Kári Bæk (b. 1950) has been active on the Faroese music scene for 40 years as a musician, composer, arranger, conductor and music teacher. He is coming to Bodø with the piece Og dansurin gongur , performed by Bodø Domkor. It’s a Norwegian premiere.
Already an accomplished arranger, Kári moved into composition in the late 1970s and is now one of the foremost Faroese composers. He is regularly commissioned by both Faroese and international choirs and ensembles, and his works have been performed by artists including the King’s Singers and The London Symphony Orchestra. Kári has written works for solo instruments, chamber ensembles, symphony orchestras and choirs.
In 2012 Kári was nominated for the Nordic Council Music Prize and in 2014 he received a 12-month artist bursary from the Faroese Culture fund. Most recently in 2019, the London Symphony Orchestra performed the musical fairy tale ‘Veiða Vind’, for which he wrote the music.
Two albums exclusively of Kári’s music have been released: ‘Aftirundirgerð’ (2004) with chamber music and ‘Flóðir av ljósi’ (2006) with choral music. His works have also featured on recordings by many artists.
Kári’s choral music has been published by eWH and Ejeby förlag. Several of his instrumental works are available on trevcomusic.com in the US.
Kári is a member and former chair of the society for Faroese composers , and is also currently the president of the Faroese Choral Society.
The lyrics on your piece “Og dansurin gongur» is by Tummas N. Djurhuus. Can you tell us a bit about him and how you worked with his texts?
“Og dansurin gongur” was written by Tummas N Djurhuus in memory of the Faroese trawler Stella Argus which was lost at sea north of the Faroes during a storm in 1957. The entire crew drowned, and no wreckage was ever found.
T N Djurhuus was known for his descriptive poetry with beautiful imagery. He ends the poem with an image of the Faroese chain dance: in the distance, you can hear the lost sailors holding hands and dancing in the waves. Therefore, it seemed an obvious choice to use the chain dance in the music. The melodies are written in the style of the chain dance ballads with inspiration also from Kingo-singing – a unique Faroese style of singing hymns without instrumental accompaniment.
How do you work when choosing your material? What do you listen for?
In choral compositions, it is natural for the poem to become a main source of inspiration in terms of form and content. Both the tone and the imagery of the poem have an influence on my vocal compositions.
For instrumental works, I often play with the musical material and listen to my way to the atmosphere or tonality that I want for the composition. Here also, a poem, a picture or a natural phenomenon will sometimes be a part of my process.
You are both a performer and a composer. How do you use your musicianship in your compositions?
The opportunity to take part in the performance of some of my works has been invaluable, as it has enabled me to express in practice the thoughts I had during my writing process. However, I find it equally exciting to hear how other musicians experience and interpret the music.
This poem was written in memory of those who died onboard Faroese trawler Stella Argus when it sank in 1957. 22 men aged 15-53 were on the ship. None survived. No-one knows for certain what happened, but it is thought that the ship capsized.
The poet imagines the men linking arms and dancing a chain dance around the islands.
And They Dance
The storm thunders over the villages
– the time of sun and joy has gone –
in the breakers by the outermost shores
the shipwrecked men join hands.
Tread a dance with heavy steps,
the wide ring is waving
of those, who rose from the wet bed
treading a dance in the breaking sea.
And over the homes of men
a seaborne song soughs with the surf
– faces freeze in fear, and hands
are folded in black clothes.
The ears sense a touch of hymns
– boats and sails went under –
woven into the sound of failing metal,
when the iron vessel comes asunder.
And they dance, and the ear senses
– every home senses it –
in the song the voice of their kin
comes to the villages.
And the song continues – heavy-footed crowds hold hands –
the song from those, who for ages struggled by the outermost shores.
And some day we ourselves
– when our journey finally has ended –
by the outermost shores – in breakers and waves – we join the ring.
Tummas N. Djurhuus.
Transl. S. Bæk