Photo © Lars Skaaning
Michael Bojesen is a versatile artist whose activities in the musical sphere include composing, conducting and teaching. The three aspects are closely related, and he combines his different kinds of experience in his work. Michael Bojesen’s primary field of work is choral music. On an everyday basis he is chief conductor of the Danish National Girls’ Choir/DR, and he is deeply involved in the Danish broadcasting corporation DR’s new choir school. Besides this he often works with professional vocal ensembles and amateur choirs in Denmark as well as the Danish regional orchestras and DR’s other ensembles. He regular receives commissions, not least for choir music, and many of his works have been written for children and young people.
Michael Bojesen is an artist of his time, drawing inspiration for his work from the music that surrounds him. He adheres to no particular genre, performance practice or methodology, but applies his experience, intuition and sound musical sense whether as a composer, conductor or music teacher. For Michael Bojesen music must be relevant, so that it not only pleases but also inspires people to work further with music – as a performing, creating or listening individual.
“One of the greatest musical experiences I have had was in Cuba, where I heard a choir sing a requiem written by a Cuban composer. The music was written to the Latin text and the musical idiom was Western European, but Caribbean rhythms had been added as a completely natural element, as well as an extra layer in the form of an African song for the dead. There were thus three layers in the music, and for me, who came from a world where I always had to choose between one or the other idiom, this was experiencing a culture where all music was gathered together naturally – a very great experience.”
We live in a world where we are bombarded with musical expression. For Michael Bojesen it is natural to mix these idioms in a musical language that is relevant to modern human beings, because it reflects the time we live in and draws on something familiar; something we can relate to. An example of this is the work Pater Noster for choir and soloists, where one hears inspiration from Gregorian chant, pop ballads and ethnic folk music alternating with one another. This emphasizes the old Catholic text, recalls the Mass tradition of earlier times and brings the text and tradition up to the present, where other music genres are associated with particular emotions and evoke particular images.
Michael Bojesen’s music is practical music. Most of his works are commissioned works conceived for a definite context. He has written many works for children and young people, including a long succession of works commissioned by the National Youth Choir of the Danish Church, based on texts for the High Mass, and sung by children’s and youth choirs all over the country. Most of the works are written for equal voices, but a few, such as Herren er min hyrde (The Lord is My Shepherd) (for children’s choir and mixed choir), are written for more than one ensemble. His many years of experience as a choir director and music teacher enable him to write music that works here and now. He has a thorough knowledge of voice types and exploits the full potential of the singers in his compositions. Moreover, he adapts the music to the context of the work and the type of ensemble for which it is written.
Michael Bojesen is a fine melodist, and his music speaks directly to the emotions of both performers and audiences. As a composer, mainly of vocal works, he draws his inspiration to a great extent from the texts on which the works are based, and the music gives prominence to the text and the mood of the works. In the mid-nineties, for example he set several texts by the poet Halfdan Rasmussen to music. Most Danes associate the textual universe of Halfdan Rasmussen with imagination, play, humour and a liberating absurdity, which Michael Bojesen underlines with light, cheerful melodies as in Noget om relative glæder (Something about relative pleasures) or Noget om søvnløshed (Something about insomnia). But Halfdan Rasmussen’s more thoughtful or serious sides, as expressed in the poems Noget om stjernefangst (Something about catching stars), Ung mor (Young mother) and Afsked (Farewell) have also been captured by Michael Bojesen in moving, slightly melancholy melodies. All the works have been written for mixed choir, several of them for choir and bass soloist, and they have been recorded by the Copenhagen Chamber Choir CAMERATA with Aage Haugland as soloist.
Michael Bojesen’s abilities as a melodic composer also come to expression in the slightly larger works Kjærestefolkene i nye klæder (The Top and Ball in new clothing) and Kærlighedssonetter (Love sonnets), both for choir and ensemble. Kjærestefolkene has a text by the writer Sten Kaalø and is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s tale The Top and Ball. The work consists of twelve songs that can be performed individually and a cappella or in their entirety with a wind quintet and a reading of the old tale. Kjærestefolkene i nye klæder is an example of Michael Bojesen’s fine eye for works with a built-in flexibility that means they can form part of several contexts and can be performed by a variety of ensemble types. With Kærlighedssonetter (Love sonnets) Michael Bojesen has selected five sonnets by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and set them to music for choir, saxophone, guitar and bass. The Latin-American culture in which the poet had his origins permeates the texts and is reflected in the music in several ways, for example through the styles the composer has chosen for the five sonnets – tango, flamenco etc. Although the texts were probably not originally written for music, they have their roots in a culture where music and text are often inextricably intertwined, and where music, song and dance play a central role as ways of expressing strong emotions. This interplay of emotion, rhythm and poetry is emphasized by the melodies and the pronounced rhythmic foundation typical of all five sonnets, always present either in the choral parts or in the simple accompaniment that bears up the pieces as a whole.
Michael Bojesen is a frequently performed composer in Danish choral contexts. Several of his works are also performed and sung abroad – for example the work Eternity for triple equal-voice choir, which several choirs around the world have added to their repertoires. Eternity has a text by the poet Ellen Heiberg. The simple, beautiful text about how finding a stone on the beach can feel like finding a piece of eternity is accompanied by an ethereal, simple, highly euphonious setting. Michael Bojesen has written music for other poems by Ellen Heiberg, among which Den første forårsmorgen (The first spring morning) and Lyset er vendt (The light has turned) appear in the latest edition of the standard Danish songbook Højskolesangbogen.
Besides being a composer he is also an experienced arranger, not least of the Danish national song repertoire. Amateur and professionals both have his arrangements in their repertoires. Among these his setting of the hymn Her kommer, Jesus, dine små (Jesus, here come Thy little ones) for soprano soloist and choir, and his setting of Three Danish Folk Songs – Den sømand han må lide (Hard is the life of sailors), En yndig og frydefuld sommertid (So sweet are the joys of summertime) and Længe nok har jeg bondepige været (Far too long I’ve been a country maiden) are among the most frequently performed.
Michael Bojesen is one of Denmark’s leading choir conductors. In his time as a teacher at the upper secondary school Sankt Annæ Gymnasium, he conducted the school’s large choir, and in 1989-2006 he conducted the Copenhagen Chamber Choir CAMERATA, with whom he has won several prizes and recorded several CDs. Since he was engaged in 2001 as Chief Conductor of the Danish National Girls’ Choir/DR, the choir has undergone a major transformation, renewal and quality development under his leadership. The choir has received innumerable awards and fine reviews and among other honours was chosen as “Choir of the World 2002” at an international choir competition in Canada.
Michael Bojesen has experience of a wide range of music all the way from contemporary vocal music through oratorios to light music for symphony orchestra, choir and soloists. In recent years he has worked a great deal with a niche in Danish musical life that involves setting up projects with children’s choirs, high school choirs or amateur choirs in collaboration with symphony orchestras. Thanks to his specialty as a choir conductor, the choir always provides the avenue of approach to these projects, which have been a great success and a recurring tradition in several places. Michael Bojesen is thus used to working with ensembles at many different levels, and he is highly aware of the differences between conducting a children’s choir and a symphony orchestra, for example – of the demands one can make, and the way one has to stage and work with the music.
“Thanks to my experience as a choir director for children, young people, adults and professionals, I have good experience of what works. I’ve worked a lot with music that was so knotty and hard to rehearse that without the right approach I risked failing the whole choir and spoiling the direct, spontaneous musical joy of singing.”
Before he became director of the Danish National Girls’ Choir/DR Michael Bojesen was employed for several years as a music teacher at the Copenhagen high school Sankt Annæ Gymnasium and taught choir conducting at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen. He is the driving force behind the DR Choir School, where children and young people between the ages of 6 and 22 are offered qualified voice training and musical instruction through choir singing, solo singing and music theory. As members of the DR infants’ choir, DR children’s choir, DR junior choir, the Danish National Girls’ Choir/DR or the DR Youth Ensemble, children and young people gain musical experience they would not otherwise have. The choir school is supported by private funding and with a relatively small financial outlay it has been possible to build up an institution that has become a role model for music institutions and music teachers in various parts of the country.
In his music teaching work Michael Bojesen emphasizes the joy, pleasure and playfulness of music performance. Children and young people must always have the urge to work with the next, higher goal, and he believes they will do so as long as the work is driven by a desire to learn and perform music. He is ambitious on behalf of his pupils and makes demands on them, but he adapts the ambitions and demands to the pupils so that they help the children and young people on their way rather than overburdening and hampering them. This attitude is rooted in Michael Bojesen’s own musical training in the Tivoli Boys’ Guard Band, where he played saxophone and clarinet, and where play was a recurring element, side by side with the great demands made on the Band.
“Sometimes we played that we were professional musicians, sometimes we were robbers and soldiers. You spent a great deal of time playing in the Tivoli Band, but my time there was quiet crucial to my musical development.”
Community singing is a central element in his music-teaching work, and he makes a great effort to spread knowledge of the Danish national song treasure. This work is driven on the one hand by a wish to preserve an important part of the national cultural heritage and on the other hand by purely musical considerations.
“Singing a monophonic song together is a fantastic thing. It’s a very small thing, but at the same time it’s means that in sheer musical terms you’re lifted from zero to a point higher up. Everyone – both children and adults – is happy listening to music, and singing together with others at as young an age as possible is the first step in performing music. And in the final analysis that is perhaps what motivates and inspires children and the young to continue to play an instrument or actively cultivate music. Beyond the fact that music is wonderful, performing and cultivating music strengthens a number of specialized qualities, and that’s why I think it’s so important to get singing back.”
Sine Tofte Hannibal 2007