05 November 2009

Oslo shorts

We're in Oslo for a few days, planning to return to our home shortly with new documents. In the meantime, I'm dealing with my mixed feelings about how things look today in this country where I was born.

I've written before about the "wooden Norway" of my early childhood. I certainly have no business wishing that those who live here would still be coping with postwar shortages, but today's well-oiled national affluence (whatever inequalities it might mask) is startling. Clackety wooden commuter trains have been replaced by sleek, silky-smooth models. A small candy bar costs nearly $4, a Colgate toothbrush $6. The roads, too, have been transformed--so many surface intersections have been replaced by ramps and tunnels.

Norway's multicultural society is now redefining what it means to be Norwegian and testing whether Norway's long-held humane values can support actual flesh-and-blood diversity. (My grandparents, no longer alive, were having a hard time adjusting, which struck me as ironic considering my grandfather's participation in the resistance against the Nazis.)

From utilitarian Elektrostal, where the encroaching consumer culture still looks out of place, to glittery and efficient Oslo, where even the bathrooms are showcases of clever design--no wonder I have to look at my conflicting scales of values. After all, in Elektrostal, we have all the necessities of life: food, shelter, friendship, books. What more do we need, and why? (And why, all the same, is it so nice to be here, too?)



Natalia Strelchenko, who appeared this evening at the National Library;
this clip is in Norwegian with English subtitle.
My cousin Johan (we're named after the same ancestor) invited us this evening to a piano concert at the National Library on Henrik Ibsens Gate. I'd not heard of the pianist nor of the composer around which she arranged her evening. Pianist: Natalia Strelchenko. Composer: Thomas Tellefsen. It turned out to be a fascinating evening, but not exactly a standard experience of classical music.

Strelchenko is a Russian-Norwegian, born in St Petersburg but living in Norway for most of her adult life. I listened to her rapid Norwegian and wondered if my Russian would ever be as fluent. The clip I've embedded above gives a few hints of her performance style, which was full of impish flourishes. Sometimes she seemed to be exchanging confidences with the audience, sometimes with the composers; sometimes signaling her own delight at turning out a nice riff, sometimes maybe marking a cliche with ironic eyebrows. For most of the pieces she played, she began by standing before us and giving informal, unpretentious comments on the composers and their historical context, and then she flew straight to the piano, with no pause at all between landing on the bench and striking the first notes.

She played the piano like a classical version of the Funk Brothers' Earl Van Dyke--totally in charge of the instrument. Most of the time she seemed to be at full volume--only a few pieces this evening seemed to have much of a dynamic range--although maybe that's just an impression. The three mazurkas she ended with had their quiet moments. She was technically amazing, but few would use the word "sensitive" for her interpretations, much less "delicate." Maybe a classical concert is supposed to inspire loftier descriptions, but I found myself thoroughly entertained, and certainly more informed as well--I enjoyed getting to know the 19th-century Norwegian composers Thomas Tellefsen and Agathe Backer-Grøndahl. Tellefsen was at the center of her attention this evening; other composers were selected to show his influences (Chopin was one of his teachers), his contemporaries, his social circle (especially in Paris), and those who helped define his era. In his own time, she explained, Tellefsen was acknowledged as a superb pianist, but his compositions were neglected since they didn't fit the prevailing mood of romantic nationalism. Aside from Tellefsen himself, Agathe Backer-Grøndahl, and Chopin, the evening's composers included Rachmaninov, Liszt (who taught Backer-Grøndahl), and Balakirev.

Even her choice of piano played a role: instead of the National Library's Steinway, she used the Scandinavian-built Hornung & Møller grand piano to represent an instrument of Tellefsen's own period.



Righteous links:

Natalia Strelchenko's own site.

. . . and more about the National Library in Oslo.

I Am Second--an evangelistic presence on the Internet. (Some background here.) What do you think?

From Steve Fuller's blog: What he learned from an incomprehensible loss, even as he still wondered where God had been: "Church is family. Yes, there are other reasons for going to church, but as I've mentioned before, a lot of the functions of church can be met elsewhere. What you can't reproduce in a vacuum, or find online, or get from reading a book, is the sense of community that happens in church."

“I just don’t feel like I’ll ever be good enough.” More.

Less than a third of U.S. congregations report a decline in giving--see the Alban Institute story.

R&B keyboardist and doctor John Peterson of Muncie, Indiana, has a book out--and a delightful Web site to promote it. Friday PS: If you're in or near Muncie, the book release party is today! Details on the site.



Buddy Guy provides dessert...


Buddy Guy Slippin' In Glastonbury 08
Загружено Saklas. - Смотри больше видео клипов в HD качестве!

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