Sigmund Groven - Biography

Sigmund Groven

In the right hands the lowly mouth-organ can be an instrument of great beauty and sophistication. Sigmund Groven, like Tommy Reilly and Larry Adler before him, makes full use of the wide range and tonal expressions that the harmonica is capable of. His musicianship is superb, and he now unquestionably reigns supreme as one of the finest exponents of the harmonica in the world.

(Sir George Martin, producer of ”The Beatles”)

For more than three decades Sigmund Groven has had an international career as soloist, composer and recording artist.

He was born in Heddal, Telemark, Norway, into a musical family; his uncle, Eivind Groven, was a composer and musicologist. Sigmund’s interest in the harmonica was aroused at the age of nine upon hearing a record of the legendary harmonica pioneer, the late Tommy Reilly, who became his source of inspiration as a musician, his mentor, and close associate. They appeared together in concert and on radio and TV in Europe and North America, and in 1976 they recorded a duo album of original works written for them by such composers as Robert Farnon, Gordon Jacob, James Moody, and Vilem Tausky.

Sigmund plays a custom-made silver concert harmonica and his repertoire ranges from popular and folk music to his own compositions, from Bach to contemporary music.

“HarmOrgan”, the latest addition to his discography of more than 20 albums is a duo recording together with organist Iver Kleive, and has just been released in the Blu-ray surround SACD format on the premium brand label 2L. “Grieg Album”, featuring his interpretations of Edvard Grieg’s music in collaboration with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Kåre Nordstoga and Ivar Anton Waagaard, was released in October 2007 to enthusiastic reviews.

Other landmarks in his recording career are two CDs with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra: an albm of works for harmonica and orchestra by Sir George Martin, as well as his arrangements of Lennon/McCartney songs and other shorter pieces, which was followed by ”PhilHarmonica”, an anthology of serious original works by Milhaud, Villa-Lobos and Scandinavian contemporary composers.

His concert with Hungarian organist Szabolcs Szamosi at the 25th Budapest Spring Festival, which also featured such illustrious names as the Chicago Symphony, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Barbara Hendricks and The King’s Singers, was described by a critic as ”the most moving performance in the history of the festival”, and he has since frequently been invited back to Hungary for more concerts.

Sigmund’s career in Europe has included performances with such orchestras as the Academy of St.Martin-in-the-Fields, Rotterdam Philharmonic, the radio orchestras of Berlin, Munich, Brussels, Stockholm, Oslo, Hilversum, and BBC London, concerts for EXPO Sevilla, UNESCO Paris, ”Posidonia” in Athens, the Edvard Grieg Sesquicentennial Celebrations, as well as appearances at the Dartington Summer Music, the Bergen International Festival and other prestigious festivals. In 2002 he became the first harmonica player to appear as soloist with the Mozarteum Orchestra in Salzburg, giving the world premiere of Siegfried Steinkogler’s Harmonica Concerto. On many occasions he has given Royal Command Performances for the Kings and Queens of Norway and Sweden, and he is regularly featured as star performer on cruise ships around the world. Recently he played in Belgrade and Saudi-Arabia.

In 1990 Sigmund made musical history, becoming one of the few harmonica players ever to be featured at Carnegie Hall with a classical recital of his own.

This marked the turning point in his American career, and was followed by concerts at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC as well as major concert halls, orchestras and festivals across Canada and the US (Toronto, Guelph, Québèc, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Anchorage, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Houston, and Dallas, where he was made honorary citizen of Texas.)

His career in Asia has included concerts and TV appearances in Japan in 1995 and ’99 (incl. Casals Hall, Tokyo and Kyoto Concert Hall), Hong Kong 1998 (City Hall Concert Hall) and Seoul, Korea 2001, where his albums entered the pop charts. In 2004 he returned to Hong Kong for a concert with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, and in August 2006 he gave concerts and master-classes at the Asia-Pacific Harmonica Festival in Taiwan.
Plans for 2012 include a tour of South Korea and the premiere of new works by Henning Sommerro and Egil Kapstad with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra. Other composers who have dedicated works to Sigmund Groven include Oddvar S. Kvam, Johan Kvandal, James Moody, Terje Rypdal, Øistein Sommerfeldt, Siegfried Steinkogler, John Surman, Lars Tilling, and Fried Walter.

As a composer in his own right Sigmund Groven received a commission for the Sesquicentennial of Norwegian emigration to America (”Blow, Silver Wind” with words by Erik Bye), and a commission from the Norsemen’s Federation to commemorate Leiv Eiriksson’s discovery of America (”Vinland Suite”). Both works have been performed widely, incl. Mormon Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, and Carnegie Hall. His output totals more than 350 works, including music for film, radio, and TV, and a number of songs and instrumental works. Twice he received the award ”Composition of the Year” from the Norwegian Association of Composers of which he was also appointed Honorary member. In 1997 he was elected President of TONO, the Norwegian Performing Rights Society, in 2004 he was presented with an award from the City of Oslo, and in 2010 he was awarded an annual lifetime honorary grant from the Norwegian State in recognition for his artistic merits and achievements.

”He left the audience stunned” (Östgöta Correspondent, Sweden)
”Ein Gentleman der Mundharmonika” (SMI-Bulletin, Basel, Switzerland)
”His Bach solos were the models of elegance” (Anchorage Daily News, Alaska)
”Under his spell the harmonica seems to reverberate and glow
with every emotion of the human heart” (San Francisco Chronicle)
“A magical musician” (VG, Oslo, Norway)
”A most sensitive and thrilling performance” (Harmonica Review, Tokyo)
”His poetic performance was deeply moving” (Noordhollands Dagblad, Den Helder, Netherlands)
”He held the audience spellbound – his playing touches the heart. A brilliant communicator with strong musical authority” (Aftenposten, Oslo, Norway)
”A musician with charisma, deep passion and a magical sound” (Ming Pao, Hong Kong)
”His pure,smooth,crystal-clear tone is of an ethereal beauty. He is a musician of substance and stature, nonpareil. His concert was the most profound and stunning revelation of my musical life” (Woodstock Bulletin,Sydney,Australia)
”The Norwegian virtuoso convinced us with a remarkable richness of expression, superb glissandi and ravishing solos” (Salzburger Volkszeitung, Austria)
”We can confidently say that the most moving performance in the history of the festival is now associated with the name of Sigmund Groven whose harmonica recital will be remembered forever by those who were in the audience in Matthias Church. Everything came together: the choice of programme, the unusual sound of the harmonica and organ together, and the movingly sensitive performance.” (Budapest Festivalcity)
”Irresistible - PhilHarmonica is a winner – pure gold!”(Martin Anderson, Classical Music Magazine)
”Full and gorgeous tone – exquisite phrasing” (Robert Bonfiglio, Harmonica Happenings)
“Why did not Grieg write for the harmonica? Groven plays Grieg as if he has never done anything else in his life, with heartfelt phrasing, understanding and sensitivity.” (Glenn Erik Haugland, Bergens Tidende)
”A phenomenal performer on an unusual instrument” (Gordon Wright, conductor)

MIC.NO 2011
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