Storms and atmospheric narratives in the music of Hedvig Mollestad: “Tempest Revisited”, Rune Grammofon, 2021 on #neuguitars #blog

Hedvig Mollestad: Tempest Revisited (LP/CD) – Rune Grammofon

Harald Herrestahl and Morten Eide Pedersen speak of the Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim (1931 – 2010) in the book “New Music of the Nordic Countries” (pages 412 – 413): “Arne Nordheim, undisputed as today’s most important Norwegian composer. His “musical awakening” came as an organ student. when he heard the symphonies of Bruckner and Mahler. Already from that day, he certainly has had an expressionist leaning towards the epic-dramatic forms of music. This can be traced back to his early chamber song ode Aftonland (1957) and in the Canzona per orchestra (1960). Here he still writes in a “point” oriented style, employing techniques that can be related to Bartok, and a post-Mahler atmosphere pervading the music. However. as early as the orchestral work Epitaffio (1963) we can observe how he begins to compose through sound masses, here by means of vocally processed voice clusters on tape. In 1968 be composed Eco for soprano, two choirs and orchestra that marks the beginning of a new style period for him. The 70s witnessed the appearance of large-scale orchestra works such as Grinning, and Floating, that focus on the indistinct “middle-ground” musical material that slowly develops by use of Ligeti-like micro-polyphony, with shining and shimmering clouds often dominated by metal percussion. This organic flow in his symphonic writing is also inspired by his investigations in electronic music, where also masses of sounds are expanded, contracted, spliced, and filtered. Somewhat later, by the mid-70s, we see a clearer strucring of his music manifest by a return to traditional melodies. This turns the raw expressionism into more neo-romantic reflection, based on harmonic modalities.”

Nordheim, in my opinion, was a catalyst, a perfect example of the great innovative drive that much of the music of the period between the late 1950s and 1970s was able to express. An accumulation of energy and willpower. New timbres and sounds were put together in more explicitly narrative forms than before, and masses of sounds were concentrated and expanded to give more emotional force to the music, to lead to more clearly defined climaxes. In a sense, Nordheim succeeded in revisiting the symphonic forms of the Late Romantic period with new types of material to create music imbued with organic and logical evolutionary qualities, but, at the same time, elastic and fluid. Interestingly, while this was a period of radicalization of tonal material, he also showed a return to a musical reality based on a more direct approach to affective feelings. Perhaps, a reaction against the calculated symmetry and balance in much of the music of that time. In my disco I found only one album, the cd “Arne Nordheim Complete Accordion Works”, by accordionist Frode Haltli. Where there is the only, I believe, Nordheim piece in which the (electric) guitar is present, “Signals” (1968) For Accordion, Electric Guitar And Percussion and to perform it is an acquaintance of the Neuguitars blog: Raoul Björkenheim. The cases of life, paths, paths that intertwine with each other, and not by chance. Very, very interesting piece, which should be re-evaluated. also informs me that there is another version of it on the 1969 LP “Colorazione – Solitaire – Signals”, entirely dedicated to the music of Nordheim, with Ingolf Olsen on electric guitar. I will look for it. Prices are currently prohibitive.

I therefore find it singular and very interesting that, 11 years after his death, a guitarist, also from Norway, is in a position to be able to revisit his music, in particular the piece “Tempest”. Frederick Key Smith writes about “Tempest” in his book “Nordic Art Music”: “Quite memorable is his monumental ballet The Tempest (1979), scored for soloists, orchestra, chorus, and tape, in which consonance and dissonance, along with lyrical motifs and expressionistic sound blocks, are amalgamated in a work that Nils Grinde calls “a veritable aural fairyland that seems perfectly appropriate for Shakespeare’s magical drama.””

The Rune Grammofon website informs us that “Tempest Revisited” takes us back to 1998, the year in which “Electric”, the collection of electronic works by Arne Nordheim, was published. In that year parts of “The Tempest” were chosen to be performed at the opening of Parken, the new cultural home in Ålesund, Hedvig Mollestad’s hometown. To celebrate the twentieth anniversary, the house of culture chose to involve Hedvig Mollestad, a local artist who was already causing a sensation on the international scene with her power-trio. Hedvig took inspiration from the facade of the house, adorned with Nordheim’s soundtrack for “The Tempest”, while creating a direct link to the bad weather conditions of this coastal area in north-western Norway. The result we can admire is this new cd, “Tempest Revisited”, where Mollestad leaves the ‘comfort zone’ of her trio to manage a chamber ensemble of seven / eight excellent musicians: (Alto Saxophone) Karl Nyberg, (Bass) Trond Frønes, (Drums) Per Oddvar Johansen, (Drums, Bass Drum, Handclaps, Percussion) Ivar Loe Bjørnstad, (Guitar, Vocals, Handclaps, Upright Piano) Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen, (Soprano Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Baritone Saxopsen) Martin Myhre Olsen , (Tenor Saxophone, Flute) Peter Erik Vergeni, (Vibraphone, Synth) Mars Eberson.

The result is a beautiful and stimulating suite, which evokes and alternates different forms, from time to time lyrical and / or aggressive. “Sun On A Dark Sky” begins with the serene but eerie sound of a flute followed by menacing drums announcing the arrival of the more stormy weather to come. The highlight of the early “Winds Approaching” moments begins with a flurry of hand clapping and syncopated percussion, before the arrival of some propulsive bursts of baritone sax and a somber guitar riff, which returns at the end of the piece with renewed vigor. “Kittywakes In Gusts” has a more jazzy approach, with the two saxes generating sonic swirls. The longest track “418 (Stairs In Storms)”, the first calm in the storm, spans over eleven minutes, the first five of which create a perfect minimalist mood in large part thanks to Mollestad’s guitar. “High Hair” sees Mollestad’s guitar take on a more prominent role, closer to her trio music.

Once again Hedvig Mollestad managed to amaze and impress us with her music. “Tempest Revisited” is an atmospheric narrative where the masses of hot and cold air that generate the storms unite and collide with each other like the aesthetic forms, jazz, rock and contemporary music, from which it took shape. Mollestad confirms herself as a musician to follow and study.