Ketil Bjørnstad’s passion for the English metaphysical poet John Donne (1572-1631) is a lifelong affair. His settings of Donne’s verse have led to recordings including The Shadow, Grace and the ECM album The Light. “After working with the texts of John Donne for more than twenty years, I still find new approaches to understanding what he wrote and I find music throughout. It is in the language, in the rhythm, in the silence between the sentences - a passionate quest for meaning and reconciliation. Donne's dramatic life is reflected in the texts and everywhere in them you will find the passion, melodies and sounds”.
Ketil Bjørnstad previously explored the life of Edvard Munch in his acclaimed 1993 novel Historien om Edvard Munch. When invited to compose music for choir in 2011 his thoughts turned once again to Munch and to the writings, still not widely known, of the proto-Expressionist Norwegian painter. With these as his guide, Bjørnstad shaped Soloppgang (“Sunrise”) subtitled “A cantata on texts by Edvard Munch”. In his liner notes, Bjørnstad observes that “the texts written by Munch can be compared to his paintings in their power and intensity.
Subtitled “Songs of Love and Fear”, “The Light” brings together Ketil Bjornstad’s “Four Nordic Songs”, compositions for female voice and accompaniment written over a 30 year period, with a song cycle based on poetry of John Donne (1572-1631). Bjornstad: “The intellectual energy in Donne’s poetry, which was always receptive to the metaphysical, is also nurtured by emotional excitement, and it is this unique combination that has held such powerful appeal to me as a composer.”
Commissioned by the Molde International Jazz Festival and recorded live at the Norwegian festival in 2010, “La notte” is a salute to Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni, whom Ketil Bjørnstad counts amongst his formative influences. “At the same time that I discovered what jazz could be, after listening to Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way, I also saw the films by Godard, Bresson and Antonioni. Perhaps it was the slow, rhythmic authority in the films by Michelangelo Antonioni that made me think of music…
There is an art to the duo performance – many jazz artists have tried it and accomplished it beautifully in many settings, live and in the studio. That said, there are very few recorded live performances between an electric guitarist and a pianist. Life in Leipzig is one. Recorded in 2005 by Germany's MDR radio as part of its broadcast of the city's jazz festival, this marks the debut live offering by pianist and composer Ketil Bjornstad.