Mette Henriette Martedatter Rølvåg paying at Trænafestivalen Festival 2016. Photo (C) Trænafestivalen.

I was exposed to artistic expressions from around the world growing up and British culture was one of the most apparent.

Saxophonist Mette Henrriette Martedatter Rølvåg

What is Nordic Matters?

Over the course of 2017, London’s Southbank Centre will be inviting audiences to look more closely at what’s happening in Nordic art and culture. The programme for Nordic Matters will embed Nordic culture and artists in London and other parts of the UK and provide a platform to some of the ‘hidden voices’ from Åland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland, as well as Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. This is the first time that Southbank Centre has programmed a year-long festival dedicated to one region of the world. It is expected that around a third of artists, authors and performers participating in events at Southbank Centre during 2017 will come from the Nordic region.

Mette Henriette Martedatter Rølvåg

Saxophonist Mette Henrriette Martedatter Rølvåg took part in an artists' residency at the Southban Centre earlier this year, as part of the Nordic Matters programme. In this interview, she discusses her collaborations with British artists, the UK acts she has always admired and how certain places can bring events in past into the here and now.

You were part of the Nordic Matters artist collaboration earlier in the year at Southbank. Can you tell us who you were partnered with? 

I wanted to dive deeper into the common language of sound and space so I asked the Leeds based artist David Shearing if he wanted to join me. After one week of creative conversations we puffed up a sonic cloud under the Waterloo Bridge and ran off before the fire brigade arrived.

What was special and helpful about this exchange in London?

Sharing perspectives and ideas with the other artists.

Did you get to visit any other British arts organizations whilst in the UK? 
Which ones were they and what did you get from the visits?

London was a second home for me this winter and during that time I encountered some dedicated and interesting people working in the arts including The British Council, The Actors Guild and The Somerset House. When Gilles Peterson invited me to his show I visited BBC too.

Did the experience help your development as an artist, and how?

Too soon to say but in 3 years we will perhaps be able to see what adventures it sparked.

Are there any contemporary or historic British artists that have influenced your own work? Why so?

I seldom look for inspiration in other artists’ work when creating my own. The stories I tell need to feel real and relevant so I tend to turn to rawer sources, often within. Or at least in a more intimate sphere. But I will tell you that I was exposed to artistic expressions from around the world growing up and British culture was one of the most apparent. There are artists who’s integrity and intentions I admire such as Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, Oscar Wilde, David Jones, Roald Dahl, Dusty Springfield, Ninette de Valois, Samuel Beckett, Christopher Sheldrake, Alexander McQueen and Jimi Hendrix if he counts. I am also acquainted with the marches of Kenneth J. Alford and the wilderness of improvisational musicians ranging from Derek Bailey and Dave Holland to my good friend Shabaka Hutchings. I had a little crush on Robin Hood when I was little because he lived in an oak tree and I loved the sound of the word shoegaze though I never listened much to the music. It is probably safe to say that British sarcasm damaged my sense of humor a little bit, causing some rather awkward moments in my life. For which I am thankful.

Are there any British musicians you’d love to work with in the future?

It is all about synergy so it is hard to tell beforehand, but there are definitely British musicians that I am curious about and would be delighted to connect with at some point. If Daphne Oram was still alive she would be an interesting voice to be in conversation with because I wonder what she would have been up to today. And the London based dancer Sylvie Guillem is one of the most musical bodies I have ever come across. 

You were born in the North of Norway. Does place, and specifically this place, matter to you and your work? 

All places are special to me. You know as time passes, there are places that will stay around and tell us what happened. So when I go somewhere I listen to their stories. There is a water nearby my grandfather’s house up north. As a child I used to sneak out at midnight to snatch a wooden boat and just float around while everybody was asleep. But in the tranquility of that moment I could also feel the pain of my great grandfather as he was rowing as fast as he could, bleeding from German gunshots. Salt watery blue was blending with dark blood right in front of me in the boat. It is as if places brings past into the present and somehow I find comfort and strength in that.

Are there any locations in the UK that have strongly influenced your compositions?

There are three:

  • A second hand store where I found two of my beloved saxophones.
  • The kitchen of my friend AK Dolven where I had millions and millions of morning coffees, rehearsals and drinks after dark.
  • The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. At eleven years old I went there to perform drills with a local marching band, and one evening I watched the main show from above looking down at the arena. I remember finding the combination of disciplines intuitive and quite intriguing. I liked how the music manifested itself in movements and graphic structures yet I wished the expression was more adventurous so perhaps that is what I subconsciously was elaborating on in my teens when I was running this ensemble named The Bass Battalion consisting of ten improvising contrabassists and my name sister Mette Rasmussen who is also a saxophone player. I developed hand and sound signals based on some sessions with The Royal Army of Norway and then we created costumes, minimalist choreography and a simple set design of front lights and video projection for the live performances. So, despite the fact that I had to cope with a constant bagpipe headache during my stay ( which by the way should be a word if it is not already ) that travel to Edinburgh was perhaps the seed for something.

In what way do you think that the Norwegian art scene is unique?

What is art and what is Norwegian? Whatever it is I believe any scene is shaped by the individuals in it. I wonder if the concept of sitting on the edge of a continent watching metropolitan trends from afar while harsh winds from the Atlantic Ocean are sweeping your back offers some kind of tension that fuels creativity. A sense of longing or belonging perhaps.

 What are you working on right now?

I am in New York creating things and contemplating after a year of nomadism. I toured with my trio, did the opening concert for Berlin Jazz Festival with my large ensemble, performed a new piece with Trondheim Symphony Orchestra and premiered the solo performance In Between at documenta14 in Athens Concert Hall. I also recorded music for a new theatre production directed by Robert Wilson and did some sessions in Los Angeles and Berlin. Then I headed out to La Biennale di Venezia to support some friends who were exhibiting their work there. It was my first time in Venice and a part of me began wishing all streets in the world could be water.

While on these travels I was working on a commission for the indigenous festival Riddu Riddu. It was the 100th anniversary of the convention for Sami rights this year so I was humble and honored to be trusted with the task. Sami culture is still breathing after centuries of oppression and I wished for this commission to acknowledge and embrace the subtleties in our heritage that are often overlooked and misunderstood. It was also important for me to shed light on the coexistence of Norwegians and Samis as I am a carrier of both cultures and have encountered both discrimination and inner conflicts because of it. So coming from that I knew this commission would be a reconciling contribution to the discourse and began building a huge silver parabola for the stage to resemble the traditional jewelry worn with both Norwegians and Sami costumes, symbolizing the trade between two cultures. The live show lasted 60 minutes and was premiered this summer with nine musicians and a crew of carpenters, choreographers, lighting designers, sound artists and a Sami wordsmith. So that was a fine celebration of the anniversary.

Now there are new things lurking and I am looking forward to what is ahead. In one week I am flying to Spitsbergen for an artist residency at Artica Svalbard before visiting my grandmother on a little island. It is her 86th birthday.

More about Nordic Matters

As part of the festival, particular emphasis will be placed on three main themes influenced by Nordic identity and society: play fostering curiosity and creativity, for people of all ages but especially children and young people; sustainability; and gender equality. Audiences will be able to experience and explore this cultural connection through an extensive programme of music, dance, theatre, literature, spoken word, design, visual art, talks & debates, fashion and food.

The programme is curated and presented by Southbank Centre, which has been supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Nordic embassies in London and the national arts agencies in Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland.

Following the official launch of Nordic Matters in January 2017, the British Council will be focusing on an evolving selection of artists participating in Nordic Matters through its dedicated websites and Facebook channels for Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.

Jude Kelly CBE, artistic director of the Southbank Centre , said: “It is a great honour for the UK and Southbank Centre to have been chosen to host Nordic Matters in 2017. The Nordic countries have long been at the forefront of social change, from championing young people’s rights to environmental concerns and gender equality, and their enlightened approach to culture and education chimes with Southbank Centre’s own belief in the power of the arts to transform lives. We are delighted that this year-long partnership will enable us to present a truly authentic cultural exchange showcasing the richness and diversity of the Nordic countries, including the lesser known Greenland, Åland and the Faroe Islands. In an ever-changing world, it is even more crucial that we celebrate the ways in which culture can bring us together, rather than driving us apart. Let the collaborations commence.” 

The Nordic Council of Ministers said, “Nordic Council of Ministers is proud to collaborate with Southbank Centre on the Nordic Matters initiative. It is an excellent way to facilitate and showcase Nordic art and culture abroad - especially in the context of gender equality, sustainability, and children and youth. Cultural exchange between participating Nordic artists and British artists and audiences is a central and important feature of Nordic Matters. With a venture of this nature and size we can put our shared Nordic values and culture under the microscope and hope to be able to both inspire and be inspired beyond the borders of the Nordic Region. We might even learn something about ourselves and the links between the Nordic countries.” 


Below you can discover a selection of acts from Norway who will be featured as part of the Nordic Matters festival.

Mette Henriette Martedatter Rølvåg live at La Gaite Lyrique in Paris photo by Olivier Hoffschir
Mette Henriette Martedatter Rølvåg playing at La Gaite Lyrique in Paris. Photo by Olivier Hoffschir.


When: 13-14 January

A special screening of short films and videos by over 15 contemporary visual artists from across the Nordic regions. With work from artists such as Jesper Just, Henna-Riikka Halonen, Ingrid Torvund, and many others, themes range from childhood to magic realism and the natural sublime. The works showcase the wide range of interests and filmmaking techniques used by artists today.


When: 14 January

Hear folk tunes from Norwegian performer Moddi whose music has been described as a blend of folk music and pop, with well-crafted storytelling. He is also recognised as a political and social activist. In 2016, he released his fourth studio album, Unsongs, consisting of 12 banned songs from 12 different countries.


When: 14 February

Discuss the effects of our current lifestyles on the environment. Join a journey from the Arctic north to the Danish lowlands, from the remote Faroe Islands, to the sustainable cities of the Nordic region, as Southbank explore the close ties between landscape and culture. Featuring Sjón, Icelandic poet, novelist and lyricist whose books include The Blue Fox and Moonstone, and Robert Ferguson, author of Scandinavians: In Search of the Soul of the North.


When: 22-23 February

Are we aware of how others perceive us? Dancer and performer Pieter Ampe finds out. After a series of duets and a quartet, Pieter is going solo, immersing himself in a world of transformations, where standards are continuously blurring and shifting, and sexual and emotional energy go hand in hand. Pieter investigates what energy we emanate through our bodies, and whether we need to be liberated, in a solo performance delving into the coming of age of a man and his body. This is a production co-produced by BIT Teatergarasjen (Bergen, NO), Moving in November (Helsinki, FI) and Kaaitheater (Brussel, BE).

External links