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Interview: Kasper Rofelt's new cello concert

When Kasper Rofelt takes his seat for the world premiere of the cello concert 'Night Phase' on 22 March the composer himself doesn't know the final version of the work, because part of the music will be created on the spot. Twice during the concert the musicians will deviate from the written score, and the soloist will improvise.

Kasper Rofelt during rehersals for 'Night Phase' with Odense Symphony Orchestra. Foto: Trine Lai, Odense Symphony Orchestra.

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"This piece is special since the soloist plays such a great role in the creation of it," Kasper Rofelt tells and continues: "We are not just talking cadences. It is passages of 5-6 minutes, that the cellist creates at the concerts."

The cellist Jakob Kullberg is the soloist in 'Night Phase' and the idea to work with improvisation emerges from a longstanding collaboration between the two. "We first started working together when he had his debut and I had just begun my composition studies," Rofelt says. "At that time he played a cello sonata I had written, and already at that time we discussed the idea of working with improvisation, because Jakob is a very intuitive musician."

They were both interested in breaking down the usual hierarchy of composer and soloist, and break away from the line of thought dictating that there is only one - or very few - ways to fulfill the vision of the composer. Working with a symphony orchestra there will obviously be the need for some amount of control in the improvised passages, and through workshops with the orchestra they came up with a solution for this.  The musicians get a few simple guidelines that will be controlled by the conductor and the soloist.

Here should be thirty bars of something
"It is not aleatoric music," Rofelt says. "It is not like John Cage, where you can throw a dice and do as you please." Even when the improvisatory elements take over, Kasper Rofelt does not run from the responsibility as a composer. "Working with improvisation is a sensitive matter," he says. "There is a fine line between working with improvisation and then simply letting go of it all in a way where it makes no sense that you are even there as a composer. You can't just show up with empty music sheets and say: Here should be thirty bars of something."

Kasper Rofelt often emphasizes the timbre and technique of the individual instrument, and the cello concert is very much based on the nature of the string instrument. The cello should sound like a cello. "Of course I want to challenge the soloist technically," Rofelt explains and continues: "But not in a way where the music is estranged from the idiomatic of the cello. In that sense I am not trying to create new sounds. The form and the musical expression is what is important." 

Jakob Kullberg. Photo: Charlotte Miranda

Catalyst for the imagination
About the expression of the cello concert he explains that it should prepare the ground for imagination. "The idea with the title, 'Night Phase' is to create an image that people can interpret in different ways. A night phase, a night image if you will, where what you can't really see can manifest itself in a sort of fantasy. This also relates to the role of the soloist creating music on the spot. The expression of the music should be a catalyst for that."

Much is written down in the score, and the close collaboration between the composer and soloist means that Kasper Rofelt more or less knows what to expect when the work is premiered and performed again the day after. Never the less every single performance of 'Night Phase' will be significantly different from the others. 

Kasper Rofelt hopes that the audience will also notice the special atmosphere when the improvised parts are performed. "You can see, that something different is happening. The conductor will conduct in a completely different way, and the music will sound different. I hope that the audience will also feel the excitement of not knowing what will come. Jakob doesn't even now. Neither does the conductor." Kasper Rofelt grew up with parents who listened to jazz music, and the improvisations in live jazz concerts is one of the things he refers to, when he tries to put himself in the position of the audience: "When you see extremely talented musicians creating something right there in the moment, musical experiences arise."

22 March, 19.30
Kasper Rofelt: 'Night Phase' World Premiere
Odense Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Clément Mao-Takacs
Soloist: Jakob Kullberg
Carl Nielsen salen, Odense Concert Hall
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The concert will be broadcast live at DR P2

23 March, 17:00
Kasper Rofelt: 'Night Phase'
Odense Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Clément Mao-Takacs
Soloist: Jakob Kullberg
Carl Nielsen salen, Odense Concert Hall
Read more

23 March the cello concert will be performed as a part of Odense Symphony Orchestra's reach out programme for children and young people.