Not quite. While the Danish-born pianist and comedian Victor Borge emphasized more on humor than playing the piano, Norwegian Aksel Kolstad (36) is a piano virtuoso using humor in his presentations.
Comedy writer Jeffrey Gurian described him, however, as “the new Norwegian Victor Borge”, while the Swedish paper Göteborgposten called him “The Franz Liszt of our time”.
Born 1981 in Oslo, Aksel took piano lessons from the age of four. His mother was an actress and singer who started to improvise with him on the piano. At the age of twelve, the legendary Professor Eva Sandvik Stugu developed his talents until the end of his teenage years. At 25 he completed his bachelor degree under Professor Sigurd Slattebrekk at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo and continued to complete his master’s degree with the same professor performing George Gershwin’s piano concertos.
Since then he has performed his own virtuosic works for piano solo and conducted his orchestral works all over the world, always spiced with his natural comedian tendencies.
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When Kolstad had his debut concert in Carnegie Hall in New York In October 2010 it was with a full house and a standing ovation. “It’s one of the moments I am most proud of,” says Aksel to Daily Scandinavian. Therefore we understand why TIME magazine compared him to the classical music’s answer to Quentin Tarantino.
Aksel Kolstad is not only a piano virtuoso but a respected composer as well. His aim is to share classical music with people, normally not genuinely interested in this kind of music. Therefore he opened his own concert gallery, Café de Concert, in 2003 (reopened in 2009). There he offers free concerts the last Thursday of every month.
In fact we attended the concert last month, where he was among other works brilliantly playing his second edition of “Variations on a theme of Rachmaninov”.
Café de Concert is a place where classical music melts with fantastic contemporary art. This
evening professor and composer Bjørn Kruse was present, lecturing about some of his works, including his Concert for Clarinet and Orchestra (Chronotope) which he composed with collaborative efforts of solo clarinetist Fredrik Fors. Fors was also present performing three pieces for solo clarinet by Igor Stravinsky.
Enlarged drawings by Bjørn Kruse decorated the walls on this occasion.
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We asked Kolstad why he combines classical music with being a comedian, both genres an art in itself.
“Actually I am calling myself a humorist, while I’m often described as a comedian. I like that!” answers Aksel.
When we ask him what his biggest challenges are, he says it is to combine the two so that one doesn’t go at the expense of the other. “To me it’s important that the playing is spotless even when I’m including contrasting verbal moments of surprise,” he says.
By the end of this year Café the Concert will move from Tjuvholmen to the Vulkan area in Oslo.
“My aim is to make Café de Concert even better and hopefully even make the relatively newly restored Vulkan area stronger,” he adds.
Aksel Kolstad has performed in several of the most respected chamber festivals in Norway as well as in Estonia, Russia and Asia – and even on Caribbean islands. Daily Scandinavian is in fact now in the process of arranging a set of concerts in Sri Lanka.
What Aksel does best is that he amazes his audiences by his virtuosic playing while he makes the public laugh. He turns his concerts into magical storytelling moments.
“I absolutely love Aksel’s amazing playing,” said David Juritz, internationally acclaimed violinist, London’s Mozart Players Concertmaster and Director of Burton Bradstock Festival.
Is he Norway’s Victor Borge? written by Tor Kjolberg
All photos: Jon-Arne Foss