Capturing the wonder and mystery of the Arctic
Do a quick image search for “Arctic” and you’ll find yourself awash in photos of craggy icebergs and dazzling crystal blue waters, of Polar bears romping across vast snow plains and the Northern Lights painting the night sky with a technicolor glow.
The mystery of this stark and stunning region entices the imagination into a climate and landscape as forbidding – and vulnerable – as any on the planet.
The austere beauty of the Arctic and the rapid ecological changes the region has seen in recent years are the inspiration for Norwegian violinist Eldbjørg Hemsing’s most recent recording, Arctic (Sony Classical). Featuring music inspired by the Arctic’s natural wonders, the recording is Hemsing’s love letter to the north and her plea to spare this region from the devastation that some portend for it.
Arctic is also a musical memoir of Hemsing’s early life in the southern Norwegian village of Valdres. There she learned about the beauty of music from her mother, a violinist, and the beauty of nature from her father, an environmental scientist. As she grew up, Hemsing often made treks north to the Arctic.
“I just completely fell in love with this region,” Hemsing said. “There’s something so magnetic and beyond powerful, where you feel like, as a human being, there is so little you can do, because nature is really the big deciding factor up in the north.”
Hemsing’s love of the dramatic landscape of the north is reflected in the sounds and subjects of the works on Arctic. The mesmerizing “Aurora,” “Sunrise,” and “Polar Winds” of Jacob Shea’s Arctic Suite are tone paintings of Nordic austerity and wonder. Norwegian-born Sámi composer Frode Fjellheim’s The Return of the Sun and Under the Arctic Moon are inspired by the joik, the traditional song of the Sámi people. Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo’s Dawn is a musical sunrise as lyrically expansive as the midnight sun of Arctic summers.
The works on Arctic capture the expansive scale of the Artic region in music both cinematic and elegiac. Most of the recording’s tracks have the feel of a farewell to a landscape vanishing from the effects of human activity.
“Unfortunately it’s quite noticeable, even in the region that I am from, which is not in the Arctic but just below it,” Hemsing said of the changing ecology of her native Norway. “The tree (line) where you see trees are growing is just getting higher and higher, and the season changes, how it’s much more unpredictable in terms of how warm it is for how long, how much the snow has changed. It shows that something feels very out of balance.”
If there’s one work on Arctic that defines the message of the recording, it’s Norwegian Henning Sommerro’s Vårsøg – “Search for a New Spring.” Composed shortly before the end of World War II to a text by Norwegian poet Hans Hyldbakk, Vårsøg marvels as the newness of springtime unfolds upon the world.
“(Vårsøg) was all about the hope for peace and the hope for a new beginning,” Hemsig said, “and this piece is really important in Norway. I think if you played it for someone on the street most people would be able to say exactly what it is. It has a very big meaning, a big metaphorical meaning, and I definitely had to put it into this recording. It’s a very special piece.”