Katrine Yttrehus, Principal Second Violin

“I still remember my first “encounter” with the COE as if it was yesterday. I was wasting some time at the CD library of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia between classes, and suddenly remembered that someone recently crashed the school’s orchestra rehearsal, talking in superlatives about this amazing chamber orchestra and also donating a set of brand new recordings of the Beethoven symphonies to the library (this was Vesna Stankovic, a former Curtis graduate and principal 2nd violin of the COE). I picked a track at random – it was the last movement of the 8th symphony – and settled comfortably in my library chair, unsuspecting of what was going to hit me. After 8 bars I was fumbling around in my backpack trying to find that little flyer with the contact information she had given out.

I auditioned in London in the fall of 1993, and joined my first tour in December that year. We were playing a project with Heinz Holliger in the Berliner Philharmonie, as well a recording the Strauss Oboe Concerto with him in a rather depressing sound studio in a remote part of former East Berlin. I immediately knew this was where I belonged musically (and I am not talking about East Berlin). The clarity of sound, the total commitment of everyone and the sheer joy of playing even the simplest phrase in a Haydn symphony as if it was the only thing that mattered in the world, right there and then – I was totally hooked (and spoiled for the rest of my musical life). Although the orchestra was no longer a youth orchestra at this point, the off-stage spirit was very youthful (in hindsight, sometimes bordering on irresponsible…) Towards the end of the recording sessions the idea of a sweepstake was launched, were everyone in the orchestra betted one d-mark on exactly when we would end the session. Poor Maestro Holliger had no idea why everyone was stealing glances at their watches, giggling, and accusing those who coughed during takes of cheating.

So already on my first tour I was witness to the mischievous spirit of the COE, and soon to be introduced to the fine art of pranks (a high-risk sport, given that the audience should never notice). Especially at the end of longer opera productions, the convenient darkness of the orchestra pit gave birth to some spectacular prank moments. A few of those happened during one of my most cherished musical experiences, the production of “Don Giovanni” in Ferrara with Claudio Abbado, Bryn Terfel and Simon Keenlyside in 1997. The orchestra was playing in a half-raised pit, were some of the action actually was happening directly in front of the orchestra, on a broad pier which separated the orchestra from the audience. This was of course a very tempting set-up, since we had direct access to the singers as they walked passed us. Among the spectacular pranks that happened during that production, the highlight took place in the beginning of the second act, where Don Giovanni is trying to bribe his servant Leporello into staying in his service. At this point, Simon Keenlyside, who was singing the role of Don Giovanni, would put down a few coins on the pier for Leporello (Bryn Terfel) to pick up. Sitting on the second stand, I was given the task to discreetly exchange one of these coins with another coin, which was attached to a string. So when Bryn bent down to pick up the coin, it was slightly pulled away by the concertmaster…. We had no idea that just this very performance was filmed and aired on Italian TV, and to this day the observant viewer can watch this prank unfolding on the taped performance on YouTube. (And yes, Abbado was very much aware of what was going on, and seemed to enjoy our escapades – which was probably the reason why we actually dared doing them!)

Speaking of Ferrara, of all the places we stayed regularly, this was the city that became like a second home to us for a while. The walled city with its lovely medieval buildings and convenient size (everything within walking distance) really grew on us. At any given point of day, you could always be sure to run into a fellow COE musician at Settimo’s, an unassuming but cherished restaurant which hosted many of our parties as well. The only people who didn’t seem too happy to have us in the city was a small local orchestra, who actually once sent the carabinieri after us at Bologna airport, claiming that someone had stolen a violin bow from them backstage. To everyone’s amusement, the dutiful Italian policemen made us open all our instrument cases at the airport – including the horn players´! – to check for the stolen bow.
Musically, I have enjoyed so many highlights with the COE that it is hard to pick out a few. But amongst my favourite memories is the tour we had with Harnoncourt in the fall of 96, playing all the Beethoven Symphonies both in Europe and in Carnegie Hall. What a privilege to be part of what brought me to the COE in the first place, when I first fell in love with the orchestra in the school library!”


Katrine Buvarp Yttrehus is enjoying a diverse career as a freelance violinist in Norway. Over the years, she had the opportunity to perform as a soloist with all of the Norwegian symphony orchestras, orchestras in Finland, Denmark, Iceland and the UK, as well as touring Norway with recital/chamber music programmes. Her love for the classical and early romantic symphonic repertoire, together with her strong belief that every member of an orchestra should be equally important, led her to the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, where she was a member for 5 years. As principal 2nd violin in this orchestra, and as assistant concertmaster of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra she had the opportunity to explore the task of leading a group, something she still enjoys doing when guest leading various ensembles.

Katrine comes from a Norwegian-German family, and studied the violin at Barratt Due Musikkinstitutt in Oslo before leaving for the US, where she continued her studies with Camilla Wicks at Rice University and Rafael Druian at The Curtis Institute of Music. She has represented Norway in the Nordic EBU Soloist Biennale and has received numerous awards, including the Norwegian “Young Musician of the Year”. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with her family, and designing and selling 3D paper souvenirs to museum shops through her own company in Oslo.

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