A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Feb 12, 2014
09:37 AM
Classically Speaking

Norwegian Trumpet Player Breaks the Mold in Madison—and Beyond

PHOTO COURTESY OF COLIN BELL, EMI

Tine Thing Helseth

It’s not that Madison Symphony audiences aren’t used to young virtuosos who can dazzle the ear and eye, and more and more frequently are as well versed in social media as they are with standard concerto repertoire…but they might not be prepared for a twenty-six-year old Norwegian trumpet player with a resume as dazzling as her stage presence.

So here’s your chance to experience someone who matches that description as Tine Thing Helseth (TEE-na Ting HEL-set) blows into town for concerts Friday and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. I sat down with her Tuesday afternoon at the MSO offices.

Having just come from the Seattle, Washington, area, Helseth admitted that it might well be warmer in Oslo than in Madison Tuesday—but the weather did make her feel a little at home. Her mother was an amateur trumpet player, and Helseth picked up the horn for the first time at the age of seven. Most gifted youngsters might happily settle for someday landing a job in a major orchestra. How did Helseth manage to go directly into the spotlight as a soloist?

“I can’t remember wanting anything else. My mother knew a famous solo trumpet player, Ole Edvard Antonsen. I hadn’t even met him, but just knowing that he was living his life as a solo trumpeter told me it was possible. So I wanted to be like him—and suddenly I’m here.” She laughs, “Of course, there was a lot of hard work along the way!”

But Helseth has some other special qualities in addition to technical mastery and an artistic personality: She simply refuses to recognize traditional boundaries. She is the founder of tenThing, an ensemble of ten female brass players who play, well, pretty much whatever they feel like. “It started when we were studying together in Norway, four of us who all played trumpet. We were listening to a string ensemble play some Vivaldi at a Christmas concert, and we said ‘We want to play that!’ Eventually we gathered a group of ten, and now we get together about four times a year.” The first lasting fruits of this unique collaboration was the 2012 album 10.

This weekend in Madison we get “just” Helseth, but at least we get a double dose: First she will perform the Trumpet Concerto of Haydn, arguably the first great concerto for the instrument, followed by the Trumpet Concerto of Arutiunian. “Arutuinian was in the former Soviet Union, an Armenian, and the music is very romantic, even though it was composed in 1950, with some folk elements and a really memorable fast melody.”

I told Helseth that we spend a lot of time in the U.S. talking about the problem of audience development and reaching out to young people. What was her perspective? “It’s talked about all over the world—but I see a lot of young people at concerts, and I think they’re very open-minded. It’s easier today to find any kind of music quickly, and a lot of younger people have all kinds of music on their iPods. I like to do concerts in different venues, night clubs and the concert stage. It’s important to maintain the classical traditions, but I didn’t come from a classical home. Sometimes people are afraid to come to a classical concert because they might applaud in the ‘wrong’ place. But my friends and I love it when someone does that—it means there’s a new person in the audience!”

So Helseth won’t mind if anyone in Overture Hall this weekend lets their enthusiasm overrule etiquette. And this much seems clear: You’ll probably want to be applauding a lot.

Visit madisonsymphony.org for more information about this weekend's performances. 

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About This Blog

Years before I contributed my first classical review to the Los Angeles Times in 1988, I started a class in music appreciation for adults that had one aim: to put a few cracks in the “ivory tower elitism” I found pervasive in the classical music world since my boyhood days. Whether as a critic, program annotator or band director, that goal has never changed. After all, Mozart and Beethoven and the gang wrote their music for people like you—not critics or professors!

After growing up in the suburbs of New York City, and spending twenty years in and around Los Angeles, the last twelve years here leave me more amazed than ever at the musical riches of Madison. I’m a cheerleader at heart, because I always think more people would become classical fans if they’d give it a chance—but I’m also quick to tell you when you’re not getting your money’s worth. Classically Speaking brings you as much news and as many reviews as possible, and I hope you’ll join me for a fabulous musical journey.

–  Greg Hettmansberger
Follow Greg on Twitter @ghettmansberger

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