April 25, 2018
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No time for tame

By Emily Burnham, BDN Staff

Trond Saeverud doesn’t understand how anyone could say that classical music is relaxing. To him, it’s the most exhilarating thing in the world.

“I relate it to sky diving or rock climbing. It’s an adrenaline rush,” said Saeverud, concertmaster for the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and conductor for the Passamaquoddy Bay Symphony Orchestra, among several other titles. “Relaxing? It’s not relaxing. It’s exciting.”

Saeverud’s career as a violinist has taken him far from his home country of Norway, growing up under the wise, playful eye of his grandfather, the renowned composer Harald Saeverud. From Norway to Japan, Denmark, Texas, and eventually all the way to the Brewer House, the quiet, white-columned, built-in-1823 bed-and-breakfast he and his wife, artist Joan Siem, run in Robbinston.

Harald Saeverud isn’t exactly a household name stateside, but in Norway he’s a national treasure — his works are still regularly performed, and his large, beautiful home is now a museum. His Sinfonia Dolorosa, Op. 19 was performed by the Bangor Symphony Orchestra at its March 15 concert, conducted by his grandson. Trond Saeverud recalls his grandfather as being a strong, fun-loving man, who was as serious about his music as he was mischievous in his life.

“He was really fun. That’s really the first word that comes to mind — fun,” said Saeverud. “He would always come up with unusual things to do. He’d eat at a restaurant and ask the person at the coat check for his hat. He hadn’t even brought a hat. He was very playful. People think Scandinavians are very dour and heavy. Really, we’re very flippant. We can’t be serious for more than 10 minutes without making a joke.”

Robbinston, Maine, is a long way from Norway, or from Japan, where Saeverud and Siem taught school on an American Air Force base for a year in the 1980s. It’s a long way from Kansas, where Saeverud received his doctorate in music at Kansas State University, or Texas, where he and Siem lived during the winters before moving to Maine year-round five years ago. But it’s a totally logical jump, to him.

“I was fascinated by the treeless environment in Kansas. In Norway, you’re always struggling through woods and mountains to get to the landscape. I just want to see everything,” said Saeverud. “Parts of Maine are like that too. The blueberry barrens are incredibly beautiful. I love open landscapes like that.”

Besides the geographical appeal, the easternmost reaches of Washington County offer a wealth of cultural resources and creatively minded individuals — something that might come as a shock to a non-resident.

“We summered here for years and fell in love, but we didn’t realize just how many wonderfully talented people there are in this area, with quite impressive credentials,” said Saeverud. “How else could we form an entire orchestra out of community members? How else could we have chamber music series if people didn’t support it? It’s pretty incredible.”

That community orchestra is the Passamaquoddy Bay Symphony Orchestra, which kicks off its third season with two concerts today, one at 2 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center at the University of Maine at Machias, and one at 7 p.m. at the Eastport Arts Center. On Sunday, May 10, two more concerts are set for 2 p.m. at the Algonquin Hotel, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, and 7 p.m. at the St. Stephens Middle School in St. Stephens, New Brunswick.

Why New Brunswick? Because the orchestra is composed of half Canadian citizens and half Americans — from the Frost family, based in St. Andrews, to the Schuth family, based in Eastport. It’s all ages — from the high school-aged Lydia and Nadine Frost, to parents and grandparents, and a slew of community supporters, such as Doug Gaither, a French horn player and the man Saeverud called “the engine that drives the whole thing.”

“I believe we are, in fact, one of the very few fully international symphony orchestras in the world,” said Saeverud. “It’s very new, still, and very exciting. It’s progressed so quickly, too. We’re doing Stravinsky this time around. We’re premiering an original piece this year, a composition for musical saw, with Gene Nichols from UMM playing. It’s a great time for us.”

Asked about his personal favorite composers and pieces to play, and Saeverud falls silent. It’s not that he doesn’t have a favorite — it’s just that his favorite happens to be whatever piece he’s currently performing.

“I can never name one in particular,” he said. “I play Stravinsky, and I’m in love with [it]. Then I play Brahms, and I love that too. I suppose I’m generally interested in anything moving and exciting and dynamic. But the moment I start playing, it’s the experience that I love. That’s what I live for.”

In his role as the music director of the PBSO, Saeverud is most concerned with bringing the music into the community, and reaching out to people of all ages and backgrounds. That doesn’t even mention his other jobs, including directing the University of Maine at Farmington Community Orchestra, playing first violin in the Nor’easter String Quartet and being artistic director of the Harald Saeverud Chamber Music Program. Saeverud is, to put it lightly, a busy man.

His experiences conducting orchestras in Norway and Denmark, as well as his duties organizing a festival of his grandfather’s works, sponsored by the Norwegian government, have made him well versed in the ins and outs of running a musical organization. But, in the end, it all goes back to that jolt he gets when the orchestra starts playing — and the jolt that it is hoped it gives the audience.

“My relationship to music is through the shared experience that I have with other people,” he said. “It’s all about what creates excitement. It’s in the doing of it, for me. It’s very in the moment. And when it happens, it’s truly wonderful.”

Trond Saeverud will next perform with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, May 31, when it does a program of Russian dances, including pieces by Prokofiev and Stravinsky. For more information on the Passamaquoddy Bay Symphony Orchestra, visit www.eastportartscenter.com.

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