The acclaimed Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes organised a mini-series of three concerts featuring music by his countrymen to coincide with an exhibition of the work of Norwegian artist Nikolai Astrup (1880 – 1928), the first ever outside of Norway. It is a mark of how important this artist is in the cultural landscape of Norway that Andsnes came to the leafy suburbs of south-east London to present these concerts, which amply proved, in the words of Dulwich Picture Gallery’s director Ian Dejardin, “there is more to Norwegian music than Grieg”. In addition to exploring the music, visitors were invited to view the exhibition of Nikolai Astrup’s colourful and expressive paintings, prints and woodcuts.
Music was important to Astrup. He grew up in Jølster in the region of Sogn og Fjordane, a landscape of scattered farms around a scenic lake, surrounded by high mountains. With no towns or large hubs nearby, access to classical music was minimal and the music that was most accessible to Astrup as he was growing up was Norwegian folk music, in particular the type played on the Hardanger fiddle. Dancers and fiddle-players appear frequently in Astrup’s ‘Midsummer Bonfires’ paintings, and references to music and musicians feature in many of his other paintings, along with the landscape of the area of Norway he knew well. Thus the programmes for the three concerts at Dulwich Picture Gallery revolved around the theme of Norwegian folk music and its influence on composers who succeeded Grieg. The music was selected to reflect the themes and beauty of Astrup’s paintings.