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23 · 02 · 2023

Asbjørn Nørgaard at Ilumina Festival

Danish top violist Asbjørn Nørgaard took part in the Ilumina Festival 2023

Besides touring the world as a founding member of the celebrated Danish String Quartet, Asbjørn teaches viola and chamber music performance at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen, and he is the chairman of Art Music Denmark, the national organization for contemporary music, classical and sound art. Here is what he tells us about his experiences in Brazil:


“Ilumina is an innovative music festival that brings together international musicians and talented young south American musicians from diverse and less-advantaged backgrounds. The festival has several purposes: It is a cultural exchange between the (mostly) European and North American musicians and the South American musicians, it is a pedagogical event with lots of teaching, class lessons, workshops, and it is a series of concerts in some of the most important venues of Brazil. Ilumina has a general emphasis on some of the subjects that are gaining more and more importance in today’s music world: Inclusion, diversity and equal opportunities.


This was the third time I took part in the Ilumina Festival, and my long running connection to this festival has meant a lot to me. The festival falls in two parts: It starts with a week at an isolated coffee farm where all the musicians can work and focus. After this the entire festival goes on tour, performing concerts in lots of different venues: From concerts at local farming communities to the Sala São Paulo, a top concert hall of Brazil. The Ilumina festival is a non-hierarchical environment (this is quite unusual in the classical music world) and each time I have taken part in the festival I have learned as much from the young South American musicians as they have from me.

Serious fun!

The stories that they tell strike a privileged Danish musician with awe. One boy who had the last joint of his pinky shot of by a stray bullet but still managing to play Bach, just with different fingerings. The girl selling stickers all day to cars in Rio to support her family, only being able to practice in the night. A boy making an audition video at 5 am outside his house because that is the only time a day there isn’t noise and people around, only to be disturbed by the birds waking up. All of these young musicians´ unbelievable stories, and yet their instrumental level is on par with privileged students of the best European conservatories. Getting to know these young musicians is inspiring, and it has definitely changed and enforced my own perspective on many things: Music is important! And if we want music to be a part of our world, we cannot just expect it to drop down from the sky: We need to prioritize it and we need to work hard.

Ilumina provides the young South American musicians access to international musicians like me, and it helps to connect them to the global music centers in Europe and North America. When I work with these musicians, I try to leave their spirit intact but maybe organize things slightly. A parallel would be the prolific soccer talents from Brazil arriving to European clubs where they learn to play the jogo bonito in a more disciplined tactical structure. At one concert, I was performing Strauss’ Metamorphosen with a group of 6 young musicians. It is an extremely complex piece, where each musician must navigate a complicated score that easily sounds like a mess. At the first rehearsal, it all sounded pretty chaotic. But at the farm we had a lot of time to slowly work through the piece. I tried to organize things a bit, but I also wanted to leave the spirit untouched. At the concert – a late night concert in a coffee granary – everyone played their hearts out and it was hands down the best performance of that piece I have ever taken part in. The power of intuition and instincts are often forgotten in the dusty classical music world, but these young South American musicians won’t allow the dust to settle.

Jennifer Stumm – the artistic director and founder of Ilumina – has created a magical oasis in the music world. An idealistic place, where everyone learns and grows together. The hope is that this creates rings in the water the rest of the year, in Brazil as well as globally. I my case it does. First of all, Ilumina has been my pathway into the Brazilian classical music scene, where I have also taken parts in several other festivals, performed many places and given several masterclasses to young Brazilian musicians – both at the prestigious Festival de Campos do Jordão and at the Instituto Baccarelli in the Heliópolis Favela in São Paulo. I have learned Portuguese in the process (helped by my Brazilian wife and my bi-lingual kids). The Ilumina Festival has also helped me enrichen my international network, as the participating international musicians all are of the highest caliber and all of them are ‘modern’ in the sense that they insist that classical music needs to be a part of the surrounding society and make a real impact, not just be pretty sounds in a concert hall. Today there is a growing global Ilumina network with satellite events happening in many countries with the same base of musicians.

Concert in Sala São Paulo

The support from the Danish Cultural Institute was a big help in making my participation possible. The values of Ilumina goes hand in hand with the current Danish art world. A couple of years ago the Danish Cultural Institute facilitated that we brought a string ensemble of Ilumina-musicians to perform at the Queen´s Birthday celebration in Sao Paulo, organized by the Danish General Consulate. It was just a beautiful day where Danish expats and young Brazilian musicians got together in music and celebration. Cultural exchange goes both ways, the old can learn from the young and I returned from Ilumina with many new ideas and thoughts. Hopefully I left something good in Brazil too. I hope this Danish – Brazilian musical connection is something we can continue to nourish in the future.”

Concert in Sala São Paulo