It takes some determination—and cooperative hotel staffers—for the Straight to finally make contact with the Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud. The telephone in his California hotel room is refusing to ring, and it’s not the first time the 38-year-old, who leads the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons this weekend, has encountered such problems.
“A couple of years ago in Seattle, I programmed my cellphone to wake me up, and I asked reception to give me a wake-up call, and they both failed at the same time,” he admits, when a connection is finally established. “I have never run as fast in my concert suit.…I went directly onto the stage, running.”
Whatever strange technical gremlins may be dogging him off-stage, Kraggerud’s ability to win over audiences and critics alike has been unaffected. His most recent performance, with Orange County’s Pacific Symphony, had the Orange County Register’s Timothy Mangan praising his “well paced, accomplished, exciting but also sensitively calibrated” treatment of The Four Seasons.
“The approach is very much toward gestures in the music,” Kraggerud explains of his interpretation of Vivaldi’s most enduringly popular work. “So I identify how several notes or phrases can feel more organic and dancelike if you don’t get tied up with the bars and the note values in the usual sense.”
If it sounds like Kraggerud plays a little fast and loose with the score, he’s the first to acknowledge it. “I’m quite free with the tempos,” he says, but notes that Vivaldi himself performed that way. “It’s quite interesting: there was a German writer who was in Italy, describing what he heard in a concert Vivaldi did himself in Venezia [Venice]. He wrote back: ‘In Germany, we have a lot to learn from this Italian priest, because he takes so much liberties. When he plays strong, it’s so strong the roof of the church almost lifts, and when it’s soft it’s so soft you can hardly hear it.’”
Kraggerud’s Four Seasons, he admits, is “a little bit different than many have experienced before”. But he certainly isn’t the first to give the concertos a shake-up; bad-boy British violinist Nigel Kennedy’s 1989 recording blew away all conventions, opening the door for others to follow suit.
“I don’t play like him at all,” observes Kraggerud of Kennedy, “but what he did was very, very personal, and I liked it a lot.…There are so many recordings [of The Four Seasons
In addition to the Vivaldi, Kraggerud will also be leading members of the VSO in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, BWV1041 and Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerto grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8 (Christmas Concerto). And he’s got contingency plans upon contingency plans to ensure he gets to the stage door on time. “Now I always ask the orchestra to make sure I’m there half an hour before a performance,” he confesses, with a laugh. “Three things must fail now: if the hotel and the cellphone and the orchestra fails, we will see. It’s not impossible, but hopefully it will not happen.”
Henning Kraggerud plays The Four Seasons with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra on Friday and Saturday (December 16 and 17) at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.