Thursday, April 27, 2000

Norwegian cellist dresses as if he's had successes

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The first time cellist Truls Mork entered a major contest, the 1982 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, he had to borrow dress shoes for the final round.

        “When I was there with four cellists from my school, it was basically to see what the competition was like,” Mr. Mork says by phone from Minnesota, where he was performing with the Minnesota Orchestra last week.

        “We had a very unserious (attitude) about the competition. In fact, I didn't bring any clothes to play in. We all expected to leave after the first round.”

        The 39-year-old Norwegian cellist, who appears with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra this weekend, was the first Scandinavian to win a prize in the prestigious competition.

        As a young contestant, Mr. Mork was impressed by the crowds who followed each player during the two-week-long first round.

        “They had strong opinions. They might come to you and say, "You played this piece very well, but why did you play that piece so slow?' ” he recalls. “That was a very big challenge, and also a great inspiration, to see that it really mattered to people exactly how you played a piece.”

        When he kept advancing, he realized he had a problem: concert clothes. All he had with him was a folkloric Norwegian shirt — no jacket. For the final round, he borrowed black shoes from the director of the Norwegian National Opera, who was there to listen to singers.

        “It was a very big surprise to me that I got a prize,” he says. “Most of all, it helped me to be recognized in my own country.”

        He went on to win several other contests — including New York's Naumburg — not because he enjoyed competing, but “as a kind of confirmation” that his playing was at a high enough level to have a concert career.

        “I looked upon it as necessary, because I was coming from a country that doesn't have a great string player tradition,” he says. @subHed: @text:

        Mr. Mork was born in Bergen on Norway's west coast, and has lived all over Norway, most recently in Oslo. He grew up listening to his father, a professional cellist, and his mother, a pianist.

        As a boy, he wanted to play the violin, and his father arranged for him to study with a colleague. However, the violinist was too busy, and young Truls was unable to get a lesson. Finally, his father decided to teach him the cello instead.

        “He never really asked me to play for him or pushed me to practice. It was always the other way around; I had to go to him and ask, please, could he give me a lesson,” he says.

        Although at age 11 he was relatively old to be starting an instrument, he was “totally hooked on it.”

        “I wanted to be very, very good,” he says. “I worked very much in the early years. I didn't even perform a lot; I just studied.” @subHed: @text:

        At the Tchaikovsky Competition, he was noticed by conductor Mariss Jansons, music director of the Oslo Philharmonic and the Pittsburgh Symphony, thus beginning a close friendship. Mr. Mork will be the featured soloist with Mr. Jansons next month on a European tour with the Pittsburgh Symphony.

        Mr. Mork also formed an important relationship with the Jarvi family of conductors. In the 1993-94 season, he made his American debut under Neeme Jarvi and the Detroit Symphony. He got to know CSO music director-designate Paavo Jarvi in the late '80s, when the young maestro was conducting the Norwegian National Opera. Mr. Mork's wife was then a dancer in the ballet company, and they often went out together.

        “When we finally worked together, it was not like meeting a stranger; it was like a friend,” Mr. Mork says of the younger Jarvi. He considers their recording of the Miaskovsky Cello Concerto with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (Virgin Classics) “one of the best recordings I've made.”

        “He has the ability to shape things in a way that is special,” he says.

        The third conductor in the Jarvi family, Kristjan Jarvi (Paavo's younger brother) will join Mr. Mork this summer in the International Chamber Music Festival in Stavanger. Mr. Mork founded the festival, the first of its kind in Norway, 10 years ago.

        Although the festival is getting harder to squeeze into a family life with three small children and a playing schedule packed with major orchestra engagements, Mr. Mork still looks forward to that week of playing chamber music.

        “I find it inspiring to stay in one place for a week, eat together and rehearse together,” he says. “You get so many new ideas.”

        What: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Jesus Lopez-Cobos, conductor; Truls Mork, cellist.

        When: 11 a.m. Friday; 8 p.m. Saturday.

        Where: Music Hall.

        The program: Rachmaninoff, Vocalise; Dvorak, Cello Concerto in B Minor; Rachmaninoff, Symphony No. 2 in E Minor (to be recorded for Telarc).

        Classical Conversations: Professor Simon Anderson, one hour before concert.

        Tickets: $12-$46; $10 students. 381-3300, or at

        Linton Series: Truls Mork performs on the Linton Music Series with former CSO concertmaster Alexander Kerr and pianist Michael Chertock, 4 p.m. Sunday, First Unitarian Church, Linton and Reading roads. It's sold out by subscription, but tickets may be available at the door. 381-6868.


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