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Nordic Piano Power

Pianist Susan Yondt. (photo by Juliana Yondt)

Swedish pianist Susan Yondt returns for an all Nordic piano recital

It was just this past January that Swedish pianist Susan Yondt charmed an audience at a Sunday afternoon Friends of Vienna concert series program celebrating the bicentennial of the births of Chopin and Schumann. The standing-room-only audience was won over in almost equal measure by Yondt’s sensitive pianism and her delightful introductions to the various pieces she performed, a formula that she plans to repeat when she opens the Friends of Vienna concert season series on Sunday, September 11 at 3:30pm, in the Unity Church on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo.

“I will be introducing each piece, and telling interesting anecdotes about the composers,” Yondt says, “and I hope to awaken the audience’s curiosity in Nordic composers. I’ve lived in Sweden for 32 years and feel an affinity with Nordic music, and perhaps I can even put an American touch on it. While I’ll be playing pieces by Grieg and Sibelius, I’ll also love to introduce the FOV audience to some relatively unknown composers like Emil Sjögren, Heino Kaski, and Peder Lange-Müller; I think you’ll be surprised what interesting pieces they’ve written. Wilhelm Peterson-Berger is a composer who represents Swedish music for many Swedes. If you have taken piano lessons in Sweden, you’ve played Peterson-Berger’s music, for sure.”

Yondt recently performed her new program at the 16th-century royal castle, in her home city of Uppsala, and will be playing it in other venues in Sweden as well. “The repertoire has been very well-received here,” she says, “even Swedes can find some new acquaintances. I always like to ‘educate’ my audience, and make them aware of composers they’ve maybe never heard before.”

When the subject came up of the relative rarity of Scandinavian or, even more generally, Nordic music in American piano recital programs, with the sole exception of the music of Edvard Grieg, Yondt shared a few of her thoughts. “Well, the concert audiences are really missing some beautiful and interesting music,” Yondt says. “I guess the geographical aspect plays a part, as these composers were working up here in the North, rather isolated from the rest of Europe, and they simply were not played as often as the others. The Nordic composers all made trips to other parts of Europe, so, for instance, most of Edvard Grieg’s pieces also have titles in German, so they were in contact with their European colleagues. Also, the fact that most of the piano pieces are small works maybe explains why they are not played as often as say, sonatas.

“These composers lived in basically the same time period, and their style is late national-romantic. I’ve pulled up some threads connecting the composers and I want to show what they were composing during this period. I think you can hear a ‘Nordic’ influence in all of these works. The music is strongly inspired by Nordic nature, with titles like ‘Morning Hike’ and ‘The Birch,’ and I want the audience to experience the flavor of this period when small piano pieces flourished. It’s kind of ‘music before globalizing music,’ which still has a national style. This was the golden age for miniature piano pieces too—remember that many people owned pianos during the latter half of the 1800’s. There was a market for character pieces, preferably with descriptive titles that home pianists could play themselves, even though some of the pieces are quite difficult.”

At least one of the composers on Yondt’s program, Wilhelm Stenhammar, has become somewhat more familiar to American audiences in the last 20 or so years, through the medium of recorded CDs, especially of his orchestral music. “Stenhammar is a very interesting composer,” Yondt says, “and I love his music, especially his particularly sweeping style. I can often hear the influence of Swedish folk music in his works, which are very well-known to Swedish audiences.”

Yondt has recently had a career dream come true: “I have just started my new position as professor of piano at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. It’s all very exciting, as I am teaching the music-teachers-to-be all about piano playing, and I will be developing a new type of group piano teaching for music teachers, so, it will be very interesting.” Yondt has an interesting commute for her new post, as she explains: “I’m commuting 90 kilometers one way to Stockholm, and I have a varied commute, first 30 minutes of biking, then a 40-minute train ride, then 10 minutes on the subway. The biking is by far the most enjoyable part, on the bike-path along the river. I am also still teaching at the Uppsala Music School a few days per week.”

Season tickets are $35 for six concerts. Individual tickets are $8, $6 students. For more information, visit

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