martha Levenson, director of the Seattle Lilla Spelmanslag. We met up with officials and musicians to talk about possibilites for the children to perform in Norway.

We visited Reidun in Voss at her charming yellow house, where her husband Ole Didrik Lærum’s family has served as doctors in the community for generations. It was cozy and friendly, and we immediately felt at home.

The home of Reidun Horvei and Ole Didrik Lærum in Voss is often the setting for intimate house concerts. Photo courtesy of Reidun Horvei

While plans with Lilla Spelmanslag had to be put on hold, I soon realized that the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association wanted to move forth with other plans. By that time, I had listened to all of her CDs, and I realized that we needed to bring her to Seattle for our annual Grieg Gala. We were celebrating our golden jubilee and wanted to do something special to mark the occasion. We had already put together a festival string quartet as we geared up a true celebration.

Jubilee joy

And what ensued was simply marvelous. Reidun arrived in Seattle in June of 2017 with Voss-based pianist Inger-Kristine Riber, and soon rehearsals were underway. It became an afternoon performance of Grieg at Ballard First Lutheran Church not to be forgotten. Riber had also arranged a traditional folk piece to perform together with the quartet. This first collaboration was pure musical joy to mark 50 years of friendship between our two sister cities. (See “Musical Sisters,” July 7, 2017).

Inger-Kristine Riber and Reidun Horvei performed together with the Seattle-Bergen String Quartet at Ballard First Lutheran Church for the 2017 Grieg Gala Concert Extravaganza. Photo: Martin Ng

Reidun and Inger-Kristine did not fail to take notice of the musicianship of the string quartet, which was comprised of four of Seattle’s best young professionals: Allion Salvador (first violin), Rachel Nesvig (second violin), Aleida Gehrels (viola), and Zoë Kohen Ley (cello). They performed Grieg’s famous string quartet with virtuosity to a standing ovation, and even before the afternoon over, it was clear: the Seattle-Bergen String Quartet needed to come to Norway to perform. It was an exciting prospect, and the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association was soon on board for a new adventure.

Creative collaboration

Acclaimed Norwegian pianist Inger-Kristine Riber has created original arrangements of traditional Norwegian Christmas music for the 2018 Norway tour. Photo courtesy of Inger-Kristine Riber

It was in the spring of 2018 when Horvei and Riber returned to Seattle for the opening of the new Nordic Museum in May with their production of Migrasong that plans for the quartet to travel to Norway began to shape up.

Eventually a concert was planned for November. We decided to kick off the Christmas season together, and Inger-Kristine soon set out to work on original arrangements of traditional Norwegian Christmas music for the transatlantic ensemble. An itinerary for Norway was mapped out that even included plans to record a Christmas CD together that could be shared with a wide public on both sides of the Atlantic.

Practice and prelude

A major concert tour requires rehearsal time, and with busy schedules, it was decided that it would make sense to bring Reidun and Inger-Kristine back to Seattle to prepare for the Norwegian tour. After so many trips back and forth, it feels like a family reunion for us all, and their return gives the group the opporunity to share the Christmas program on this side of the pond as well.

The Seattle Lilla Spelmanslag under the direction of Marth Levenson will perform at the Vintersong concert at Balllard First Lutheran Church on November 18th. Photo: Emil Weatherhead Breistein

A free community concert is scheduled for Sunday, November 18, 3:30 p.m., at Ballard First Lutheran Church, as we close out the traditional Yulefest weekend. Joining in is Seattle Lilla Spelmanslag, who will have just completed a workshop in Nordic folk music with Horvei and Riber. Reservations are encouraged, with tickets available at Eventbrite.

Norway, here we come!

First stop on the Norway tour is Eidfjord in Hardanger with its glorious scenery. Photo; Pixabay

With a little less than a week to travel across the Atlantic and rest up a little, the Norway tour will kick off in Eidfjord in the beautiful Hardanger region of Hordaland County, with a mini-concert at the Eidfjord fjell og fjord hotell on Saturday, November 24. The next day, there will be an intimate house concert at Reidun’s home in Voss, following by a session in the recording studio on Monday. The week in Hardanger will finish off on Tuesday with concerts at a local school and a home for the elderly. These will not only be opportunties to share our musical offerings, but a chance to talk about the mission of Sister Cities to bring people from around the world together.

A gift to the people of Bergen

On Wednesday, November 28, Lord Mayor Marte Mjøs Persen and 750 Bergensers will come together for a special holiday concert. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

But perhaps the highlight of the Norway tour will be a free concert for the citizens of Bergen in the historic St. John Church, Johanneskirken, on Wednesday, November 28, at 7:30 p.m. Lord Mayor Marte Mjøs Persen, who we lovingly refer to as “Mayor Marte,” will be attendance to open the concert and welcome her constituents and guest artists from America.

A rich and varied program is planned for the concert, not only featuring traditional Norweigan Christmas music, but American music performed by the Seattle string quartet as well, including the composers Jessie Montgomery and John Adams.

Over a month away, the concert was already sold out with 750 tickets reserved.

An emigrant experience

The last concert on the Norway tour is at the Emigrant Church at Sletta at Radøy. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A trip to Bergen and Hordaland County would not be complete with a trip to the Emigrant Church at Sletta in Radøy, where the last concert is scheduled on the evening of Thursday, November 29. There the Seattle visitors will learn more about the history of the emigration from Norway at the open air museum with buildings from the American Midwest.

Making a difference

I have always maintained that the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Assocation may well be the most musical sister city group in the world, a claim that I am sure the upcoming tour will hold up. It could also be said that we are “the little engine that could,” a small organziation that puts on big programs with a high impact.

None of this is possible without the support of many committed volunteers, and both in Seattle and Norway, countless hours have gone into the planning of the 2018 concert tour. Most of this time is uncompensated and given out of an idealist commitment to our mission and a love for what we do.

There are also many real costs to producing an international concert tour, and this is where we ask our friends, family, and friends to help. We urge you to think about making a contribution to our GoFundMe campaign to help us defer our costs for the trip and the incredible programs that we have for Seattle and Bergen.

Can you think of any better cause than cultural exchange and international friendship? Please help us along this amazing journey as all our dreams come true. Together we can make a difference — we thank you for your support and wish you a joyous holiday season!

Lori Ann Reinhall, President, Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association

To donate to the 2018 Seattle-Bergen Norway tour, please visit www.gofundme/bergen-or-bust.

Learn more about the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association at www.facebook.com/seattlebergensistercities.

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Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association

Lori Ann Reinhall shares updates about the Seattle Sister Cities’ international program.