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Interesting interview in Fanfare with Aros Guitar Duo

March 20, 2024

Interview in Fanfare
Is time a relative or absolute value?
The question of whether time is relative or absolute may remain unanswered. Sometimes it flows fast, other times very slow. When anticipating pivotal events, time seems almost to freeze; when we are close to people we love, whole decades may pass by like a single wink. Nonetheless, fate probably has a certain pulse, and there is a certain time to live, to love, and to die. The timing of our life’s path is probably as well measured as the mechanism of the clock on a city tower which measures our daily life with ringing bells or carillon songs. What if we are not in time for one or another turn of life or miss the train of destiny? Probably we do not have power to influence the mechanism, which has been crafted by eternity.
The mystery of music lies in the fact that it has its own time flow, and we are in charge of reconnecting with long-gone stories, feelings, and destinies in that special moment when the lights are dimming in the hall and the artists enter the stage and the music starts to flow. Our time stands still, and we dive into the time of others who are about to appear out of the silent pages of music. The musical reality is opening for us a space to live and feel and to forget just for this moment that our time is heading forward to its destination, when death will play the final chord and hold the following fermata. Art is going along with time, and each epoch and its social environment finds an artistic expression suitable for the demands of the music’s audience.
The Aros Guitar Duo (Simon Wildau and Mikkel Eggelund) has brought out a new release on the Danish label OUR Recordings entitled The Sound of Aarhus In Time. The disc pays homage to the national cultural legacy of the city of Aarhus in central Denmark and of the city’s bell tower and carillon, which plays the ode “In vernalis temporis” every hour. This hymn was written by Morten Borup around 1500 for the students at the Aarhus cathedral school while he washeadmaster there. The Aarhus city hall was inaugurated on June 2, 1942, in the middle of WW II. Often in times of despair, when we are in danger of losing human values, we long to rebuild and try to keep alive art and architecture—everything that maintains our identity as a civilization. Like the famous architects Arne Jacobsen and Erik Moller, who designed the Aarhus city Hall right in the middle of the Nazi invasion, the Aros Guitar Duo brings their new release in the midst of musically as well politically uncertain times of global outrage and imminent climate crisis with an admirable artistic spirit.
The album includes works by Asger Agerskov Buur, Martin Lohse, Peter Bruun, Rasmus Zwicki, John Fransen, and Wayne Siegel. The common thread of all these pieces is the melody of “In vernalis temporis,” which serves as a basis for the compositions and is intentionally used to build a bridge from past into the future.
I am delighted to welcome both of these artists to Fanfare to discuss the release, their work on it, and their artistic creed.
Simon, Mikkel, it has been a pleasure to listen to your album and I heartly welcome you to this printed conversation! The title The Sound of Aarhus in Time is more than just intriguing; it gives a feeling that this album is not only a newborn piece of musical art, but also a dedication. What made you eager to pay honor to Aarhus and its cultural legacy, the bell tower?
In 2008 we met at the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus during our classical guitar studies. Not long after we became friends and started playing together. Aros means Aarhus in old Norse. This project started after having played together for 9 years, so in a way it was also a celebration of our many years playing together, and not only to the city.
Playing the pieces from the CD and the melody which the bell tower plays every day, reminds us of a long friendship, the beginning of our duo and all the time we have used together in Aarhus- with or without the guitar. Furthermore, we wanted to have a kind of postcard or signature with us when playing pieces throughout Denmark and other places in Europe. This helps to make our program personal and you can say that it’s creating a “Sound of Aarhus”.
What does “the sound of Aarhus” mean personally to both of you; is it the sound of home in a way? Do you have any personal memories connected with the tower?
I (Simon) grew up in Aarhus. The music school that i attended as a kid, is just across the street from the city hall, where this bell-tower is. Every fifteen minutes the bell-tower plays 3 notes from the melody, and when the clock strikes the hour it plays the entire melody. So, for me the melody has meant to come from the suburbs and into the city, where I came to get guitar-lessons. In a way coming from a world where I didn’t entirely fit in, to a place where I was understood and supported. Later when I started high-school the melody showed up in a different way - It was in fact the principal of the high school where I studied (Aarhus cathedral school), Morten Børup, who composed the song around year 1500. Here in this school, it is ‘school - song’ and is sung in latin every time there is assembly. This school is, in Aarhus, known as the ‘hippie high school’ - a place where there’s a lot of music and children of soft academics go to. And a place where most of the boys have longer hair than the girls. So, for me it’s the sound of home really. The melody has a happy melancholy that I’ve always found spellbinding. I would often stop and listen when the entire melody was being played.
For me (Mikkel) it reminds me of Aarhus. I moved to Aarhus from Bornholm (an Island in the Baltic Sea) after High School, lived there for 10 years and am now settled in Copenhagen. I often go to Aarhus because of concerts and projects. Getting off at the train station and suddenly after listening to this melody from the bell-tower is in a way the city welcoming me back and saying hello. Moving to Aarhus was the first time living away from my family. It's a long way from Bornholm and suddenly I should be able to take care of myself. It's the place where I met great friends and colleagues at the Royal Academy of Music, friends and colleagues I still play with in different ensembles. Aarhus is also the place where I developed the most with the guitar and as a musician. In some way Aarhus was the place that made me an adult and a musician.
Did you have patriotic motives in making this project?
If it’s patriotic is difficult to say. The project connects to a historic melody that is still sung in all of Denmark. The architect behind the city hall, where the bell-tower is connected to, is a very famous Danish designer Arne Jacobsen. So, in a way the pieces ends up showcasing a long line of Danish culture, with elements from the present and the very far past. So somehow it could be interpreted as “look what a rich culture we have”, but the intention at the beginning was maybe more that we wanted to commission a series of pieces that had a connection to ourselves. And to have the melody as a signature meaning Aros Guitar Duo, whenever people will hear it in the future.
I believe that art is capable of securing cultural values and legacies and of enabling people to survive political and climatic cataclysms. Would you agree?
Difficult question. Especially because art and music are experienced in a very personal way. For us music and art is more about enjoyment and distraction. And when it’s really great, having a sense of meaning. However this is a fleeting sensation, and it’s not always there although the musical quality might have been exactly the same as a day when it was there.
We have quite a worrying situation in the world right now, with a number of wars and—perhaps most frightening—the climate crisis on the planet. How would you describe the role of music nowadays?
For us music is a gift and a language we all understand or appreciate in some way. We have had a lot of great experiences throughout the World in different countries, different cultures and with people with other standards or political and religious beliefs than us. Nevertheless, we have made great friends in all of these cases because of the music and the common interest in, for example classical guitar. That being said, we are also often thinking about the climate crisis in case of traveling/flying abroad for concerts in other countries. The last couple of years we have stopped working for and arranging concerts abroad and instead been focusing on local projects and concerts in Denmark.
What do we need to do to keep classical music secure relevant for time to come?
It seems that all artists are doing their best at that. We try to place ourselves in a role, where we can show people, who might not know how great composers and musicians we have in our time, the quality that’s actually there. And if we’re lucky; make them want to have more of it. We think the balance is the challenge. To find the sweet spot between banal and pretentious. And having music that can be understood on different levels.
Both of you are artists not only of today but also of tomorrow and even maybe of the “days after tomorrow,” given that you are both in your 30s. How much do you value the past?
Quite a lot! The question is, if we live in a world or invention or of refinement. When it comes to music, we believe the latter.
And what sort of historic legacies you wish to keep alive in future?
When you base composing and playing an instrument on what previous generations have made, you can get a great leap forward by simply learning from their experiences. In that way you can achieve the highest quality of music. If you do the opposite, you have to come an extremely long way by yourself. And it’s extremely difficult to create something interesting really. However, taking something that already exists and making a slight twist on it keeps the quality, but makes it-new.
We would love that the recordings that we have made, and will continue to make, will cast a new light on what is already very enlightened subject - music. Both regarding what we create in collaboration with composers, but also the way we make music.
As you might recall, the COVID-19 pandemic taught us quite a lesson, as if by the determined hand of natural selection. Some people in the music world were certain that we needed to move ahead with concerts, with the awareness that many people might not survive contamination with the virus. The fear of losing concert life and salary pushed artists to forget the simplest rules of ethics. How did you experience these issues? And do you think that the pandemic was a sort of catalyst to reveal the fact that classical art isn’t up to date and truly needed?
During the summer in 2020 we played around 25 concerts in Denmark, the country had been locked down for several months and we could only play concerts with a maximum of 50 people in the audience. At that time, we hadn't played any concerts for almost six months. It was with a lot of warm and heartfelt feelings playing these concerts, not only could we feel how much the audience enjoyed the music, concerts and the live setting but we were also extremely happy and thankful because someone actually showed up at the concerts and wished to see and hear us playing live
Are we still “in time” to make the music establishment relevant again?
Good question! There are many challenges and a lot of competition. Movies, computer games etc. where the enjoyment is, in many ways, easier to get. Classical music is a language that takes some practice to understand. And what do we do when the audience doesn’t have the experience nor the interest of getting it? What we are trying to do is:
1) Make the program unique and personal. This CD is a good example. The pieces have been part of our concert program for several years now. And people are often surprised over how well sounding and interesting the pieces are.
2) Have a story that can be understood: For us it’s been really fun to present these works, because we have a feeling of ownership. It makes talking about the program a lot easier and more relevant than: “once upon a time there lived a composer, and he was feeling… “

In the upcoming concert season, we have several projects coming up. One is to go out and meet the audience where they are: We go to 20 small Danish islands and give concerts there, when people have come to have their vacation. It means that the audience often have time to come around and are maybe even looking for something to do. And they’re generally well rested and in a good mood because they're on holiday.
Also, we are making a series of wine concerts, where we seek to pair the expression in a wine with music. We are lucky to have a common wine interest and have even participated in the Danish championships of blind tasting. Last year we even qualified to be in the finale at a 3rd place after the first 12 wines. So, this project is about trying to appeal to a group that maybe wouldn’t be aware of the classical music scene.
To me the life of performance and recording is nothing but a beautiful and satisfactory self-sacrifice. How would you describe it? Are you nervous when you are performing, and if so, how do you deal with this?
We are not as nervous anymore as we used to be. We are still excited and looking forward to concerts and the adrenaline helps us perform and play a better version of pieces than we do in the practice room. We love to perform and play concerts; it makes the music alive. We have played together for quite many years now and used so many hours in the practice room together, this also means that we know each other very well and we can easily adjust and play the music differently every time. If Simon makes a sudden ritardando or accelerando Mikkel is capable of going with him and likewise when Mikkel does something musically different than we are used to. It’s a lot of fun and makes it playful to play music and concerts.
Back to the pieces on your album: Asger Agerskov Buur has nicely described in the booklet note your common work on the commissioned piece ¨In the Spring.” He mentions several enriching talks with Simon about politics and even that you have been discussing the eternal question of the meaning of life. Simon, please tell me more about it, and at the end, did you reach a conclusion about the meaning of life itself?
Asger is a sensitive guy with many thoughts and feelings, which I think his music is a great testimony of. I’m the same way. I think we often get a good sense of understanding and tolerance when speaking to each other, and it’s not always easy to find.
A meaning of life in general is quite difficult to define. However a personal meaning of life is in some ways easier, but it’s quite hard to formulate without sounding a bit flat. I’ve found that in many ways I’m having a greater feeling of meaning when I’m teaching than giving concerts. Maybe the exchanges going on there are more concrete, thereby giving a clearer feeling of meaning.
Listening to a concert and having and having a big experience with the music can be quite hard to explain. In the same way when audience members come to share that they’ve had a big experience it can be difficult to completely put yourself in their position. So however much they might try to explain their appreciation, it’s not completely possible to fathom what they’ve gone through.When teaching you can easily tell it in the eyes of a youngster.
What is the meaning of the artistic life in particular?
To show how fascinating and interesting the world of music is!

Approaching the piece by Wayne Siegel “About Vernalis breakdown.” There is a bridge here between traditional song and American bluegrass music. What do think about “crossover” music?
We find it extremely delightful and nice that Wayne uses this bluegrass inspiration in the piece. It makes it personal. He’s and composer that we have great respect for. We know him from our studies at the Royal Academy in Aarhus where he was professor of electronic music. When he retired as professor he decided to buy a banjo and started playing with family and friends. We have played a piece composed by him some years ago (Three Canons composed in 1987) When we commissioned a piece by him we kind of thought that we would receive a similar kind of minimalistic piece. But then he ended up composing this piece with incorporated bluegrass licks. Its a lot of fun and we love the personal connection to Wayne and his background from the USA. We are always open for crossover music, new commissions and working with different types of composers. The latest premiere we did was a piece by the famous Danish jazz pianist and composer Carsten Dahl.
In future, do you think the several musical genres can survive on their own, or the union is needed?
As long as there are listeners/users, the music will probably survive. But of course, different genres can be fashionable or not. Some will die out and some will survive. The longer a genre has already lived, the higher the chance is that it will survive, probably. Some genres are kept artificially alive, and some are keeping itself alive or dying. The ones being kept alive artificially seems to have lived longer than the ones dependent on being fashionable,
Is crossover needed for music to survive?
No, not really. People relate to a story and not the music itself. Sometimes the story the artist is telling need crossover and sometimes not. What many in the world of classical music fails to understand is, that there’s no story in what they make. Therefore, there is nothing for the listener to connect to. This doesn’t mean that you can’t play old music, we do that plenty, it just means that you need to think about - What makes this piece, in particular, relevant?
The guitar has somewhat the quality of an ¨angelic¨ instrument, perhaps inherited from the lute. What do you think the role of the classical guitar will look like in the future?
Looking on guitar historically, it has always been an instrument going in and out of fashion. In renaissance times the lute, which can be seen as an ancestor to the classical guitar, was looked on as the finest instrument - also somewhat during baroque. Then it became very popular in the late classical era, probably because it sounded better than the piano-forte in some ways. Then it kind of disappears from the mainstream during the late romantic era, to be revived by Andrés Segovia. It can be difficult to sense where we are now. To us it seems that classical guitar-world is cut off from the rest of the world of classical music. And it seems that some are working very hard to be stars in either one world or the other. We don’t really see anything indicating that this tendency will change. However, we have been working mainly towards making something that will be interesting to the general world of classical music.
The guitar’s sound is sweet and never to invasive; you guys can always play everywhere to any time of night and day and even on the plane which is about to crash down you would be very welcome. I am convinced, though, that when both of you played, the crash would probably feel far less sad and painful.

Thank you so much for joining me at Fanfare; I can’t wait to chat again!

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