Ole Edvard Antonsen

By Verena Jakobsen
Ole Edvard Antonsen was born
in 1962 in Hamar, north of Oslo. 
While still young he began to appear 
as a soloist in Norway. His international 
breakthrough came in 1987 as he won 
first prize at the Geneva International 
Music Competition. Thereon he has made 
several solo recordings and has worked 
with the English record label EMI for some
years. The most recent CDs with EMI are 
entitled 'Pulling out the stops! (popular pieces 
for trumpet and organ)' with Wayne Marshall, 
and 'Tour de Force'. 

It is an October's day in Oslo, lightly raining, I take the bus to an interview with Ole Edvard Antonsen. For a long time I have associated his name with first class trumpet playing, and I'm curious as to whom I'm about to meet. I ring a bell, climb some stairs and am met by a lively and friendly young man. He is relaxed and uncomplicated, and it is very easy to begin a conversation.

The chocolate cake from the baker downstairs is regrettably sold out, coffee suffices. We sit on the sofa.Without my having to ask too many questions he begins to talk of himself and his music.- I began playing piano at three years old. When I was five my parents shifted the piano down into the basement. Because I was scared of the dark I didn't venture down there. Instead I found an old dented trumpet in my father's wardrobe. I began to play, which brought me a lot of pleasure straight away. Because my arms were too short for the trumpet, my parents gave me a cornet instead. To begin then, I was a cornetist.

Ole Edvard Antonsen received his first lessons from his father Odd R. Antonsen, who himself was a prominent figure in Hamar's musical life. My father played clarinet and saxophone and was a conductor. He worked a lot with Wind Bands and Big Bands, and had his own Dance Orchestra. He taught me the fundamentals. One can say that very early he put me on the right tracks.This is not to say that Ole Edvard was pressured from home, it was always his own will power, which motivated him.

Sometimes it would go as far as my father having to hunt me out of the house to go and find other children with whom I should play. I preferred being inside playing my intrument. That was real play for me.

Fast Progress

The young Ole Edvard learnt quickly and made fast progress. He began playing in his father's Dance Orchestra, in Big Bands and in Symphonic Bands. He was six and a half as he performed his first solo: with his father's Dance Band in front of an audience of two-and-a-half thousand. Ole Edvard remembers this moment well.

In response to the question, to whether he credits his fast progress to pure talent, or mainly as the result of hard work, he said:

-I think it is a mixture. Clearly a certain talent must be there, but I also think that a lot has to do with the ability to work properly. Also the environment plays an important role. I was never put under pressure, while the surrounding musical level inspired me a lot. Everyone in the family played at least one instrument, I was therefore encompassed by music all day.

As a young boy Ole Edvard admired Maurice Andre, Timofey Dokshitzer, and also Clark Terry, Chet Baker and Maynard Ferguson. As he puts it

-It is very important to have idols. One must have a concept of the kind of sound one seeks, and therefore an ideal sound to work upon. That doesn't mean just copying one sound. To be sure one begins by copying a teacher or model, but I believe that the duty of a good teacher is to encourage and promote the individuality of his students. The student's current lever should be the basis of further positive development. One should stimulate the student to become creative.


Harry Kvebæk

At ten Ole Edvard and his year younger brother Jens Petter were taught by Harry Kvebæk, long standing professor for trumpet at the Musikhochschule in Oslo. Ole Edvard speaks of Kvebæk with reverence and gratitude. He was for him simultaneously a teacher, father, friend, colleague and model.

Around the age of thirteen Ole Edvard performed for the first time as soloist with a professional orchestra, the Odense Symphony Orchestra. An operation to his lips at fourteen however, forced him to stop playing. He recommenced after a break of a year and a half.

-I now practised very hard, because I had decided to become a musician.After finishing his studies at the Musikhochschule in Oslo with Harry Kvebæk (receiving the best ever known grades), Ole Edvard won a position with the Oslo Philharmonic. He continued to play other jobs as in his student days. He reminisces:-Back then I could have a day where I rehearsed 10-2pm with the Philharmonic, played in studio from 2.30-6pm, back to the theatre at 7.30, and would finish up playing in a jazzclub. I learnt a lot in those years. My embouchure became very strong, although specialised.

Being at home in many musical styles is Ole Edvard's personal trademark. He says of himself:-On one hand I'm classically trained (Clarke, Arban etc), and I've worked a lot on the classical trumpet repertoire, the likes of Haydn, Arutiunian, Tomasi and Jolivet.

On the other hand I played lead trumpet in my father's Dance Orchestra and Big Band. I had the chance while young to try out these various options. Jazz and Pop have therefore always been a hobby while I concentrated professionally more on Classical.


Solo career

Harry Kvebæk encouraged Ole Edvard to begin a solo career straight after his studies, while he recognised his potential and talent.-However in those days I couldn't imagine a life consisting of travelling alone and living in hotel rooms. I was too sociable and busy in Oslo. I liked the freelance market and the opportunity to do all kinds of playing. Alongside the Oslo Philharmonic I was working as a freelancer and worked and worked...

However it did come to the point where I realised that something had to be done. I had tried out everything and felt I needed to move ahead. Apart from his position with the Oslo Philharmonic he then rejected all other jobs and concentrated on working towards the International Music Competition in Geneva.-My embouchure was totally used to freelancing. I had a strong, though not fine-tuned soloist's embouchure. I consider these to differ greatly. It took several months for me to bring my embouchure in soloist's form. I wanted a specific kind of flexibility.


Breakthrough in Geneva

Ole Edvard won the competition in Geneva. It was also the first time ever that a trumpeter had won with a unanimous jury. In regard to competitions Ole Edvard describes himself as having a two-side viewpoint. He actually considers it absurd to compete in music.

-In music there is no either or, nor right or wrong. One can like or not like something, but most performances have something positive about them. I find it very important that this positive core is encouraged, it's so terribly easy to criticise. One should ask instead what a musician wants to say with his interpretation, and why he plays as he does. On the other hand Ole Edvard recognises the opportunities awaiting young musicians through competitions. It doesn't change the world if one wins or not, but one gains publicity with a first prize.

-Exactly that happened with Ole Edvard. His name became known, and because of this he also developed artistically.Ole Edvard describes this competition as a mental turning point.-I began to think more solistically. I continued playing with the Oslo Philharmonic, while trying to become active as a soloist. I didn't take on other freelance jobs anymore.He concentrated on his solistic career, which in the initial phase wasn't that easy. He was often poorly paid; he almost had to pay himself for the privilege of performing as a soloist.Today he travels around 250 days per year, gives over 100 concerts, and has already performed in at least 30 countries.

When he is occasionally at home in Oslo, he spends his time largely repackaging his cases.

Ole Edvard enjoys this lifestyle.-I feel very happy. At 20 I couldn't imagine such a lifestyle, now I enjoy being alone, I like travelling around always meeting new people and giving concerts.


Music, a way of life

I want to know if he has time left for a private life and what he does in his free time:-I love nature. It is very important for me to get outdoors walking, cycling, or skiing. I fish as well, simply to gaze across the sea. Apart from that, jogging keeps me in physical form and helps as well as mentally.-Otherwise my hobbies are in music. Music is for me a way of life.

We turn to Ole Edvard's popularity in Norway, after all it is noticeable that every Norwegian knows who Ole Edvard Antonsen is. Almost every day an article on him, or a photo will appear in Norwegian magazines/ newspapers. He holds a place among Norway's most famous and important personalities. Why? And how does he feel about this?


The effects of popularity

 -I think I owe my popularity to the fact that I cover such a broad span of repertoire. I have done a lot of' popular music, and have appeared over many years on TV in talkshows. This makes one automatically well known. I believe also that when someone stands for duality in any genre, and is natural and sincere, it leaves a sympathetic impression. This appeals to people and means something to them.

He has never striven for this status, in fact would prefer it if all the publicity would concentrate solely on his music. He does also put this popularity to use, for charity and positive causes for example, which gives him the chance to see other dimensions and perspectives in life. However the popularity is not without its negative sides:-One becomes the butt of' criticism. In some conservative circles being popular is defined as being too commercial, which is taken as a sign of lack of identity.

For the establishment of his own identity Ole Edvard cites a necessity to have performed new music.

-One cannot tour only performing Haydn, Hummel, Tartini and Telemann. New music plays part in one's credibility. Ole Edvard often works together with composers.-Concertos are often written for me, which I then premiere. I find this very stimulating.

He has also worked in collaboration with instrument makers.-This work is interesting, although it unfortunately consumes a lot of time. At regular interval I work together with instrument makers on various models, it's a collaboration, which benefits both sides. At the same time I feel that I have enough to do in order to play really well on the instruments I already own. I also do not wish to sell myself, and lose the freedom allowing me to chose at any stage any instrument, which I feel, suits my present purpose. This is a very individual phenomenon.


Musical expression and the trumpet

To finish with I ask Ole Edvard to describe what the trumpet means to him: - The trumpet is for me an instrument chosen by coincidence, in order to express music. I would be able to live without the trumpet, but not without music. I really want my trumpet to sing and to speak. In music we say things without the help of words, and have to resort to other means of expression. Sometimes I picture the trumpet as two dimensional and the human voices three-dimensional. By this I mean that the voice is not tonally fixed. Phonetics enhance the voice's ability to underline and to stress certain moments, and also to create new sounds. I try the whole time with my trumpet to become closer to the voice. The phonetics of the trumpet are the embouchure, the treatment of timbre, the use of the tongue and of the air. One can transform the character of music through all this. It is very important to me to create differing moods, making the instrument speak or sing.


Potential of instrument

The trumpet possesses an imposing expressive range. It still retains its anchors as a military instrument, although also having a very Iyrical and tender side (which is unfortunately often neglected).

I believe that generally we should be thinking more music and less about the trumpet as an instrument. This is not to ignore that the trumpet retains a very physically demanding instrument, and one doesn't always manage to physically produce one's desired sound. I work all the time on trying to free myself from the instrument. It should not be a hindrance, rather a means for me to express my innermost feelings.

Ole Edvard expresses similar thoughts throughout our talk.

-The worst mistake is being too concentrated on the trumpet and not on the music.

One must be free from the instrument. Often one is too preoccupied with what the trumpet cannot do. I am interested in what it can do, and try to build on that. The possibilities must be extended, and horizons opened. One should have goals for which one strives.

The following thoughts, which reveal Ole Edvard's artistic personality, make the conclusion of this article:-One should have one's heart in performing and pleasure in playing. It is important never to forget the reasons why one began playing: in order to make music.

I give Ole Edvard my thanks for this most inspiring interview, and return outside to the dreary October's day in Oslo. I reminisce on much over which we spoke, which is long to remain with me.

(Translation: Helen Barsby)

This interview was published in the EuroITG Newsletter, 1997/2. Permission to publish it here, given by the editor, Verena Jakobsen.