Last Leaf, a compilation of Nordic folk tunes presented in a classical format, is the latest recording of The Danish String Quartet. What was your goal for this particular recording? Knowing your communal passion for folk tunes, we have to ask, is it usual young Vikings to be so fond of folk music? Rune: In 2014, we released Wood Works - our first album with traditional music from Scandinavia. The goal of Last Leaf was to build on all the experience we got from making Wood Works with the hope that Last Leaf would be a better and more coherent album as a whole. We were focusing a lot on the overall shape of the album - from the first note to the last. We wanted it to feel like a connecting travel instead of just being 16 separate tracks. Playing traditional music is a cozy and enriching side project for us. The process of making all the arrangements, going to a remote museum to record, editing, mixing and all that stuff, was somehow a goal in and of itself. We love the music, and seeing that it actually has an effect on the audience, makes us very happy Vikings. Haydn, Brahms, Mozart, Nielsen are some of the timeless composers whose music you know well through their music. What do you credit with your superior interpretation of their music?
Fredrik: In general, it´s very hard to be the judge of your own work. Our job is to be very critical in the process of studying a piece, and then leave it up to the audience to think whatever they feel like when we present it at concerts. In the rehearsal process though, it´s of great importance that we stay open minded, searching for impulses and new colors. Our development as a quartet relays almost entirely on that.
One strength that we have, is actually that none of us comes from a really strict tradition or a particular “school” of music making. This means that we´ll have to meet both Mozart and Nielsen with the same degree of openness, which I ultimately think is the best foundation for a healthy and developing relationship with any composer of any time.
How much work does it take to be The Danish Quartet? What does it take to perform and record the high level of quality music you do?
Asbjørn: Well, it takes a lot of work and it has taken a lot of work. First of all, we needed to reach a certain individual instrumental level, then we needed to put in 1000s of hours together in ensemble rehearsals (someone wise said that it takes 10 years of work to form a real string quartet). These days we work as much as we have to and not a second more. On average, it adds up to many hours per day. Especially when we tour, we work like crazy people to be able to see our families when we are back home.
What is your connection to new music? Who are your favorite contemporary composers?
Rune: We like to play new music. Our first encounter with a contemporary composer was in 2004 where we played a piece by the Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen at a competition. Since then we have seen it not only as a pleasure, but also a duty to commission new pieces for a string quartet.
We strive to have one new commission every year. In the coming seasons, we will play new pieces by Bent Sørensen, Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen and Hans Abrahamsen - all great Danish composers who we love.
In your bios as well as in your live performances you come across as really down to earth individuals despite your international success. What keeps you grounded?
Fredrik: We are proud when looking back on our career and see all the things we´ve done. But when looking forward and in to the endless possibilities and the infinite level of perfection and emotion that lays ahead, it´s impossible not to be humble.
The more and the harder we work, the more we realize that we´ve only seen the top of the iceberg. So as long as we work hard and keep aiming high, I’m sure we´ll have both feet safely on the ground.
What makes you believe you’ll be playing together until 2060 as you’ve promised your followers?
Asbjørn: We enjoy what we do, we have fun together and we get to make all the decisions ourselves.
Do you have unwritten roles for each other like: the intellectual, the prankster, the dreamer, the adventurer or anything along those lines?
Rune: I guess that all groups have some sort of unwritten roles. The above mentioned, actually fit quite well on the four of us. The dynamic of every chamber music group is different, of course. Where the magic starts to happen, is, if you can manage to create something that is greater together - when the group becomes a better musician than the sum of its individual parts. It takes a while to get there. You need a deep understanding of each other on both a personal and musical level, but when it happens, you can feel it. And it makes all the practicing and hard work worthwhile!
Where are the places you go to recharge your batteries and get inspired for more beautiful music making?
Fredrik: The short answer here is home. We all have different hobbies and interests that we enjoy when not playing, but being a lot on the road, really makes you miss your family as well as some daily routines and predictability in life.
What are some of the most notable experiences you’ve enjoyed together as The Danish Quartet?
Asbjørn: For me it is a mixture of the big moments, like winning the London String Quartet Competition and playing concerts in famous venues and then all the small moments. Sharing a beer after a concert somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Driving through the night, talking and listening to music.
What are you currently working on? What are you looking forward to in the days and months ahead?
Rune: Right now, we are working on a new program called The Thrill of the Hunt. It contains four pieces by Haydn, Mozart, Brahms and Widmann, all associated to the sounds of an old school hunt. Imagine horns, nature sounds and fast paced rhythms. Especially the Widmann piece is quite tricky and needs a lot of rehearsing, but it’s a great piece full of new ideas, and we cannot wait to perform it for an audience.
Also, we have a concert series in Copenhagen called Series of Four. We invite fantastic artists from near and far to perform with us, and being a part of the production side of the table, forces us to think about what actually makes a concert a good experience for the audience. It takes a lot of office work, but we like it a lot!