Saturday, 21 November 2015


How we interact with the inevitable cornerstone of our universe that we call Time , has always fascinated me. (And it has been a long time since I posted in this blog, partly because the last few months have been a very busy time!) Time ticks along at the same rate everywhere on this planet, at least with the exception of the dilations caused by relative velocity or gravitation, neither of which create a meaningful difference to us treading the Earth's surface. And yet our perception of time is highly individual: time seems to be able to shift gears and take us by surprise at any moment!

Time is of course a cornerstone not only of our universe, but crucially in music and many other art forms. I have often thought when observing a great musician that out of all the subtle means we have at our disposal as artists, timing is probably the most subtle and powerful of them all. Not timing completely on its own perhaps, but timing combined with other creative tools. Timing in music is often misunderstood as meaning regularity, but in fact regularity is rather boring and that is exactly where timing comes into the equation; the slight prolongation of a beat to suggest hesitation or delaying a note by a small amount in order to create rhythmic accent. If in doubt, listen to a really great organist or harpsichordist (and there are not that many!) and observe them making an inherently inexpressive instrument sing and communicate - that's timing!

The various speeds of time are present in other ways in the life of a musician. We use vast quantities of time in practising our instruments, preparing repertoire and rehearsing. Sometimes we underestimate how long time we will need to properly digest and internalize a piece of music, and we often get carried away and lose track of time... time flies when you have fun. We certainly experience the opposite too - the grueling couple of hours before a concert locked away in a depressing concert hall dressing room (pictured below) when time appears to refuse to move at all! And finally perhaps the greatest paradox of all, the perception of time when on stage; when our senses need to be ultra alert time seems to move fast and slow all at once! Like watching a slow motion film at high speed - I still find it quite bewildering.

On a more general level, managing time in our lives seems to be quite an issue for many people, and perhaps the challenges involved are greater in our modern world than ever before. Arguably a lot of it boils down to having a choice of how to spend our time; until about a hundred years ago the majority of people would have had little choice of how to spend their time if they were keen to stay alive - work as hard as possible to grow food so as not to starve, sleep for the remainder of the time available.

Paradoxically, in my own life, I often find that I manage to get a lot more done during the periods in life when I find myself thinking "oh, if I could only find more time for all the things I would like to do" than the times when I don't have a lot of planned activities. Suffice to say, now is one of those latter periods...

There is clearly a lot to say on the subject of time, but this blog post has to end here so that I can go and finish dinner... on time!

Wednesday, 16 September 2015


[trigger warning: this post is made up of 100% boasting]

Parasol mushrooms, Macrolepiota procera, Stolt fjällskivling - the mushroom picker's wet dream. We have them on our doorstep! Aren't we lucky?

In fact, in a sudden outburst of smugness, I had to measure exactly how close to our doorstep these guys grow, and I am pleased to tell you that the nearest specimen grew exactly 9.8 meters from the corner of the house, which makes it about 18 meters from the kitchen where it was to be turned into lunch. Parasols are huge size mushrooms and like all fungi they grow incredibly quickly. These two showed up the day before yesterday, and back then they were barely visible!

Parasol mushrooms, when fried, end up tasting a bit like steak but almost better. Like the idealized steak, I would suggest; juicy, savory, meaty... Mmmm!! Mine were sliced and served with pasta today.

Over and out.

Oh... did I mention that I have spotted six more on the go in the immediate vicinity?

Sunday, 6 September 2015


As I write this, I am on my way to hear the final concert of the inaugural Stockholm Piano Festival in the Stockholm Concert Hall. Thanks to the great initiative and hard work by my colleagues Ivetta Irkha, Roland Pöntinen and Love Derwinger we have had a monumental celebration of all things piano for the last few days, involving some 40 pianists from the age of 6 to 77. Last night I had the pleasure of taking part in the Marathon Concert - 19 pianists playing 20 minute recitals back to back - in the gorgeous Grünewald Recital Hall in the Stockholm Concert Hall to an audience of more than 1300 people during the course of 10 hours. The picture below shows my colleague Henrik Måwe on stage, to give you an idea of the wonderful atmosphere in the hall.

I find It is always astonishing in these situations, almost unbelievable even, how the same piano can sound so dramatically different in the hands of different pianists, one after another! And this certainly was the case last night; an almost endless variety of sounds and resonances were drawn from the Steinway which had been beautifully prepared by resident piano technician Tore Persson. Altogether an extraordinary celebration of our wonderful instrument and repertoire!

I had the great honour of giving the world première performance of the Anders Nilsson Chaconne, that I have been writing about in a previous post. A great addition to the treasure that is the piano repertoire, which was very warmly received by the audience last night, including many of my colleagues who were there. After me came one of my old teachers from my student days, legendary Swedish pianist Staffan Scheja, seen playing Brahms' op.10 ballades here through the stage door.

Remains to keep fingers crossed the Stockholm Piano Festival becomes a regular occurrence. And tonight we have a party to look forward to...!

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Bread (food for thought)

Some foods have more of a sensuous shimmer attached to them than others, and to my mind bread has always been one of those foods. Good bread is something that I find it hard to live without, and sadly it seems to be one of the hardest things get hold of too. Supermarket bread, at least in Sweden, is almost universally terribly disappointing and dull bread is probably one of the main reasons I hate hotel breakfasts (except in England, as the English breakfast cleverly bypasses bread and gives you things like black pudding instead!). If you live in a big city, or in a country like France where they value their bread, you go to your favourite baker to buy bread. But what do you do in the middle of nowhere in Sweden?

When I was little I loved staying with my grandparents and I learnt a lot of my basic cooking skills from my grandma, who incidentally also made almost all the bread that they ate. And indeed when living in the Swedish countryside, learning how to make good bread is certainly the easiest and arguably most rewarding way of getting access to really good bread. I have spent many hours in the last ten years or so making bread. Trial and error, combined with a healthy portion of the scientific theory of bread chemistry has been my method. And as of the last few years I have arrived at a method that seems to deliver the result I am looking for. So many factors come into play here; what flour you use, which proportions, the raising agent, the amount of salt, how you knead/prove/form the loaf, how hot the oven is... but most importantly what it boils down to is the kind of experience that you (sadly) can't learn from a book. The feel for when things seem right. I find that in a world when so much knowledge is available on tap, as it were, right there on the web, experience should be valued higher than ever. Experience require perseverance, dedication, patience, an inquisitive mind and probably some talent - the same things that are central to learning to master a musical instrument, as it happens. And to get started all you need is four simple ingredients: flour, salt, water and time which together transform quite magically into bread.

Of course the word bread carries a wider notion - that of food and sustenance in general - give us today our daily bread. And arguably it is a bit superficial to complain about the quality of bread in Swedish supermarkets when there are plenty of people who either have no choice at all, or frankly have no bread on the table in the wider sense. Well, one thing we could get a lot better at in our privileged part of the world is to value what we have, and stop taking our food for granted. And we need to consider more how our food consumption affects people in poorer countries, including its effects on climate change and other environmental and socio-economical aspects. We could also make sure that we don't bite off more than we can chew in the literal sense, as food wastage keeps increasing. And there are various Fair Trade schemes we can support to make sure the people who grow the exotic foods that we import are safe and get paid properly for their hard work. And then there is the political challenge...

And while on that note, we here in the Western World also need to remind our politicians that man does not live by bread alone...!

Monday, 17 August 2015


The life of the concert pianist is rarely as busy as when the concert diary looks empty; those weeks are spent locked up in our practise studios learning new repertoire or polishing up old pieces. This is where I find myself right now. As usual I have a wide range of music to work on - from standard works to more obscure music well outside the "canon" of international standard repertoire. In my first concert of the new season, on 5th of September, I have the tremendous pleasure and honour to give the world premiere performance of a brand new piece of Swedish piano music during the Stockholm Piano Festival in the Stockholm Concert Hall. The complete antithesis to playing a Beethoven sonata or a Chopin ballade - simply something nobody has ever heard before!

The piece in question is called Chaconne and was commissioned by me from Swedish composer Anders Nilsson. Anders has written two works for solo piano before, and me and my colleagues widely recognize those as some of the best music written for piano in Sweden in the last few decades. Those works were both composed more than 20 years ago, and despite their success we have had to wait a long time for another piano work from Anders' pen... until NOW! Personally I can hardly wait to present this new piece to the public, and I have just come far enough in the learning process to finally hear it properly myself, and just as I suspected we are faced with some powerful and beautiful music. So, be there on the 5th September!

Working on music by a living composer is something to get excited by in its own right, at least for someone like me who spend a lot of my time playing music by people who have been dead for hundreds of years. The interaction with the composer definitely adds another dimension to the creative process, and then there is the rather more mundane fact that if something is unclear in the score you can simply send a text message to the composer asking "should I be repeating the e-flat on the third beat of bar 104?" or "do you really mean f-natrual in the left hand in bar 146?". Would that we could send a text message to Beethoven now and again...!

When I start working on a certain piece of music my brain often make more or less random connexions between that and other works that I have previously played. And this time it occurred to me what extraordinary music has been created within the chaconne genre (and the related passacaglia). Here are some of my personal favourites, please feel free to add yours in the comments!

Händel (with or without Halvorsen) - Passacaglia
Bach (with or without the help of Busoni) - Chaconne from 2nd violin Partita
Beethoven - 32 variations
Franck - Chorale no.2
Brahms - 4th Symphony, 4th movement
Liszt - Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen
Shostakovich - Passacaglia from 1st violin Concerto
de Frumerie - Chaconne for piano

and as of recently...
Anders Nilsson - Chaconne!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Back home - rampant garden

So some 5.410 kilometers later we were back from our little road trip - along with a healthy amount of wine and cheese at that! The rolling hills of the Tarn countryside, with its small farms and pretty villages sometimes seem to me like a journey into a peaceful past, and over the last 13 years or so I have grown very fond of it indeed. A lot of the time when visiting a beautiful place like that I find myself thinking: "why then do I not live here?!". Luckily though, I then come back home and without exception I go: "Oh, I know why!"- and then I feel extremely priviledged and lucky...

If you go away for a week or two at the beginning of August, you will invariably come home to find that your vegetable garden has gone a bit wild; you will have masses of weeds to pull out, and courgettes turned into marrows the size of tree-trunks! And on that note I thought I would introduce you to my new vegetable garden, as I think I promised in an earlier post. 

I have spent a lot of time gardening every summer since I moved in together with Karna back at my parents-in-law's farm, half a kilometer from where we now live. The soil in our part of the world is heavy to say the least - heavy clay, that is what we have. It is nicely nutritious and to say that it retains water well would be something of an understatement! The main problem it poses is that in wet weather it turns into a dense sludge which suffocates the roots of all plants and causes them to rot. Then, when it dries out it practically turns into cement. So it requires some hard work in order to be able to plant seeds and grow things in it. Normally this is solved by plowing the land in late autumn and then leave the lumps of clay to freeze into small fragments during winter. You can then cultivate in spring, and with some luck grow things quite successfully. The main problem with this system to my mind, is that it stops you from for example keeping cabbages in winter (because the whole patch needs to be plowed) and it also means having to wait for a long time in spring until things have dried out sufficiently to start cultivating, thereby delaying sowing and planting sometimes towards the end of May.

So when it came to creating a vegetable garden here at our own place, I had to think of a way around some of these problems. I decided that framed raised beds inspired by how the Victorians in England used to grow vegetables might be the way forward. The moment I started mentioning this to people I was immediately warned that it would require some unbelievably hard work to set up. It did! By the beginning of June this year I started to feel I might have moved half the county 50 centimeters all by hand. So was it going to be worth all the hard work? 

The patch of land that we decided was going to be ideally suited for the purpose was all meadow initially, so the first step was to put the pigs there for a few months last autumn to get rid of all the grass and clover and stuff - above as well as below ground. During winter we then dug up some tree-roots and once things dried up a bit in spring (which turned out to be quite late this year) I borrowed my father-in-law's tractor and cultivator and gave it a thorough cultivation. After that the hard work begun; I raked the topsoil into ten beds - eight ones sized 1 x 9 meters for annual vegetables and two smaller ones for asparagus and garlic. We then mixed in lots of mulch-rich soil and manure, along with some coarse sand and a load of rotting silage. The idea is to encourage a lot of biological activity in the beds as that both generates heat and eventually improves the soil quality. I also added some homemade bio-char. Finally a thorough (ask my back!) mixing of all these ingredients, and sides make from oak planks where put around the beds. (We did not have enough oak to go around, so in the end only three beds were provided with sides. As soon as I find time to saw more oak planks we will add more sides.)

As all this work took a lot longer than planned. We ended up planting and sowing a lot later than normal - well into June - and on top of that we have had cold and rainy summer. Despite all this things grow like mad, so we must have done something right! The picture above shows what the garden looked like mid July, and below is what it looks like now. 

The reason for the eight beds is to allow for crop rotation. The first year you add lots of manure to the soil and grow courgettes, pumpkins, corn, cucumbers and cabbages. The next year you use the same pair of beds to grow carrots, beetroots, lettuces and onions. The following year potatoes and finally a fourth summer of beans, peas and broad beans which fix nitrogen from the air into the soil. As far as handling the winter is concerned, obviously we don't know how that is going to turn out yet, but the hope is that the raised beds will stay drier because of being raised and that some light digging will be enough to make the soil malleable in spring. Fingers crossed! 

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Pianos and fine wine

We are coming to the end of yet another week of intense pianistic activity at Music at Ambialet, the piano summer school run by my dear friend and former teacher Paul Roberts. I have had the pleasure of being part of this operation for many years now, and I have always felt honoured to be invited to teach alongside Paul in this lovely inspiring atmosphere that he manages to create. There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of summer courses for young pianists all over the world, but almost all of them are exclusively for young pianists at conservatoire level or similar. Music at Ambialet offers something different in that we have an advanced class of mainly young music students alongside an intermediate class of people all ages from all over the world. This eclectic mix clearly creates a really different and most stimulating environment and many participants keep coming back year after year. In my case I have been coming here for so long - first as a participant in the late 90s, then as a helper (I used to run the bar!) and finally invited as Paul's co-teacher - that it has started to feel like family and almost a home away from home.

The main difference for me this year is that I have my car here (and as of a couple of nights ago Karna has joined us too) and so I thought that as I am in the south of France with a car it would be a shame to miss the opportunity to buy some nice wine. The summer course has changed venues a few times over the years and as of last year it takes place on a small farm in a very remote corner of the Tarn region. The place is owned by Michel Berger, a French wine merchant who lives in Belgium during the year. Good news for me in my search of some good wine, as Michel was able to point me in the direction of a very interesting winemaker. So yesterday I punched an address into my GPS and drove off past the striking medieval town of Albi and another half-an-hour into the countryside beyond, and eventually ended up at a small vineyard called Domaines Plageoles. The surrounding area is littered with vineyards with small shops for dégustation et vente and the hills are covered with wine as far as the eye can see.

Domaines Plageoles turned out to be a very exciting winemaker indeed, with a special focus on old grapes of the Gaillac region with exotic names such as Ondenc and Prunelard. I spent 25 minutes tasting some absolutely wonderful wine and came out of there with a dozen of bottles as well as feeling immensely proud of having dealt with it all in French!

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Road trip

As I write this I find myself in the South of France, in a tiny place called Albignac deep down in a beautiful lush green valley, where I am teaching and playing at the piano summer school that my old friend and once-upon-a-time teacher Paul Roberts runs here. A bunch of pianists - half of them young conservatoire students, half of them amateurs all ages - have come from all over the world to play to Paul and myself and when we don't play pianos we get waited upon and served lovely French food prepared from local produce by Paul's family and friends, who have come to be dear friends of mine over the more than ten years that I have been coming here. Hardly surprising then that I have come to count this as one of the highlights of my year!

In previous years I have always travelled here by plane, but this year I decided it would be fun to drive, so that's what I spent the last three days doing. I left home in the drizzling rain on Thursday morning and drove southwards, stopping in Malmö to pick up my friend Henrik who lives in Hamburg. Together we carried on through Denmark and waited for a slightly undesirable hour and a half for the ferry at Rødby, followed by a horrendously rough 45 crossing accompanied by horrendous fast-food on the boat. In the end we came to Hamburg where I stayed over night. 

I left on Friday morning on an investigation of the Autobahn system that was to take me to Luxembourg. On my way I fitted in a short stop in Cologne complete with a bratwurst and a visit to the magnificent cathedral. Aided by my trusted friend, the iPhone GPS who bravely struggled with the foreign street names (some entertainment value there, I can assure you!) I eventually arrived in the remarkable fairytale landscape of Berbourg in Luxembourg where I was served a lovely meal and stayed the night with old friend Anna Dannfelt. 

The final stage of my journey took me through France yesterday, and to the remarkably hilly and stunningly beautiful regions of Aveyron and Tarn, down some of the bendiest roads our trusted Peugeot has ever had to negotiate and come six o'clock last night, I had arrived. Slightly knackered I was too, but after a some cassoulet a drop of wine and a good night's sleep I was ready for some piano action!

Here is the view I woke up to...

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Musical activities

So after four weeks of holiday the time has come to resume musical activity. I have always found it fascinating how refreshing a break from playing can be. Suddenly you seem to hear things with new ears, as it were, and once you start practising again so many ideas seem to spring up. And I seem to be lucky enough not to experience any tangible difficulty in getting those fingers back on form when I resume playing...

My first concert of the new season will be playing Schumann's Kreisleriana in France next week, but I shall come back to that in a later post. Before resuming pianistic activity proper I allowed myself a soft start involving the other two instruments which I occasionally pick up: the organ and the bass guitar!

The remarkable mess of pipes, windchests, action parts, bellows and electronics that makes up the organ, has a very special place in my heart. In fact it used to be my main instrument from the age of ten until just before I moved from home at about eighteen. The main reason I worked hard on my piano playing in those years was that my organ teachers made it clear to me that the piano was crucial to developing a good technique on the organ. When it was time to apply for music college I went for piano for this very reason and the idea was that I was going to go back to study the organ after a year. Well, that never happened, and I suspect that deep inside I already knew that I was going to become a pianist, although I had been advised against it given the difficulty of making a living in the profession. Either way, the organ remains a source of endless fascination to me and I really enjoy coming back to it now and then.

The organ console (organ speak for cockpit) pictured above is that of the organ in the village church in Sköldinge, 5 kilometers from where I grew up, and only a few kilometers from where I now live. This is where I had my first organ lessons and where I spent countless hours practising about 25 years ago. My poor dad had to drive me there and then sit and read a book for a few hours while I played my scales and stuff. The instrument has 25 stops and is unusually ambitious for a countryside church, and it was a fine tool indeed to have at your disposal when learning to play. The other day I played a couple of small pieces by Bach (on the anniversary of his death, as it happens) there in a little lunchtime recital. Very nostalgic of course.

I never listened to anything other than classical music as a child, and as a matter of fact in early interviews I maintained that I considered pop and rock music "naught but noise"! The truth is I realise now that I had no idea about any other style of music, so could not have known what I thought of it. Luckily that changed and rather suddenly too. When I was about thirteen years old I was introduced (by a viola player!) to the music of English rock band Queen. As so often in my case, this launched an obsessive fascination with their music, which has not entirely passed to this day. I found (and find) Queen's music a remarkable concoction of instinctive musicality, clever ideas, wit, sentimentality, and raw energy, and I quickly developed a great respect for the four musicians that make (or made) up the band. At about the same time as I discovered Queen, my music teacher in school, Bosse Sundahl, stuck a bass guitar in my hands. Over the next few years I taught myself to play bass pretty decently, if I may say so, largely by emulating Queen's bass player John Deacon.

This leads me to my other, slightly more light-hearted, musical activity of the last few days; for the last two summers my father-in-law has organized a barn dance in his barn, and for this occasion I have joined my various in-laws to provide some music for the dancing. This sounds nothing out of the ordinary perhaps, but in Sweden the particular kind of dance music that we play (dansbandsmusik) is highly stigmatized for being some of the blandest and most sentimental music known to man. We solve this by aiming for the blandest, most sentimental and most ridiculous songs in this repertoire, so as to really make a statement! And we call ourselves Svågerz Orkester - svåger is Swedish for brother-in-law - and we look thus:

Think you can tell a good time was had...!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Honey... and cabbage!

Yesterday we harvested the first honey this year. To our great relief we found that the bees of our new colony turn out to be really rather peaceful, particularly compared to the horribly hostile ones we had last year. (Pity they didn't survive the winter, but to be perfectly honest, no-one is going to miss them!) Either way, even aside from the potential risk of getting stung by bees, honey harvesting is quite a messy business, not to mention sticky!

First you have to lift frames full of honey out of the hive, starting well above shoulder height as can be seen in the picture above. Each frame, if mainly capped, weighs about 2 kilos or so, and they have lots of confused bees hanging on to them which need to be brushed off too. And as soon as you have taken the frames that have enough honey to be worth extracting you need to take these away to somewhere bee-free rather quickly before the clever little ones find the honey and all fly there in order to take it back.

Once this is done you have a few hours of rather sticky work - uncapping and extracting the honey - to look forward to. But as long as you are prepared that everything, and I really mean everything will get very sticky, it is quite a fun process. Here is a picture of me uncapping a frame of honey.

The bees put a seal on each honeycomb cell once they are happy with the water content in the honey. If the honey contains too much water it will ferment, so they fan the honey by flapping their wings above the cell until enough water evaporates. Fascinating little insects, aren't they? Naturally for the same reason, as a beekeeper you are looking to extract mainly capped honey, and the 17 frames that we selected yesterday were all basically completely capped. And at the end of the day, when you are looking at 36.5 kilos of beautiful golden, quite literally mellifluous honey, all the hard work seems like nothing.

We finished the day with another beautiful bit of harvesting: that of the first cabbage (of the brassica oleracea var. capitata elliptica variety, there does not seem to be an English name for it) from our new garden. It was so crisp and sweet that more than half of it ended up being eaten fresh as a snack!

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Deep waters...

I promised I would occasionally be a little opinionated on here, so here goes...!

Today Karna and I found time to do some fishing for the first time this year - really unusually late for us, but we have had a lot on (like creating a vegetable garden!) this spring and early summer, and besides we had put so much fish in the freezer last year that it lasted us until last week. We fish with nets which we put out in the evening and then lift out of the lake in the morning, by which time the nets usually contain a few Perch, or a Pike and, if we are lucky, the odd Perch-Pike (Zander if you are on the other side of the Atlantic!). This method of fishing carries a lot of nostalgic memories for me as we used to fish with nets in the summers of my childhood, spent in the cottage my family used to have near Gryt on the Baltic coast. Pulling the nets out of the water still brings out a child-like sense of excitement in me, as I peer as far into the depths as I can see in order to detect any gleaming, wriggling fish. (Incidentally, digging up potatoes does about the same thing for me!)

The subject of fishing brings us to the uncomfortable but salient fact that sooner or later, if you want to eat the fish, you are going to have to kill it. Obviously this translates to any other animals that you decide you might want to eat too - pigs, reindeer, grasshoppers, oysters - and while I guess this is something that everyone must surely be aware of, it certainly seems to be something that more and more people choose to turn a blind eye to. I have eaten fish and meat my whole life so far, and I would be lying if I said there had not been times when I didn't give this much thought. But lately, now that I keep animals for food and catch my own fish, this moral dilemma has certainly come into focus in a most tangible way.

And let me be straight about this: killing the animal is not an enjoyable action. Not in any way. But on the other hand, I have made the decision for myself that I feel I can put up with this undesirable hurdle and so I include meat and fish in my diet. And in the cases, such as with fish or poultry, where I feel I have the sufficient experience and skill to perform the task, I am prepared to take care of the slaughtering process when needed. In fact I am a lot happier to be involved myself when it comes to killing an animal that I am going to eat, than to buy it from the supermarket where I have very little control of any other part of the process than entering my credit card PIN-code at the checkout.

I firmly believe we all need to eat more vegetables and less meat, and I would perhaps go so far as to suggest that if we feel we have to shut our eyes and ears to the fact that eating meat involves killing animals, then we should not be eating meat at all! It seems that quite a few people I have been talking to lately considers it a lot worse to have to kill a gregarious farm animal that you have known for all its life than a fish that has been swimming in the lake, unseen until the moment you pulled it out of there. To me they are both beautiful creatures and I struggle to see the difference.

Here is the deal that I believe in: if you are going to eat meat and fish, you make sure as far as realistically possible that the animals involved have had the best possible life, that they have had a chance to graze and socialize and behave according to their instinctive preferences. And that the slaughter has been a stress-free and painless process. If there is any doubt, eat vegetables instead, they are delicious!

To be continued, I am sure...

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Preserving summer

Since I moved back to Sweden and out in the country (after nearly 10 years in central London!), the extension of my food obsession that is gardening has grown exponentially. In the last few months we have arranged a large kitchen garden for ourselves here at home with raised beds, in short, my dream garden! I shall introduce the garden and the ideas behind it in full in a future post. 

While we are waiting to harvest things out of the vegetable garden (we already have had some early things out of it, but it is yet to come into full swing), there are plenty of berries to take care of from various bushes and plants. I love preserves; jams, chutneys, cordials, pickles, and I love making them. In fact, when Karna and I first met, Karna's family took to calling me Grandma in recognition of this (they have stopped now!). Either way, I have come to the realisation that few things give me so much pleasure during the dark and cold months of the year than opening a jar of homemade jam or to have a home pickled cornichon with some charcuterie - a little portion of preserved summer! And last night these lovely gooseberries were turned into some rather lovely jam...

Wednesday, 8 July 2015


In my professional life I spend quite a bit of time trying to get people outside Sweden (and within!) to discover Swedish music, old and new. I don't know quite how we have managed to get ourselves in the situation that we are in in relation to our own art music in Sweden, but generally speaking it has such a low profile that most people, including a lot of musicians seem to be almost unaware of its existence! Hopefully this can be rectified relatively easily - by performing the best works more often and to do it extremely well. And if we start playing it at home, chances are that more people will get curious of it abroad too. At least this is how I see it, slightly simplified perhaps, but then I am on holiday at the moment. Which brings me to... Swedish food!

I don't think you could say that Swedish cuisine is keeping a particularly low profile these days; Swedish chefs seem to do extremely well all over the world, both in prestigious cooking contests and as award winning restaurateurs, and the romantic notion that we all go into the woods to pick mushrooms  berries and to shoot birds and beasts certainly seem to strike a chord internationally. But not all Swedish food is about things gathered in the wild, and in fact most traditional dishes rely mainly on farm produce as it would have been far to time and energy consuming to go foraging in the old days. 

Today I passed through Katrineholm where my friend Peter runs a great butcher shop called Landet i Centrum, and I bought some really lovely local neck of lamb, which I turned into dillkött (literally meat with dill) for our supper. Dillkött is one of those hearty, yet summery dishes that Swedes remember being served by their grandmothers. It contains a few of the trademarks of traditional Swedish cuisine: the fondness for exotic spices and the combination of sweet and sour tastes, and of course it is served with potatoes. (Food in Sweden used to translate almost exclusively into meat or fish and potatoes as recently as 25 years ago!)

Here is how I make it: 

500g neck of boneless lamb (or veal) + bones (optional)
1 medium onion, quartered
2-3 carrots, cut into chunks
the white part of one leek
5 white peppercorns 
5 pieces of allspice
2 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 sprig of thyme
single cream
copious amounts of dill
75ml caster sugar
75ml water
2 tsp spirit vinegar 

Cut the meat into 2 cm dice and put in a pan (along with the bones if you have them) covered by cold water. Bring to the boil and let simmer for a few seconds. Drain off the water using a colander and rinse the meat under cold running water. Clean the pan and put the meat (and bones) back in along with the onion, carrots, leek, peppercorns, allspice, cloves and bay leaves. Cover with water and put in 1 tsp salt for each liter of water. Bring to the boil once more, skim off any foam that rises to the surface and then let simmer in a covered pan for about an hour or until the meat is tender. In the meantime combine the sugar, water and vinegar with the stalks from the dill in a separate pan and bring to the boil. Check the balance between sweet and sour in this liquid - it should be the same as in a good Chinese sweet and sour sauce. Set aside. 
In a new pan, melt a good dollop of butter and whisk in a tablespoon or two of flour. Let the roux sizzle for a little while without getting browned. Ladle in some of the cooking liquid from the meat and whisk vigorously until you have a smooth and quite thick velouté. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat and carrots into the velouté and add some cream. Season with salt and by adding a few spoonfuls of the sweet and sour vinegar and sugar solution. Add more cooking liquid if needed. Chop the dill finely and add it to the finished dish just before serving to ensure maximum dill flavour and to prevent the dill from turning grey in the sauce. Serve with new potatoes.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Swedish summer

We Swedes love to make fun of our weather, and particularly in summer. You frequently hear sardonic jokes like "I love Swedish summer, in fact it is my favourite day of the year!", and the weather is a given topic of conversation, much like in England (and probably everywhere else too, I've always imagined!).

Last week I spoke to a friend who had just returned from a few days in Krikwall on the Orkney Islands. Hardly a place known for its dry and sunny weather. I played there myself a few years ago (in March!) and distinctly remember the icy cold winds and the horizontal rain and sleet. The Orkneys are home to some of the oldest archeological sites found in all of Britain, and it has always fascinated me that people chose to come and live in such a hostile climate (where there are no trees, so you don't have any wood to build houses from or to burn if you get cold!) that long ago, when clearly there would have been plenty of space in much cozier places to settle down. Maybe they enjoyed a good challenge?

Certainly, some the dark grey/brown season that we call early and late winter can be quite a challenge in Sweden. At least on the mind. This is probably part of what blows up our expectations of summer, sometimes quite out of proportion. So far this summer has been a lot rainier and colder than a lot of people had hoped for. Gardening-wise this has not been altogether bad news and we have seen more beautiful flowers in the meadows and for a longer time than I can remember ever seeing. Having said that, the greatest benefit of a wet-ish summer is... this!

Yes indeed, the gold of the woods that we call chanterelle mushrooms is starting to appear, which is a very exciting prospect for a mushroom fanatic like myself. I have always claimed that my fondness for mushrooms is ingrained in me genetically as my mother is from Poland. Whether that is true or not, I have always loved picking them, and nearly always loved eating them. These days I am fortunate that my dear wife loves picking mushrooms but is not that keen on eating them, which means lots more for me!

Either way, if the weather has been a bit grey earlier, right now we are experiencing some of the most beautiful summer days imaginable, see the picture above. A good day to have a PARTY, I reckon!

Monday, 29 June 2015


If asked what they love playing the most, chances are that a significant proportion of classical musicians would answer: chamber music! I have always found chamber music a bit of a funny word - it somehow suggests a very small format and perhaps a slightly limited scale of expression which certainly isn't true at all - but I definitely count myself among those musicians who love and crave it.

What we tend to mean when we talk of chamber music is music written for a small number of players, let's say fewer than ten and typically three or four. This format has implications on how we work with this music, where it gets and can get performed; because of the small amount of musicians required to perform this music, the musical material is usually very equally distributed among the different parts, and in rehearsal everyone can have their say and influence the end result which we then present in a concert. This is an approach which would be completely impractical in an orchestra (which is one of the reasons you need a conductor) and in a solo work... well, there is not really anyone to discuss musical points with, is there? Also, because of the small number of players required, chamber music concerts can be done in smaller places and therefore nearer the audience.

As musicians we tend to love bouncing off our respective musical initiatives; you hear the person next to you play a phrase with a certain inflection and when you have it a few bars later you pick up that inflection, or you do something that is a complete contrast to name two out of a thousand options. In the best chamber music performances these things happen spontaneously, at the spur of the moment, and when it happens that way, trust me you are in heaven. And with an audience close up, you can sense that they like this a lot too. Add to this that most of the greatest composers have poured their soul out and composed some of their best works in the chamber music format. Am I getting my point across...?

As I write this I have just come home from the Saxå Chamber Music Festival in the west of Sweden, where I played my last three concerts for the 2014/2015 season. It has been an extremely rewarding year, where I have been lucky enough to play a large variety of music in some remarkable places around Europe and with some genuinely remarkable colleagues! Four weeks of much needed (and dare I say, well deserved) holiday lies ahead. If I love chamber music, I would say I love chamber music festivals even more, and Saxå certainly was no exception - it was a riot! Set in the spectacular setting of Saxå manor, where most concerts are held and where all musicians stay during the week, this festival has an additional attraction for me: there is a link with gastronomy grâce à the legendary Carl Jan Granqvist, who hosts the entire festival. Below is a picture of me together with Johannes Rostamo and Joakim Svenheden, gagging to go on stage and play Mendelssohn's D minor Trio in the final concert of the festival, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. Hooray!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

New Growth

To come home after traveling can sometimes feel a bit frustrating; the chores of daily life - washing up, paying bills, not to mention the not always so glamorous piano practise - stand out in stark contrast to the carefree life "on the road". I am extremely lucky in that coming home means returning to such a beautiful and exciting place however, which only very rarely causes me this kind of frustration, and never is this more true than during spring and early summer, when everything in nature grows at such an astonishing rate that you hardly recognize the place after a few days absence.

In the days immediately prior to my leaving for London last week, I planted a lot of seeds in our brand new raised bed garden. (Most of the seeds went in much later than what is normal, but the whole raised bed arrangement simply wasn't ready before!) Most of these seeds had not even started to sprout when I left, and even those which had sprouted where no more than a centimeter or two above the ground, as in the case of the broad beans in the pictured above. Now, if I had stayed at home I would have been out there checking the progress of all this at least three times a day, which means I would hardly have noticed any change every time I checked, whereas now that I had been away for six days the rate of growth seemed simply alarming! 

The same astonishing rate of growth applies to the five little piglets that our sow Bonnie gave birth to just over three weeks ago. Here they are as I came out to feed their mother this morning. I think they thought 6.30 was a little early for breakfast as they decided to stay in their cozy straw bed, yawning and snoozing as I was taking their picture.

Finally, on the subject of things home-grown, something of a different nature which appeared (hot off the press!) in the mail yesterday:

This brand new anthology of Swedish piano music, from the 18th century up to the present day, was compiled by my esteemed colleague Hans Pålsson. Hans has done a great job in selecting a large variety of shorter piano pieces ranging from the most familiar works by Sjögren, Peterson-Berger and Stenhammar to rare treats along with a generous portion of new music by both women and men. I feel proud to have played a small part in the production of this volume as a proof-reader, and obviously the divulgation of Swedish music is a pursuit which is close to my heart, which makes me doubly pleased to have been involved. Do I need to mention that I wholeheartedly recommend this new anthology?

Off to Stockholm now for some rehearsals for the concerts in Saxå later in the week.

Monday, 22 June 2015

London & Daydreaming

I never felt the urge to express myself by through a blog - until last week! I was quite surprised by this sudden urge, but having spent a few days thinking it through, I decided to give blogging a try, and here we are. So, what has brought on this sudden urge then? 

I arrived in London, the city that used to be my home for nearly 10 years, last Wednesday. This time my reason for visiting was for a performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 27 in the Thaxted Festival. As I stepped off the plane at Heathrow - I had started the day by giving breakfast to the pigs and chickens back home - the feeling came to me, like it has often done before, that I live in two parallel worlds. Parallel lives, almost. And I feel tremendously privileged that things have worked out that way for me. Now, I have often regretted not keeping a personal diary, and I know I don't stand the slightest chance to remember half of the wonderful things that I've been lucky enough to experience in my life so far. It then occurred to me a blog could act as a kind of diary, and that maybe someone out there might find it interesting to catch the occasional glimpse of the mad profession of a freelance musician - one of my lives. And maybe someone will find it entertaining, or informative, or amusing to read about the activities in my other life - that which takes place in my spare time back at the farm, feeding animals, gardening, building things, driving farm machinery...

I will be writing about music and various aspects of my profession, of course. There will certainly be quite a lot of cooking, vegetable gardening, building projects, pigs and chickens and the like. I probably won't be able to resist getting political at times. Throw in a bit of popular science, travel observations and a maximum of, say, one cat picture a month for good measure. If this sounds enticing then, well, watch this space!

As I post this, my very first blog post, I am back where the inspiration to write a blog initially came to me - Heathrow Airport in London (admittedly quite an unlikely place, not usually associated with inspiration!). My Mozart performance was last Friday, and the remainder of my stay in London has been spent largely wandering aimlessly around town, daydreaming, and meeting some dear friends for the odd drink and a bite to eat. I shall be returning to the concept of daydreaming in the future, as I find its restorative effect on the brain fascinating. In these last few days my brain has really needed a recharge; this spring has largely been a mad scramble of learning and performing large quantities of repertoire with a liberal sprinkling of extremely physical gardening work on top of that. I now have a few more concerts to look forward to in the coming week, and then I look forward to some four weeks off playing (but certainly not off gardening!). 

Time to board a plane, then!