PHØNIX: Danish Roots
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PHØNIX: There will be no slacking!


Morten Alfred Høirup talks with the band about 20 years on the Danish and international folk music scene

This is the second of a series of articles written by Danish musician Morten Alfred Høirup, wherein he interviews Danish artists he knows and loves. So these may be a little more personal and a little less "journalisitic" than usual. These articles were made with the support of the non-profit organization "Danish Roots," which promotes Danish folk music to the world. I hope you enjoy them! - the editor
In the early 90s, at the huge Kaustinen Folk Festival in Finland, I met the young Danish band, Fritterne. They were admittedly not part of the official program, but had decided to make the long journey to Kaustinen to hear new music, and to draw attention to themselves and to Danish folk music. So that sunny July afternoon, there they were, playing traditional Danish fiddle music in a packed little café on the festival site. At that time, many people in many countries - not least in the other Scandinavian countries - had the impression that Danish folk music was all about folk dancers in historical costume dancing to music played exclusively by elderly amateurs reading from sheet music. Understandable enough then, that a young group like Phønix, playing with verve and energy, met with excited approval. The Kaustinen audience had never before seen young folk playing Danish traditional music.

In 2010 Fritterne - now better known as Phønix (Phoenix) - will turn 20, but the discipline and enthusiasm that carried them to Finland back then are still with them. Phønix have been through many phases since that sunny day in the café at Kaustinen. They had a period playing purely traditional Danish music, then they concentrated on their own compositions, they have played school concerts en masse, and they have been doing important work on the old Danish ballads.

Danish Songs And Ballads For Young And Old

In 2001 Karen Mose, a young Danish singer, joined the band, and the focus was turned definitively on the traditional Danish songs and ballads. That was also the year Phønix began to play school concerts and other concerts for children. Karen Mose explains:

"Phønix began playing concerts for Danish children in 2001 and we have subsequently played loads of children's concerts abroad, too. We have toured for the Swedish Rikskonserter, for Jeunesses Musicales in Belgium, in Austria, and as far afield as Toronto, Canada. Children's concerts suit our band perfectly, since we can make the most of our time on tour. Daytime concerts for kids in school, and regular concerts in the evenings. It is always interesting to see that our music can establish communication with children who do not understand a word of the songs."

In 2002 the band released their fourth album, Pigen & Drengen, (The Girl & The Boy). It was their first with their new singer, and the album was nominated in five categories at Danish Music Awards - Folk. Karen Mose won the Danish Music Award for Danish Folk Singer of the Year. Phønix toured Canada, USA and elsewhere, then, back home, they went straight into a series of concerts for kids and grown-ups in Denmark and Europe, concentrated on new recordings, and on promoting Danish folk music in general. This is one of the country's hardest-working and strongest musical constellations.

The songs and ballads are still at the fore in 2009, in original arrangements backed on accordion, clarinet, bass clarinet and percussion. Karen Mose continues:

"The ballads we find in old folios and manuscripts, from old recordings, and I have a wide repertoire from my parents. I was brought up on folk music. The Danish ballads are often very long - around 70 stanzas - so we often edit and shorten them, keeping the good story but in a more compact version. The ballad tunes are often simply constructed, which leaves room for our arrangements. We often compose variations and new pieces to fit in with songs, and in this way we make the old, traditional songs our very own."

Phønix And Concerts Abroad

During the past 8 or 10 years, Phønix have been attracting audiences not only in Denmark but also in other countries. In USA and Canada, and throughout Europe, Phønix have worked hard to present Danish music to new audiences. In Germany, in particular, there is a growing audience who seem very interested in developments on the Danish and Scandinavian folk scenes. Germany has the advantages, seen from a Danish folk band's viewpoint, that it is relatively near by, that the German economy resembles the Danish, and that the country offers a well-organized range of festivals and music venues. Moreover, the German folk music scene maintains good communications covering the whole country: folk music magazines like Folker, internet magazines like, and diverse radio programs. There are also specialist festivals like Rudolstadt Folk & Tanz and folkBALTICA in Flensburg. Put the question to Phønix singer Karen Mose, and she relates that the band, like a good many other Danish bands, have only good things to say about playing abroad:

"When we play abroad we notice the huge interest audiences have for our special instrumentation but also for the history behind our music. Much of Phønix' repertoire is very old, and represents a rich history. It is really a buzz to realize that our music is exotic and exciting out there, and we are opening people's ears to something they have never heard before. In Germany, especially, audiences are very open to our music - it's a great pleasure for us. There is a tradition for going to concerts in Germany, and our shows are really well attended, even in places we have never been before."

Phønix And The Future

Many years have passed since I met the Danish folk quintet that later became Phønix. They have developed into one of Denmark's best contemporary folk bands, and they have done valuable work in bringing parts of the enormous national collection of broadsides, songs and medieval ballads into a modern context. With the time and tireless effort they have put into their career, Phønix have seen both successes and failures, but have retained their joy in the music and their keenness to keep developing. Karen Mose talks of Phønix' future plans:

"We have a number of challenging projects ahead. We are involved in a crossover-project - Ensemble Midwes, - which is a classical chamber orchestra. In 2010, Phoenix will be celebrating our 20th anniversary with tours and a commemorative CD planned. Even before that we have tours of Denmark, Germany, Poland and other European countries lined up for this year, so there will be no slacking!"

Phønix is:
Karen Mose: vocal
Anja Præst Mikkelsen: clarinet, bass clarinet
Jesper Vinther Pedersen: accordion
Jesper Falch: percussion

Phønix web site

More info:
Danish Folk Council:
Kaustinen Folk Festival:
Phønix on MySpace:
Lang Linken:
Carl Nielsen Acadamy of Music Odense:

Reviews of some of the bands CDs can be found in RootsWorld

Their CDs are available from cdRoots:

Translated from the Danish by Rod Sinclair

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