Interview Ketil Bjørnstad

Ketil Bjørnstad is een van de belangrijkste muzikanten die Noorwegen rijk is. Op 10 januari was het precies vijftig jaar geleden dat zijn professionele muziekcarrière begon als klassiek concertpianist. Sindsdien verkende hij 
ook vele andere genres. Ook schreef hij vele novelles en boeken over kunst. Onlangs werd ter gelegenheid van zijn vijftig jarig jubileum een fraaie nieuwe editie uitgebracht van zijn vermaarde Rainbow Sessies. Nog steeds bewijst 
hij dat zijn muziek relevant is, vorig jaar bracht hij samen met Eva Bjerga Haugen het bijzonder fraaie Hun Som Kjenner Tristheten Ved Ting (She Who Knows the Sadness of Things) uit. Hoog tijd voor een terugblik op een glansrijke carrière
en natuurlijk ook een vooruitblik op de komende festiviteiten en wat de toekomst mogelijk nog in petto heeft.
First of all, congratulations with your celebration of being fifty years a musician and a performing artist.
Thank you!

You started your career as classical pianist at the age of sixteen, but at what age you started playing and can you remember which piece you learned first?
I started at six, when we got a piano. Started with Bach, or Mozart, I think. But I thought piano-playing was very boring, before I met this fantastic teacher, Amalie Christie. 

A bit later you discovered the brilliant album In a silent way of Miles Davis, what is special for you in his music?
His “authority”. Every single phrase became something special when he played. And he was important for the development of modern jazz.

How did it change you as musician?
Davis, Jarrett, Corea, Zavinul made me feel free.

In 1973 you started to release records on our Dutch label Philips, known for classic albums at that time as Dusty in Memphis. What was your reason that you choose for Philips?
Philips was very strong in Norway at that time. It was also a major label all over the world, and I was proud to be a part of their catalogue. It was my former producer Svein Erik Børja who made it happen.
One of your works for Philips was Leve Patagonia which you made with famous singers as Radka Toneff and Cornelis Vreeswijk. In the Netherlands Vreeswijk had a controversial reputation. How was it to work with him?
Vreeswijk was fantastic. We planned to do much more together, before he got sick and died. He was controversial in Sweden and Norway as well. But he was a fantastic artist and singer, I think. It was a melancholy around him I will never forget.
 Was the label involved in the choice for Vreeswijk?
In Norway at that time, it was incredible for everyone to collaborate with Vreeswijk, but he was my choice.
I discovered your music very late, when La Notte was released. It blew me away.I think it's one of your more adventurous albums, do you agree? 
Yes, thank you. It was like a dream to make it live, with those incredible musicians, and also with Manfred Eicher as producer, since he is so close to cinema with his label.
Nowadays you release your records on ECM and Grappa. One of my favorites is A Passion for John Donne. Allmusic compared it with Chopin as well with Sonny Rollins. Jazz and classical music goes here hand in hand. How natural is this combination for you?
Chopin and Sony Rollins. Wow! I like that. Perhaps Keith Jarrett was one of the pioneers when he began to improvise on classical harmonies and scales. For me, as a classical trained pianist, the classical music is always with me, whatever I try to express.

On A Passion for John Donne you work together with the wonderful Håkon Kornstad, who also has, I think, the same ideas about jazz and classical music as you. It must have been very easy to work with Håkon, wasn't it?
It was very special to meet with Håkon for the first time. We had so much in common, and to talk about. But he started with jazz and developed towards a classical expression. I did the opposite. It makes all our collaboration together very special.

Last year you released the brilliant album Hun Som Kjenner Tristheten Ved Ting (She Who Knows the Sadness of Things) together with Eva Bjerga Haugen. Funny that she started the same way as you, as a pianist. She was totally unknown for me, how did you meet her?
I am very happy that you like this album. It is also very special for me. Eva and I did the Grace-suite together in Stavanger, with a local choir, and I was shocked by the quality of what she delivered, and at that time I looked for a singer like her. 

Is there a chance you will make a record with her again?
I really hope we can do more albums together. We are already discussing an album with English and/or French text, but nothing is settled yet.

By the way, do you perhaps have a bucket list of people you still want to work with?
Yes, but it is too large to go in details!

Besides being musician, you are also a writer, especially a novelist. When do you starting writing, when you are a bit tired of composing music? 
Writing and composing is very hand in hand with me.
I read that you besides Norway, like Kari Kremnes, are very popular in Germany, any idea why? 
No, actually. But I am very fond of touring in Germany. It helps of course that most of my later books has been published by Suhrkamp and now also Osburg Verlag. And all the recordings with ECM, Universal and Grappa.

When you look back, what are the highlights for yourself of those fifty years?
All the meetings with wonderful artists, becoming friends.

This year started with releasing a beautiful new edition of your famous Rainbow Sessions. What more will 2019 bring for you (and us, of course)?
I will release a 5-cd box called «The World I Used To Know» in August. The title-cd was recorded in Abbey Road studio 2 in December 2018. Then I will also have two jubilee-concerts in The Norwegian Opera in Oslo.


Theo Volk