Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I’m slow to get up this morning after a concert last night by this great Swedish folk group.  They played in an ancient church—great acoustics—in the tiny village of Freepsum in northwestern Germany.  Although they’ve been together for 22 years, this was the beginning of their first German tour.  (“We’ve had a lot of time to practice”, said Roger Tallroth, the guitarist.)

On stage, the core of Väsen is Olov Johansson, who plays the nyckelharpa–like its name says (in Swedish), a stringed instrument with keys.  He flies through complex runs in the dance tunes and produces a resonant tone for the slow airs.  While a few of the pieces they played were traditional, most were composed by one of them, especially the fiddle player, Mikael Marin.

Väsen’s virtuosity is exceptional.  Their sound is rich with harmony (think Ravel), even when they are blasting away at high-tempo polkas.  Toward the end of the night they started to fool around, and this was good too.  Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds mixed in with 18th century Swedish fiddle standards—why not?

They will be returning to the US in a few months, playing the Wintergrass festival in Bellevue in February and other events.  Not to miss.