Up and Coming: Scandinavian Performing Artists on the American Scene

Article excerpt

In New York, artists can also be normal people," says Finnish-born dancer and choreographer Oona Haaranen, unlike in Scandinavia where the artistic circles are so small that artists easily appear "different." Maybe for that reason, many creative performers from the five Nordic countries are drawn to the United States, making an impact on the American scene in their unique approaches to the performing arts, while sharing a strong cultural connection to their native country and a solid educational background.

Multi-Talented Musician

Per Brevig, one of the world's leading trombonists, born in Halden, Norway, founded the Edvard Grieg Society in New York in 1993 to celebrate the composer's 150th anniversary; the society sponsors activities honoring Grieg and attracting attention to his music. Brevig's main interest is new music, and he feels obliged to bring Scandinavian music to the U.S. He has commissioned works by Norway's Egil Hovland and Arne Nordheim and performed them for numerous audiences, introduced young Scandinavian composers to the American public, as well as renewed the enjoyment of the music of Sibelius, Nielsen and Grieg, for which he has been awarded the Royal Norwegian Medal of St. Olav.

As a young boy, Brevig would go out into the woods and make flutes from branches years before he came to New York to attend the Juilliard School of Music, earning a doctoral degree in Musical Arts. He was principal trombonist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra from 1968 through 1994; then he decided to follow in the footsteps of his former teacher, the celebrated Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt. Brevig, who is already one of the best known American musicians of Norwegian origin, has been principal trombonist with such orchestras as the American Symphony, Bergen Philharmonic, and Detroit Symphony. He has released recordings ranging from works by Mendelssohn and Handel to new Norwegian music, and is on the faculty of several prestigious music institutions in New York including the Julliard School. Now Brevig is earning a growing reputation as a conductor around the world. His most recent honors include a "Salute to Per Brevig" in 1996 by the New York Brass Conference and the 1995 Neill Humfeld Award for excellence in trombone teaching.

Dance Innovator

Scandinavian dancers-Peter Martins and Helgi Tomasson et. al.have long been celebrated for their work in classical ballet. Contemporary dance in the U.S. also counts innovators from the Nordic countries. Irene Hultman is a dancer and choreographer in the forefront, exploring musical possibilities in her choreography: "Traditional dance uses music as an emotional cover, i.e. music directs emotion; I see dance as a musical voice; dance is music."

Hultman, born in Borlange, Sweden, trained at the Ballet Academy in Sweden and the Merce Cunningham Studio in New York. She has worked with choreographers Margaretha Asberg and Per Jonsson in Stockholm, danced with Eske Holm in Copenhagen, and was a featured member of the Trisha Brown Company in New York for five years. Forming her own company in 1988, she has since been awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in choreography and won critical acclaim both as a dancer and a choreographer. Dance critic Tobi Tobias in New York magazine said of her choreography for Cascade: "In three-second glimpses, Hultman offers ideas and feeling that more literal-minded choreographers take whole scenes to convey."

Collaborating with composers and visual artists, incorporating sculptures to interact with dancers, Hultman reinvents classical fairy tales and examines the mysteriousness of Scandinavia. Inspired by the tango of Finland, her Tango-Babe, set to music commissioned by the New YorkBuenos Aires Connection, and called a deconstruction of the tango by critics, was a hit in New York.

Inspired Performers

One of August Strindberg's key plays, The Ghost Sonata, really caught the New York audience's attention when another Swedish artist, the multi-talented Johan Petri presented his interpretation of it as a director of the Irondale Ensemble. …