We speak to artistic director of the Nordischer Klang Festival, Frithjof Strauß, to learn about this popular and “stylistically diverse festival for quality music from Northern Europe” held annually in Germany.
Naturally the pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works with this year’s event but fear not – Frithjof has a plan. But first – let’s discover the history of the festival!
Tell us how the Nordischer Klang Festival came to be and how you became involved in the festival?
After the fall of the Berlin Wall the Institute for Finnish and Scandinavian Studies at the University of Greifswald was to be dissolved. At that time, students and lecturers took the initiative to draw attention to their subject.
They organized a Northern European Culture Day, sang songs, gave readings. The institute was allowed to stay, and also Nordischer Klang remained, and grew and became professional.
When I got a job as lecturer for Scandinavian literature in 1999, I was also allowed to take part in the planning. Since then it was a wonderful experience to have direct contact with all the artists.
What do you think makes the festival so popular in Germany?
First of all, the festival takes place in a popular holiday region at the Baltic Sea coast in a picturesque town with many historical connections to Scandinavia. Greifwald was founded by the Danes and was later a part of Sweden for a long time.
Today, Nordischer Klang is the most stylistically diverse festival for quality music from Northern Europe. Pop, classical music, folk, jazz, electronica, singer/songwriter, world music – many of the acts are to be enjoyed for the first time in Germany, or even outside Northern Europe.
We also have a focus on musicians who have emigrated to Northern Europe and brought new ideas and styles
In addition to professional musicians, amateur orchestras and choirs also perform again and again, which really reflects the music life in Scandinavia. We also have a focus on musicians who have emigrated to Northern Europe and brought new ideas and styles to the North. If you are curious, you will get to know a lot of music that you never knew you always have loved.
You have had to adapt to presenting a digital festival in May – how hard is it having to make these changes and what can we expect?
We decided not to stream concerts in May, but to organize non-musical events with guests from Germany digitally: readings, lectures and films. With digital concerts, we would not have the nice atmosphere, the energy and power that live music performances create.
In the summer we organize our concert programme open air – and then it becomes international and thrilling.
What are some of the acts and features you are personally looking forward to?
Two exciting (and crazy!) folktronica acts come from Finland. Antti Paalanen performs a harsh and funny accordion show. With stomping, screaming, larynx singing and hypnotic rhythms, he solves primal forces.
With hip-hop, dance and electronica, the band Suistamon Sähkö embarks on a shrill road trip into the folklore of the once Finnish and now Russian Karelia. The Norwegian Duo Vardøg, a soprano vocalist and a harpsichordist, presents songs about love madness of the Italian and English Baroque (including Eccles and Purcell).
The American jazz bassist Kristin Korb, now living in Copenhagen, founded the trio Blonde Bass with two singing and swinging blonde colleagues – the only singing female bassist trio in the world.
The Cuban singer/songwriter Rosa Cruz comes to Greifswald from Estonia and brings infectious joie de vivre. And you can also say that about Bubbeli, a Swedish singing young man from the Finnish South Seas with his soul and reggae band The Runeberg Orchestra.
Looking ahead to the future do you think we can get back to the fun of festivals?
Surely the appreciation of festivals and live concerts will increase after they have been missing for so long. Hopefully the Corona agony doesn’t force so many musicians to give up…
When we can travel again where are some of your favourite Nordic destinations you would love to revisit or see for the first time?
I would like to revisit those festivals that have inspired Nordischer Klang so much. The showcase festival Folkelarm in Oslo offers fascinating insights into the traditional music of Northern Europe.
The Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival in summer is the perfect symbiosis of the setting of a cozy regional coastal town and world-class music, and Malmöfestivalen, the largest city festival in the north, brings multicultural experiences in urban areas.
I dream of attending Tallinn Music Week and Pori Jazz Festival.
Find out more about the Nordischer Klang Festival – HERE
Interview by Alex Minnis