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ISSUE 119 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 3/3/2006

Jensen rocks the wool sweater set

By William Roberts
Contributing Writer


Friday, March 3, 2006

Many worthwhile classical performances at St. Olaf seem to involve a handful of students spread amongst a sea of Norwegian sweaters and their married owners happily clasping hands. Espen Jensen's performance last Sunday was no exception. Classical guitarist and recording artist Espen Jensen seemed comfortable and relaxed during a short interview before his solo performance in a packed Studio A in Urness Recital Hall.

“I like it here,” Jensen said. “There’s something about the atmosphere that I would say is a little more Norwegian than most of the United States- the quiet.”

A doctoral candidate at Indiana University, Jensen has what it takes to move an audience. He displayed a measured, expressive and clearly articulated musical character throughout the performance.

His program was sure; it was a memorized tour of staples in the classical guitar literature as well as lesser-known modern works.

St. Olaf Assistant Professor of Music Justin Merritt, who invited Jensen to perform at the college, wrote “Sinister Dexter,” one such recently engendered piece. Merritt’s composition provided a spotlight on a grace more avant-garde than the rest, as it featured curious thumps, deliberate squeaks and other strange sounds created through extended techniques. Jensen’s “Bach Suite in A Minor” was of a moderate order. It was precise and rolling, always with accountability in the momentum department. He performed best in the “Sarabande,” which was marked with a controlled barrenness and seemed to hush the audience into a noticeably attentive stillness.

The classical guitar is an instrument incapable of sustaining a single pitch without re-attacks. While its inherent inability to sing would seem to detract from its appeal, the guitar’s nylon strings offer tones like small bells that sound and fade with an eerie perfection. It is an instrument of finesse and sensibility and it lacks an ability to sing. Jensen used this to his advantage and did justice to the waltzes of Argentinean composer Augustin Barrios.

In spite of the sea of Nordic wool, under Jensen's able hand the Chopinesque bravura of these dances created an aura of romance.

In the end, Jensen, eyes closed, swaying and gesturing subtly with the supple nature of his work, had succeeded in creating an atmosphere like the one he mentioned – something a little more Norwegian than most of the United States.





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