Portrait of Kuno Kjærbye, the violinist (b.1959)
Kuno Kjærbye started playing violin at the age of 9. He tells how as a child he experienced the opera Wozzeck and walked home from the theatre dizzy and totally full of adventure, music and the greatness of drama. His approach to music and to his instrument was already then deeply influenced by other art forms, and this connection between music, visual art and the art of storytelling has served as a constitutive point throughout Kuno’s life. Thus it is with a narrative and embracing conception of art that Kuno for almost thirty years has been an ambitious violinist and has engaged himself in creative artistic collaborations and projects.
At the age of 15 Kuno was admitted to The Royal Danish Academy of Music (RDAM) on violin. Already then he had a budding sense for composition, but was recommended by the composer Ib Nørholm among others to first and foremost become a skilled instrumentalist and later get down to composing. Kuno made his début from the soloists’ class in 1985, after having studied also at the New England Conservatory in Boston, US, in 1982-83.
”At RDAM I studied with Ejvind Sand Kjeldsen and Endre Wolf as my violin teachers. With both I found great response and inspiration to my approach to the new music which Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck is part and child of: The inter-war years and the period up to World War 1 in which composers like Stravinskij, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev, Bartok, Schönberg a.o. break up the direct embracing passion of the Romanticism and bless the violin in its much faceted ways of expression with new principal works which are both wildly expressive and at the same time sober minded.
This is a kind of music which takes advantage of the new conquests as to violin technique which the former century had provided, yet serving a quite different matter:
”What is the storytale behind, what is your vision behind playing this music?” as Wolf once asked me after I had played neatly and decently for ham, ”it sounded like looking at a wooden door.” I remember my reaction to be ’at least the door was made of wood and not steel’.
It was the music of these composers which I first of all played during my years of study, i.e. Prokofiev’s 1.Violin Concerto, Stravinskij’s Histoire du Soldat, and at my début I played Bartok’s Solo Sonata for Violin.”
Yet, based on his interest in contemporary compositions Kuno has always performed and listened to new music, and he has first performed works by composers such as Ib Nørholm, Bo Andersen, Kim Kristensen, Svend Hvidtfeldt Nielsen and many others. Moreover, he has played concerts with classical violin repertoire and still does, i.e. with Cesar Franck’s Sonata for violin and piano and with Bach’ s solo sonatas.
In 1998 Kuno formed the Letmark Quartet who in the following 11 years first performed many works by Danish, Latvian and Estonian composers. Kuno’s collaboration with clarinettist Christian Larsen was founded when they were both students at RDAM; and Kuno is currently active in duo with the pianist Kirsten Beyer-Karlshøj. Other collaborations include cross over soloists such as Kent Carter, Benjamin Ømann and Andreas Bennetzen. Kuno is also the violinist in Music for the Mysteries., a cross over ensemble who explores a way of musical expression which is partly Celtic and folk inspired, setting myths, mystery traditions and folkloric legends to contemporary music.
As a musician, Kuno is fascinated by the creative potentials in the various platforms which he moves between: On the one hand the stringent, disciplined life as a violinist, on the other the free creativity which he explores in improvisation as well as in composing.
In this work, new other living forms of concerts have evolved. Taking music out of the concert hall to meet audiences on different basis has led to performance projects such as Café Musaic (2011) in which Kuno together with his son, the young talented percussionist Benjamin Ømann, walked between stores and streetlife in the pedestrian street of Roskilde and shared improvised miniature concerts inspired by their meeting with the town and its shopkeepers.
To be mentioned are also the Cinema Concerts (2006-07) in which Kuno as curator and inventor created visual concerts with the Letmark Quartet in Denmark, Sweden and Estonia. The visual part of the concert consisted of the art photo material by the legendary film photographer Henning Bendtsens (1925-2011) taken throughout his entire life. In the concert, this material was for the first time compiled to commissioned works by a number of Danish and Baltic composers. Kuno described it then:
”To experience the images and the lived performed music in the same room is unique. The juxtaposition of the photographs and the music creates a motion in the consciousness of the audience, paving the way to both ways of expression.”
In 2009, Kuno initiated a collaboration with the French-American jazz bassist Kent Carter. Together with Benjamin Ømann they performed in Denmark in 2011 and in Paris in 2012. Live recordings from the 2011 tour have been edited for coming CD. Kuno says:
”I particularly like the dialogue between performing a classical work with its specific rehearsal and the preparation of the language of improvisation – as you do rehearse the art of improvisation. Similarly, the way of the composition with all its considerations to the intuitive meeting with other musicians who find themselves in the same process in that very moment, inspires further improvisation,”