Ragnhild Hemsing. Photo: Kaupo Kikkas

Straddling two traditions

With Ole Bull's Hardanger fiddle in one hand and the classical violin in the other, Ragnhild Hemsing has sparked international interest in Norwegian folk tunes. Hemsing is featured in seven events during the 2024 Bergen International Festival.

'You could say I grew up musically bilingual, but as an artist, I long thought I had to choose between the violin and the Hardanger fiddle. When I realized I could do both, many things fell into place,' says Ragnhild Hemsing.

The Artist in residence was born in 1988 in Valdres, a valley in Innlandet county. Her mother was a district musician, and her father was a mountain supervisor and langeleik player. The entire family was active in the folk music community, and at the age of five, Hemsing began playing both the violin and the Hardanger fiddle herself. Since then, her unique approach to these two traditions has brought her international attention.

'Hemsing has shown the diversity of the Hardanger fiddle for several years: sometimes longing, sometimes solemn, sometimes coarse, then again introverted, mournful, desperate, cheerful, carefree, she lets the Hardanger fiddle resound,' writes the German music magazine Concerti.

Her career began at age 14, with debuts with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra, after several years at the Barratt Due Institute of Music in Oslo.

In recent years, Hemsing has shown that she is an artist with an abundance of creative energy. Between 2020 and 2023, she released four albums on the German record label Berlin Classics, in addition to her latest project, 'The Four Norwegian Seasons,' which will be performed at the 2024 Bergen International Festival.

'I have played Vivaldi's The Four Seasons several times on the regular violin. But now I have wanted to go deeper into the material and search, for me, the perfect fit and combination between Vivaldi and the Hardanger fiddle. And why not? There are more similarities than contrasts,' Hemsing writes about the project.

This desire to perform classical music in new ways characterises Hemsing's music career, often using both the violin and the Hardanger fiddle. In 2022, she took on both instruments and brought Norwegian folk music into Edvard Grieg's music for Peer Gynt.

'I have played folk music in parallel with classical music throughout my upbringing, and I have always been fascinated by both the similarities and the contrasts between the two traditions, in regard to playing style and to soundscape. For me, these instruments and the two genres with which they are primarily associated enrich each other. Indeed, the combination of these genres has become my musical identity,' Hemsing writes about the music in Peer Gynt.

'Ragnhild Hemsing plays with so much creative energy and love for the music that it is impossible not to be swept away,' wrote the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten about the album, giving it a six out of six rating. In this video, she plays Solveig's Song:

At this year's Festival, Hemsing will also perform music from the album Vetra, where she explores the rich cultural heritage of her home town. Two hundred years ago, Ludvig Mathias Lindeman traveled around Norway, documenting music in the way the German brothers Grimm documented folk tales. One of Lindeman's journeys took him to Valdres, where he spoke with Hemsing's great-great-great-grandfather. These notes form the basis of the project Vetra.

'I wanted to highlight unknown and rarely played material and take it to the next level in an artistic project, preserving our cultural heritage and moving it on into a modern setting', explains Hemsing. 

Alongside Lindeman's notations, she plays her own 'slåtter', accompanied by "modern" musicians such as Mathias Eick and Terje Isungset, as well as folk musicians Ole and Knut Aastad Bråten. Below, you can watch the music video for Langebergslåtten from Vetra.

In 2023, she also released the album BRUCH+TVEITT, where she is reunited with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. In the video below from Berlin Classics, she explains why she chose to bring together the composers Max Bruch and Geirr Tveitt in a musical project.

Ragnhild Hemsing plays Ole Bull's own fiddle. During the Bergen International Festival, she will bring the fiddle to the composer's summer paradise on Osterøy.