Norwegian piano composer and performer Hákon Skogstad stopped by to chat about deciding that music is the right path for him music recommendations, plans for 2021 and his latest release.
Introduce yourself (yourselves) and your hidden talent!
I’m a pianist and composer from Norway – classically trained, but with a passion for tango. I tend to say that my music has “the emotions of classical music, the timing of jazz and the attitude of rock.” Damaged by watching Seinfeld from an early age, I’m a closet stand-up comedian who likes to entertain myself with observational humor inside my head. I’m also a decent chef at home with an appetite for big occasion dining.
What made you decide that music is the right path for you?
I grew up in a family of professional musicians, with a mother who is a singer and a father who plays the organ, harpsichord and piano. With music going back several generations on both family sides, it was perhaps not so shocking that I would also choose the path of music. It was however never in my parent’s desire that I should become a musician, so whatever talent I possessed, I was never forced to play an instrument. Inevitably, I had piano lessons with my father in periods. When these periods occurred was restricted to whether I practiced regularly or not. In my case, there were periods of extreme motivation to learn certain pieces that I became obsessed with, but little desire to endure any kind of “pianistic school”.
In fact, I did not learn how to read music properly before I was about 14 years old (which is allegedly hopelessly late in the world of classical music!). I started playing in bands from the age of 13, firstly on synthesizers and eventually on the Hammond Organ. Through my Hammond Organ playing, I discovered jazz music and consequently began taking private lessons. At age 15 I realized that I had to make a devoted choice of direction should I wish to pursue musical studies. I fully committed myself into classical repertoire which in the end lay closest to my heart, practicing systematically for several hours a day to “catch up” on my peers (but I kept the “bad attitude look” with long hair, rings on my fingers, scary T-shirts and denim jackets – not your average-looking classical pianist).
The year I turned 16, I was invited to audition before an ensemble called “Tangueros del Norte” – a band of eight exceptionally talented young musicians playing Argentine tango in Trondheim, Norway(!) I had never played a tango in my life, but found that my classical technique combined with improvisational skills was useful in the genre. I was asked to join the group, a decision that would be a life changing event. The success of the group the coming years included a critically acclaimed recording, several awards and prizes, trips to Argentina taking classes with a dozen of the greatest musicians in the genre, concerts on live radio and television as well as performances on major music festivals throughout Norway. I would later play in several different tango groups as well as embark on a solo career both as a performer and composer rooted in this music.
And by the way – the producer on my upcoming album is a violinist from “Tangueros del Norte”. She is also my wife and the mother of our two daughters. My classical training includes a Bachelor’s degree in classical performance from The Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo and a Master’s degree in classical performance from NTNU in Trondheim and Manhattan School of Music in New York (I was a second-year exchange student through a Fulbright grant). Additionally, I am currently in the last stages of pursuing a practice-led PhD in Artistic Research, focusing on imitating historical piano recordings from the early 1900s.
Give our listeners some music recommendations that we should check out!
It’s Astor Piazzolla’s 100 th anniversary, so check out his three best albums – Tango: Zero Hour, Live in Montreal and La Camorra: The Solitude of Passionate Provocation. And if that catches your taste, perhaps also check out my latest album “Visions of Tango” – to be released on May 28 th
What’s in store for you for the rest of the year?
Several exciting things happening. For the next one in June where I’m one of three soloists together in front of 14 musicians, I composed a piece called Resuscitation – that is the essence of what I feel about the rest of the year – the concert scene coming to life again and live performers doing live stuff. There are several soloist things happening, but the biggest one for me will be a release tour in middle-Norway together with the Trondheim Soloists – the string orchestra that’s on my album. Also, there’s a gig with a concert band where I’m both soloist and arranger of the pieces (classic tango for wind and brass players) – that will be a new experience! And – I am in the last stages of finishing my artistic doctoral degree, so there will be a documentary film as well as concerts related to that.
Tell MoggBlog viewers about your latest release! What’s the inspiration behind that?
In my previous album “Two Hands to Tango”, I combined my experience from tango, classical and jazz playing to establish a new pianistic performance style in nuevo tango music – greatly inspired from the playing style of the bandoneón. In “Visions of Tango”, this style is further developed through my compositions and arrangements with the piano in front of the string orchestra, as well as in duo with the violin. Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra in four movements is “riff-driven classical music rooted in the rhythms, articulation and timing of the Argentine tango”. The music dances its way through the resolute, fiery and passionate, to the joyful, expressive and sublime. The piano part is a culmination of classical virtuosity and tango expressiveness. Histoire du Tango, originally written for flute and guitar by Astor Piazzolla, explores the evolution of tango – from the up-tempo and high-spirited milonga of the Bordello, through the nostalgic melancholia of the Café, to the Nuevo tango of the Nightclubs and finally – “The concert of today” – in harmonies inspired by Bartók and Stravinsky, but grounded the rhythm of a milonga. Allegro Tangabile is an instrumental piece from the «tango operita» Maria de Buenos Aires by Astor Piazzolla.
In my arrangement, I have tried to realize the bandoneon part in the piano – a tribute not just to the music, but also to Piazzolla – the performer. Tres Minutos con la Realidad is a less known Piazzolla tango and a good example of his more provocative compositions – using contemporary harmonies of his day and thus pushing the limits of what a tango could be. Adios Nonino is perhaps the most famous composition of Piazzolla. It was composed when Astor heard the news of his father’s passing. The piece typically starts with a piano cadenza, and the most influential pianists who played with Piazzolla made their own. My cadenza is in the footsteps of this tradition.