As I was rather hoping, a stunning 7ft long red haired Viking immediately strode to my assistance and hoiked my 40 kilo suitcase effortlessly up to the luggage rack high above my head. “No problem”, she said, and vanished back into Nordic silence a few seats down as the Copenhagen train heaved into action.
Along with her ancestors and those of Eric the Skullsplitter, I had travelled by boat across icy seas to Esbjerg (sounding not unlike “Iceberg”) in northern Denmark. Unlike my predecessors however, my assignment was to be a DIVA, or Danish International Visiting Artist, leaving the rape and pillage bit behind for the time being.
(Photo: “Moder Danmark” by Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann (1819-1881). Or, Norsk Maiden hacking her way through arts funding applications.)
An elegant Danish lady sitting next to me, holding a book about the Dreyfus Affair in Proust, explained to me in impeccable English that all the towns in England with the suffix “By” at the end are old Viking settlements, “By” being the old Danish word for “town”. I couldn’t help wonder whether they’d bother pillaging Grimsby and Corby these days. Perhaps just stick to the fortnight-long drinking competitions described in the Sagas. Whoever remains above the table gets to drag the loser’s wife off by the hair.
Ellen Miriam Pedersen turned out to be an English language teacher and playwright amongst other things, and kindly took it upon herself to be my guide, pointing out the spectacular sea bridges linking the Danish islands together in what seems impossible feats of engineering. She also pointed out Middlefart, the unfortunately-named town whose concert hall, I later discover, turns out to have been well-patronised by visiting string quartets and respectable lady cellists with suitable 19th century repertoire..
(The spectacular sea bridge linking the Danish islands of Funen and Zealand)
Unlike the British universal embarrassment over our carefully hidden middle names, the triple worded title is of great importance here, perhaps signifying a time when one had to distinguish between one “-sen” and another. Reminds me of that hilarious Will Self short story where people address each other Dostoyevsky-style using brit patronymics: Dave Dave, Steve Dave, Dave Colin, etc.
Thorbjørn Tønder Hansen, Director of SNYK, Wundergrund Festival, Phd on Ibsen and I suspect a lot more besides, greets me at the beautiful wooden-ceilinged main station to sweep me off, bike hooked onto the back of the taxi, to my new 5th floor abode in Amager (the Kilburn of Copenhagen) and then to an inaugural DIVA dinner in Christianshavn along with Sine Tofte Hannibal, Coordinator of the Danish Composers Society, singer in ARS NOVA, mother of 3 and also a lot more besides.
Given the current bickering in British new music circles about relative value of sound artists versus “old fashioned” notating composers and who most deserves the ever dwindling pot of gold, much could be learned from the harmonious environment at Gråbrødretorv 16 where all of Danish music lives in close proximity. Folk, contemporary, sound art, pop, film and performance art all happily rub shoulders on a daily basis, united by means of a seriously good coffee machine on the second floor.
(Photo: perhaps the most picturesque and unpronounceable square in Copenhagen, Gråbrødretorv also is home to Mission Control for most of what happens in musical Denmark)
Somewhere in the middle of this happy hubbub sits Klaus Ib Jørgensen, director of Edition S. formerly Samfundet, quietly making international connections for his artists over at least 2 phones and smoking laptop, whilst successfully completing miriad funding applications and still managing to explain the smørrebrød to me. In fact, it was a typically Jørgensonian conversation one cold London afternoon that brought me here in the first place:
Z: “Klaus, are there any artist residencies in Denmark that might let me have a spot of time out to write and perform new music in a supported artistic environment surrounded by lovely people?”
K.I.J: “If you can get me a one page proposal by midnight tonight, you might have a crack at being a DIVA”.