Léonie Sonning Talent Prize 2020
Clown, chef or Michael Jackson
As a young child, Nicholas Algot Swensen wanted to be a clown. As he never does things by half, he invented different clown characters down to the very last detail and bought costumes and props in specialty stores to be able to live out his dream 100%.
When he got a bit older, he switched to Michael Jackson dances, and he spent all of his spare time studying DVDs with his idol and noting down choreographies from his music videos. Even later he took up cooking at a very high level, which would make most home economics teachers jump up and down with joy.
The common denominator for all of Nicholas’ childhood passions was that he only ever did them for his own pleasure, with a basic love of creation as his only driving force. Unlike today where he spends hours in the rehearsal room with his viola. Here it is also with a goal in sight such as a concert or something like that.
An instrument choice with a possible ulterior motive
Nicholas got his first viola on a family trip to Scotland. He was around six years old and had already been begging his parents to let him play an instrument like his older brother, who played the cello. His parents had never given him an outright no. They had simply said that they would let him once he was old enough to take responsibility for his own playing and development. His parents also had other requirements.
“I was told that I couldn’t play the violin or the cello. Because so many people played the violin, and my brother played the cello,” Nicholas reminisces about the trip to the string instrument store in Edinburgh. There was simply too much risk of conflicts between the two brothers. This left only the viola and the double bass, making it an easy choice for six-year-old Nicholas.
Maybe his parents had an ulterior motive for nudging Nicholas towards the viola: “When you have a viola in a family with a cello and two violins – then you basically have a string quartet,” Nicholas says with a roguish smile. However, the family quartet never did happen.
The gift of curiosity
It has, however, brought him lots of music in many different constellations – both with and without his family. Every summer the family would go on a music course in Jutland. Nicholas also sang in the Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir for four years. During that time he toured the U.S. and South Africa, and he played a role in the Wagner opera Tannhäuser at the Royal Danish Theatre on Holmen.
All these different musical experiences are a great match for Nicholas, who was born with tons of curiosity. A curiosity which, concurrently with the world opening up to the young viola player, has also opened his eyes to the infinite possibilities life has to offer. This means that Nicholas is aware of the things he needs to say no to. Things that he dare not think about, fearing that he will end up only doing things out of duty rather than out of pleasure.
“Somehow you need to retain this childish, curious and open approach so that it doesn’t just become a piece of work you need to do for someone else,” Nicholas explains and tells us that he has already started on a new adventure at DR’s Malko Academy for Young Conductors where he is exploring a world that to him is still new and unexplored.
Nicholas Algot Swensen in brief
Born in 1999. Grew up in Gentofte.
Both parents play the violin, and his brother Jonathan plays the cello (received the Léonie Sonning scholarship in 2017). Started viola lessons at the age of seven.
Went to primary school at Sankt Annæ Gymnasium choir school and thereby was also in the Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir from the 5th to the 8th grade, touring in the U.S. and South Africa. In that same period played the role of the shepherd boy in Wagner’s Tannhäuser.
Studied at Lübech Musikhochschule with the viola player Barbara Westphal from the age of 15.
Now studying at the Royal Danish Academy of Music while also participating in DR’s Malko Academy for Young Conductors.
Has played chamber music with a.o. The Danish String Quartet and Tri Con Brio.
The scholarship from the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation
Nicholas will spend the money from the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation on study trips to Lübeck, Oslo, Berlin and Boston and also on a full service of his viola by the instrument maker in Leipzig where it is from.