Equal parts harpist and composer, Norwegian Uno Vesje is making a name for himself in the rich tradition of harpist-composers.
—by Isabelle Perrin; photos by Camilla Storvollen
Uno Vesje first popped onto Harp Column’s radar screen back in 2014 when he released his first CD, Poems in a City, which our recording review editor Alison Young called “A stunningly beautiful, eye-opening and deeply touching album.” Each piece on that album was a world premiere—composed and performed by this young Norwegian, only 24 years old at the time. Three years later, Vesje’s second recording of original works, Oslo(ve), earned even more praise. So when Vesje won the USA International Harp Competition Ruth Inglefield Composition Contest in 2018, it wasn’t entirely a surprise. What did make us sit up and take notice, though, was that this was only the second time this competition gave its top prize to not just a composer, but a harpist-composer.
There is a rich tradition of harpist-composers in the harp world filled with legendary names like Hasselmans, Tournier, and Salzedo. To see a new name on that list is exciting, and we knew we needed to find out more about Vesje. So for our year-long series of cover interviews featuring harpists figures you might not know, but should, Uno Vesje seemed like an obvious choice. We asked Isabelle Perrin, Vesje’s former harp teacher at the Norwegian Academy of Music, to sit down and interview him in Oslo. Though Vesje’s first language is Norwegian and Perrin’s is French, both graciously agreed to have their conversation in English for Harp Column readers.
HC: Of course I’ve known you for a number of years now, even from your early pieces. It’s always amazed me how much imagination you have on your instrument. Even though we are in the 21st century and a lot of composers have come up with a lot of ideas, you still find new ones that no one has thought about, and that’s amazing. How do you come up with those ideas?
UV: Maybe because I started playing harp quite late, everything was new. Like in the Next Stop piece I used wet paper, and that sound I found just by cleaning my harp. [Laughs] And I thought “This sounds so awful, like the screaming sound from a train that is stopping, I have to use this in a piece.”