Per Norgard, avant-garde


POSTED: Friday, November 21, 2008

It was a leap of faith on Robert Pollack's part.

The founder of the Maui-based Ebb & Flow Arts received funding from a Milwaukee-based foundation to commission an original work for his ensemble, made up of himself on piano, clarinetist Scott Anderson, violinist Ignace Jang and cellist Mark Votapek.






        Featuring the works of Per Norgard. Call 876-1854 or visit


» 5 p.m. Sunday: McCoy Studio Theatre, Maui Arts & Cultural Center. $25, $12 for students and seniors (4 p.m. pre-concert discussion with Norgard)


» 7:30 p.m. Monday: The Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Academy of Arts. Free admission


» 7:30 p.m. Tuesday: Orvis Auditorium, University of Hawaii-Manoa. $12, $6 for students (free lecture by Norgard, 12:30 to 2 p.m.)



The question was, What composer would Pollack choose? As the musician pondered, he remembered his meeting in Copenhagen some 20 years ago with—and playing the music of—Denmark's leading contemporary classical composer, Per Norgard. He was impressed by Norgard's reputation and the formidable body of work based on the man's unique compositional system called the “;infinity series,”; which encompasses a broader sonic palette.

A year ago, Pollack got in touch with Norgard, and, to his surprise and delight, Norgard accepted the offer. The resulting work, “;Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,”; will get its world premiere in Maui and Honolulu. The piece is part of a series of special concerts featuring Norgard himself playing two of his own works.

“;The piece was influenced by the Hawaiian chant, specifically done by George Naope, from the CDs I sent to help inspire Norgard,”; said Pollack from his Kula home. “;In the resulting composition, there's a very original but clear reference to the chant in the cello part. Norgard told me that he was taken by the fact that both Hawaii and Denmark are island nations, as it were, so there's the influence of water also in the piece. The title is taken from a larger work by Walt Whitman called 'Sea-Drift,' from his compilation 'Leaves of Grass.'

“;Norgard's music is extremely challenging in its subtlety,”; Pollack continued. “;There are interesting effects throughout, and there's even a point when the ensemble whispers the title of the piece. But still, Norgard says he wants to make sure that his music has an 'auntie' quality—music that would appeal and be comprehensible to someone like his auntie. But Norgard has the ability to couch it in works of remarkable complexity. That's the intrigue and appeal of his music.”;

Norgard is the author of more than 300 works, including seven symphonies, concertos, choral works, operas and solo pieces that span 40 years. Pollack said close to a dozen of Norgard's works will be played during the three days of performances. They will focus on the composer's solo and chamber pieces.





Per Norgard


NOW 76, Norgard has a voice that was quiet but thoughtful as it came over the phone Thursday from Pollack's home. He had just flown in from his Scandinavian home country, but despite the long plane ride, he was still willing to talk about his life and artistic philosophy.

Norgard said his career seems to have fallen conveniently into 10-year periods. His first symphony, written during the 1950s, explored “;the universe of the Nordic mind”; and was heavily influenced by a personal hero of his, the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Working through his experimental, “;cosmic-consciousness”; phases of the '60s and '70s, Norgard would begin developing his hierarchical infinity system working with melody, rhythm and harmony. The composer created music in the '80s of a more conflicted, even schizoid feel. Since then, Norgard has taken his exploration further in layered, tonal sounds.

The intent of the composer's work is to expand human consciousness.

“;It's been a continuing search through my whole life, trying to effect a positive relation to the world,”; he said. “;If there was a motto to be gotten from the opera I wrote during the '70s based on the legend of the young Buddha, Siddhartha, it would be there is no ideal without a catastrophe. Working with the polarities in my life has been my guidance, going between suffering and ecstasy.”;