Violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen — Exploring Different Genres is Key
Sørensen discusses the impact that folk music has made on his career, as a member of both Dreamers' Circus and the Danish String Quartet
The Violin Channel recently caught up with violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, while on the last of a U.S. tour with his folk ensemble, Dreamers' Circus.
Made up of violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, pianist Nikolaj Busk, and accordion player Ale Carr, Dreamers' Circus draws inspiration from the deep traditions of Nordic folk music and reshapes it for the modern audience.
Concurrently, Sørensen also plays in the GRAMMY®-nominated Danish String Quartet, whose interpretations of classical canon repertoire has garnered them awards such as the Borletti-Buitoni Trust and Carl Nielsen Prize.
We were curious to gain some insight into the positive effects of playing multiple genres and the projects Sørensen is working on...
How have you combined both folk and classical music in your career?
It has always been natural to have folk and classical music in my musical backpack. I started listening to traditional music when growing up in Roskilde, which is quite close to Copenhagen in Denmark. Soon after, I got my first violin and a Suzuki teacher. My parents would help me practice 10 minutes a day and bring me to traditional music and dance evenings in the local community house most weekends.
I never really intended to create a career as such. Meeting my friends in the Danish String Quartet at the beginning of the millennium and Dreamers’ Circus some years later, in many ways defined my life path, and I haven’t looked back since.
Are there differences, especially technical, in your approach to classical repertoire vs. folk music?
I wouldn’t say there are any differences in my approach. Some classical pieces can be quite technically demanding and maybe need some more personal practice, but since the music of Dreamers’ Circus is concert music (as opposed to the traditional “use" of folk music), I try to treat it the same way as when I play classical pieces.
In terms of storytelling, colors, emotions, etc., it’s all just music.
How important do you think it is for young musicians to explore different genres? What can they gain from stepping outside their comfort zones?
I think it’s the most important thing you can do as a young musician. Of course, it’s important to practice your scales and etudes, but I think that learning from other genres and other art forms is crucial in order to find your own identity as an artist. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be frightening at times, but also represents a space where you can develop the most.
Where did the name of the ensemble Dreamer’s circus come from? How was the group founded?
The three of us met in a jam session in 2008. There was an instant spark of musical and personal chemistry and from that moment we knew that we would play together for many years.
The name Dreamers’ Circus is based on associations. Think of the vivid colors we associate with childhood memories of the Circus. Remember the magic of entering the tent as a child — the way our senses were engaged. The excitement and slight trepidation came from daylight into darkness.
In our music, we always strive to invoke a place of freedom, somewhere for our imagination to play in and a space for dreaming.
What is your connection to Danish folk music? Why is it so important for you to keep it alive and share it with the world?
Basically, because we love it. But also because music is a universal language and can provide an insight into other cultures. With the ever-growing polarization — east/west, red/blue, etc., it’s more important than ever to communicate and understand each other. Here, music can play a pivotal role.
Your award-winning folk trio has recently released a music book titled “Handed On,” including 58 original melodies inspired by traditional songs and accompanying videos. What was the process like in creating something like this?
The project began during lockdown in 2020 and has grown in size and ambition until the release event on Sep 10th. We started with a writing day in Nikolajs apartment and since then, we have managed to compose around 70 tunes. After that, we had a long selection process with testing and feedback from peers. Many tunes were sacked, new tunes were written and in this process, a more educational profile of the project emerged.
Taking inspiration from the Suzuki method, the tunes from Handed On are divided into four levels of difficulty so that everyone, from beginners to more experienced players, can participate.
Then came the notation process, writing little background texts for every tune, creating the artwork, setting up layout, proofreading, recording and filming music videos for all tunes in four different locations, and planning the release event with 40 guest musicians. All in all, a very time-consuming but rewarding process.
Check out this video previewing the book:
What are your next projects with Dreamers’ Circus?
Next big projects for us include four Christmas shows with Danish National Girls Choir, concerts with Zürich Chamber Orchestra, various commitments as town musicians of Roskilde among other things and we’ll continue to play our own trio gigs also in Denmark, Europe, and Asia. We love it.
The last stop on the Dreamers' Circus U.S. tour is on Wednesday, October 5, at 7:30 pm in Provo, Utah's Harris Fine Arts Center. For tickets, click here. They return to U.S. audiences in late February, stay tuned!