The Eau Claire Chamber Orchestra’s performance this week will give one of the musicians a chance to combine her love of music with pride in her Norwegian heritage.
Robin Fossum, of Chetek, who plays violin in the group, also is a member of the Waldemar Ager Association. And a symposium the group is holding in Eau Claire to honor its namesake, who was an Eau Claire author and newspaper publisher, will culminate in a concert including music by Norwegian composers.
They will perform works by Edvard Grieg and Johan Halvorsen Saturday night in Pablo Center at the Confluence’s Jamf Theatre.
“They have a beautiful, flowing, colored, northern feel to them,” Fossum said of Norwegian music’s character. “You sometimes can also feel the snow – the darkness sometimes.”
But lightness enters the picture too, she said, describing some segments as “frolicky ... like little trolls dancing around sometimes.”
The distinctive sound of Norwegian music often is apparent to Fossum as soon as she hears it, she said, “like you can also identify Mozart and Beethoven.”
Fossum said the idea for the symposium and concert came from her husband, Robert Fossum, who also is a member of the association as well as a past president. The group decided to hold the gathering as a way of celebrating the fact that 2019 is the year of what would have been Ager’s 150th birthday. When symposiums are presented in the European style, Robin Fossum said, the series of lectures, exhibits and other programs typically ends with a concert.
“I must admit that Robert had this idea, and he asked me if he thought the Eau Claire Chamber Orchestra was willing to (present) a Norwegian concert,” Robin Fossum said. “And so I said, ‘Well, I can ask.’”
So she approached Frank A. Watkins, the orchestra’s conductor and music director. “He said immediately, ‘That sounds like a wonderful idea.’”
Watkins selected Edvard Grieg’s “Holberg Suite” as one of the works in part because it includes Norwegian folk melodies. “Great piece for the string section,” Watkins said. “It just fit the theme of what we were trying to do.”
The Johann Halvorsen music he chose, “Suite Ancienne,” has some similarities to the Grieg suite, including both composers’ use of melodies. “They’re definitely nods to their home country and their homeland,” he said of the works.
The concert program will diverge from the Norwegian theme for a collaboration with the Master Singers. The Eau Claire choir will join the orchestra on “Requiem for the Living,” a five-part work by contemporary composer Dan Forrest.
The Chamber Orchestra is appearing to perform the piece with the Master Singers at the choir’s concert today at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Eau Claire, and the Master Singers will return the favor Saturday at Pablo Center.
The two groups have worked together previously, and Watkins and Master Singers artistic director Gary Schwartzhoff spoke last year about possibly joining forces again.
Schwartzhoff recommended “Requiem for the Living,” “and I thought it would be a perfect piece for our size ensembles,” Watkins said.
The way Forrest orchestrated the requiem impresses Watkins.
“It kind of reminds you of movie music, kind of long, arching musical lines that come through,” he said. “I think it really sets the text … just the simplicity and the beauty of the music will really shine through.”
When it is suggested to Robin Fossum that the Chippewa Valley seems to reflect a strong Norwegian influence, she agreed but qualified it with a good-natured chuckle.
“(W)hat’s funny is that the Norwegian people are usually quite modest, and they never brag about their heritage,” she said.
In her experience, sometimes the younger generation may not have as strong an appreciation of their roots as their elders. Robin and Robert Fossum are involved in many activities that celebrate Scandinavian culture, she said.
“What I find is when I see a young man in the 28- or 30-year-old range and I’ll see their last name is (she gives an example), and I’ll say, ‘Your name is very Scandinavian or Norwegian,’ the person will say, ‘Yeah, somebody once told me that.’ It kind of gets lost in the wash, I guess, for a lot of people, a lot of Americans.”
However, with advances such as DNA testing, Robin Fossum has found some heightened interest among people about their heritage.
“A lot of Americans are finally thinking, ‘I wonder where I came from.’ Not just, ‘I’m American,’” she said. “And they’re learning more and more about their culture. So there seems to be a spike of interest there. It doesn’t mean you’re not a loyal American.”
But it just might bring a deeper appreciation of music in general — and in particular from your own cultural roots.
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