The Violin Channel recently caught up with Norwegian Baroque violinist Bjarte Eike – whilst currently on tour across the United States.
In a VC-exclusive blog, Bjarte talks us through his latest project, ‘The Alehouse Sessions’ – an ever-evolving look into the music of the English 17th century taverns, alehouses and pubs.
“The Alehouse Sessions program was born in 2007 when my ensemble, the Barokksolistene played in a Norwegian Festival which had an English theme. Researching this theme, I learned of the London pub scene of the 17th century when the theaters were forcibly closed during the Reformation and composers and musicians went to the taverns and started improvised sessions, which became concerts in their own right – open to everyone and an enjoyment for people from all walks of life.
As the name suggests, the Barokksolistene is based on the foundations of early music, but designed as an open space to explore music, through unusual programming, improvisation and collaborations with artists in all different genres.
Regardless of genre, music has always simply been music to me, so I became fascinated by the idea of presenting this repertoire not in the concert hall, but in the environment for which it was designed, the Alehouse. I knew this would be a program that would allow us to step out of our comfort zones and really let rip.
With the Alehouse Sessions, we aim to recreate that feeling and ambience of the old English taverns, using music and stories from Purcell’s time but making them our own through new arrangements and improvisation. It is flexible, and never the same show twice, like an organic, living organism that never stands still.
Ten years later, this project has grown in importance for me personally, but it has also become so relevant to society today. The English public house is where people have traditionally met to escape and take time out to discuss everything from world politics to personal problems. Too often now we escape only in cyberspace, surrounded by people we want to be friends with and share everything, but with whom we aren’t actually communicating directly. When we are performing the Alehouse Sessions, we invite the audience to become a part of that dialogue, to not only listen, but also to participate. This is a totally absorbing atmosphere for everyone both on and off stage.
When we recorded The Alehouse Sessions live, we also created something of a social experiment. Just as I hand-pick the musicians for each project, on this occasion I also hand-picked the audience. None of them had any idea what they were going to hear and some only came just to give support even though they didn’t have any interest in ‘classical music’. My yoga teacher came, my dentist, a couple of lawyers, some neighbors and everyone was blown away by the experience. It proved the validity of this project in its ability to break down walls. Most importantly it proved a valuable moment where we could come together as people from different backgrounds to share an experience through both music and social interaction.
The Alehouse Sessions is a tale of how art survives and adapts despite censorship, political movements and lack of money – the project has developed into the epitome of what Barokksolistene is all about: a creative outlet for strong, virtuosic individuals who collectively create something wholly unique, timeless, without regard to genre, which communicates to a wide audience across all layers and ages in society.
Bringing the Alehouse to the US
As one might guess, alongside my classical training as a violinist, I have also been deeply involved in folk-music, especially Norwegian and Celtic. I am fascinated by how one can trace folk songs and melodies throughout the world, changing in style from country to country, but still keeping some strong similarities. I’ve found it intriguing that the fiddling music found in the bluegrass and Canadian (Quebec) traditions have so much in common with those of the Scandinavian, British and Celtic sorts. So I love to include some (old) folk music from Scandinavia, Canada and the USA in Alehouse performances. For years I have wanted to present the Alehouse Sessions in the US – because of these musical similarities – but also because I think the American public will relate, in a strong way, to our music, our theatrical boldness on stage, our outspoken nature as artists, and the mixture of musical styles we like to present. This “Alehouse Mix”, like America itself, is a melting pot of sounds, genres and presentation we know will resonate with audiences in the US.
The Alehouse Sessions |CD|
Release Date: June 29, 2017
‘The Alehouse Sessions’ 2017 U.S. Tour:
- October 5 – Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University – Princeton, NJ
- October 6 – International House, The University of Chicago – Chicago, IL
- October 8 & 9 – Washington National Cathedral – Washington DC
- October 10 – World Cafe Live – Philadelphia, PA
- October 11 – SubCulture – New York, NY
- October 12 – The Schubert Club – Minneapolis, MN