This is an article originally written for the Swedish magazin "NYCKELHARPAN", N° 2/2013 by Karsten Evers.
The English version is corrected and improved by Vicki Swan.

German version of this summery for download as PDF.

In early August 2013, 24 nyckelharpa players from 10 European countries met in Northern Italy in Forlimpopoli for a special event: "ENCORE – European Nyckelharpa Cooperation – ORchestral Experience". After the participants had prepared at home and during an intense four days of rehearsals they gave a public nyckelharpa orchestra concert in the Italian Cathedral of Bertinoro. This concert, in front of a large audience, was part of the prominent regional music festival JCE.

The initial idea for this event came about as a result of the 2010 CADENCE project, a collaboration between the Eric Sahlström Institute in Sweden, the Academy BURG FÜRSTENECK in Germany and the Scuola di Musica Popolare di Forlimpopoli in Italy. This project had enabled an intensive exchange of nyckelharpa players and educational institutions. ( )

For the ENCORE orchestra an open call was put out for compositions. Well over 20 composers, both renowned and emerging, including many nyckelharpa players, submitted works and the jury was able to select many excellent pieces for the rehearsals in Italy. Seventeen pieces were finally presented for world premiere at the concert in Bertinoro. Outside Sweden, there has not been any specific repertoire written for nyckelharpa as yet. ENCORE has therefore laid the foundation for a new repertoire of polyphonic music written specifically for nyckelharpa orchestra. This is reminiscent of the Swedish success story when Eric Sahlström’s compositions significantly boosted the nyckelharpa movement.

Traditionally the nyckelharpa was always played by ear so for the composer and performer to make effective use of the instrument by only using written music some preliminary work had to be done. Appropriate symbols had to be used in the score to represent the different articulations made possible by the technical abilities of the instrument. Marco Ambrosini and Jule Bauer contributed to this pioneering work by publishing proposals on the website of the ENCORE project. For example, staccato, spiccato, saltato, marcato, col legno battuto, pizzicato, tasteggiato and chopping are some of the different playing techniques that a composer could request of the performers. Because of this, the ability to play music from scores was made one of the conditions for the selection of the ENCORE musicians.


For the arrangements the different types of nyckelharpas also had to be considered, but only modern chromatic instruments were used (i.e. no gammelharpas). European continental players tend to favour the four-row instruments tuned in fifths, while those participants more committed to the Swedish tradition, brought the typical Swedish three-row model tuned with a sixth and fourth. A few instruments in low tenor pitch were also represented in the orchestra.

During the late afternoon of Monday, 5th of August 2013 participants arrived from the different European regions, from Sweden to Portugal and Great Britain to Italy. Some had already met at Bologna airport; people with nyckelharpas on their back are easy to recognise. Some of the participants already knew each other, others were meeting for the very first time, but after a few hours this made no difference at all. The love of the nyckelharpa makes a strong family bond. Because the workshop fell into a period of extreme heat with temperatures up to 40°, the participants were all thankful that all the rooms in the hotel EDO in Forlimpopoli were equipped with air-conditioning.


During the following three days, the participants rehearsed in the training room of the Scuola di Musica Popolare di Forlimpopoli, a historical vaulted cellar. A stage seating plan for the final concert, taking into account the contribution of the different voices, was precisely prepared and adhered to from the very beginning. The unflagging concentration of all the musicians during the rehearsals was truly admirable. This included at least seven hours a day in two blocks one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It certainly helped that more than half of the participants already possessed orchestra experience due to their classical music training. Mental, musical and rhythmic warm-ups took place before the daily rehearsals. The rehearsals were conducted in turn by Marco Ambrosini and Didier François.

For recreation the nyckelharpa players were treated to excellent Italian food. Forlimpopoli has become a hotbed of culinary delights as they have cherished the legacy of Pellegrino Artusi, the author of the very first and still most famous Italian cookbook. All the participants rated the kitchen of CasaArtusi and the hotel EDO with 5 stars. Each evening with a glass of good Italian wine, lots of discussion and even some musical sessions always went by far too fast.


On Friday, the rehearsals were transferred to the cathedral of the picturesque mountain town of Bertinoro. It was very important to get used to the acoustics in the huge cathedral before the concert. The work that the conductors had done during the rehearsals in putting an emphasis on a precise, short playing style, now paid off in the large reverberating venue. In addition to recording the live concert in the evening two sound engineers on the morning of Saturday 10th August made recordings of the works so that it would also be possible to have audio free of any background audience noise. In addition to releasing a live CD of the concert Dr. Christiane Lehnigk, music editor of the German national radio "Deutschlandfunk", was also present. A detailed report on the ENCORE nyckelharpa orchestra will be broadcast on the 30th October at 10:05pm. During breaks she also conducted interviews with participants and officials of the ENCORE project and these will be included in the program. The broadcast will be available worldwide via the Internet. ( )

After lunch there was some time to relax as it was not until later in the afternoon that all the pieces were rehearsed on site. A small snack helped to pass the time until the start of the concert, which was scheduled for the usual Italian time (and because of the heat of the day) for 9:30pm. Just prior to the concert Didier François once again mentally attuned the group to the task of delighting the audience with wonderful music.


The church by now was filled to the last seat with listeners and they greeted the appearance of the musicians with polite applause. The majority probably did not really know what to expect, most Italians will have never heard of a nyckelharpa, even though it can be found in Siena on one of the oldest church frescoes depicting a nyckelharpa. Certainly they had never heard a nyckelharpa orchestra before, but tune-by-tune the audience became more enthusiastic. By the end the musicians had to keep bowing due to the never-ending applause and because of the standing ovation at the end they had to play several encores.

No composition played in the concert had less than four voices and in some of the pieces the solo singing of Jule Bauer complemented the nyckelharpas. This meant that the music performed on one hand was very much in a classical style, but aside from this as the motto "between European folk music and contemporary compositions" implies the styles and types were very different. For example, two compositions by Boris Koller and Didier François referred to Swedish folk melodies and counterpointed them with orchestral sounds. A composition by Lorenzo Ruggiero was ‘written in the wind’ with its skilfully interwoven rhythms. Jean-Pierre Vial had contributed a ‘chorale’ as a contemporary homage to Johann Sebastian Bach. Two fabulously lyrical works by the young Swedish composer Jonathan Wanneby were performed, which contrasted with an avant-garde composition of the renowned German jazz clarinettist Michael Riessler using minimalist cluster sounds in a rising crescendo. Ronald Winkler extended in the range of sounds to add the timbre of simple pizzicato on the nyckelharpa and sounds produced using only the keys, to mention just a few of the compositions.


High above Bertinoro, with a wide view down to the lights of the lowlands of Forlimpopoli, the musicians recovered after the concert on the terrace of a small establishment that locals consider an “insider tip”. The intense concentration of the concert had given way to the euphoria of having written a little piece of music history that evening. A similar orchestral concert of nyckelharpas had probably never before been performed.

During the final day on Sunday there was an evaluation meeting. The musicians were asked whether they would consider participating in similar project again - all agreed without hesitation. But this should not be taken for granted, many of the participants are professional musicians earning a living through their music and it takes a lot of idealism in order to "work" for a week so intensively without payment. Their recompense was the friendly and trusting atmosphere in the group and the musical scores, which surpassed all the hopes that one could have possibly wished for. The greatest wish of all the participants and of the organizers would be to perform the concert somewhere else, maybe even during a little concert tour.


The project was made possible by the excellent preparation and perfect organization of the Scuola di Musica Popolare di Forlimpopoli and its president Marco Bartolini and his assistants, as well as by the financial support of the European Commission under the scope of the program "Grundtvig" for lifelong learning. Maybe it's a happy coincidence that the workshop and concert with the Swedish nyckelharpa in apparently far away Italy were enabled thanks to a program with a Scandinavian name. One of the purposes of the European programs is to promote the peaceful integration of people from different nations. This ENCORE project and its music, which can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone, should be regarded as an excellent example of the writing of a small piece of musical world history.

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