A Conversation with Torsten Juul-Borre
Local and international favorite, Torsten Juul-Borre returns for his annual recital with Symphony of the Vines on Sunday, November 18, at Cass Winery in Paso Robles. We stopped by his studio while he was rehearsing and captured two short selections from the concert program. Below, he plays from Beethoven’s “Sonata Pathetique.” Please continue reading as we also learned some fascinating insight about Torsten’s past…
First of all, Torsten is amused by his so-called accent, “A waitress the other day wanted to know where I was from because of my accent. I was born in Minnesota and I’ve lived in Templeton most of my life. It’s a bit puzzling to me.”
His parents were Danish immigrants living in Minnesota. When he was 3 years old, the family traveled back to Denmark for a visit, but family circumstances required an extended stay. He started school in Denmark not speaking Danish, and when the family returned to the United States, he could no longer speak English! However, as children often do, he quickly became bilingual.
His father was a veterinarian who was tired of traversing five foot drifts of snow to reach a sick cow. He longed for warmer weather and, in 1962, found work as a meat inspector at two facilities – one in San Miguel and the other in Atascadero. It made sense to live in-between in Templeton. Torsten enjoyed school in Templeton and studying piano with a teacher in Atascadero, but when he was in the 11th grade, his family life unraveled. His father died from complications after stomach surgery and his mother had passed away a few years earlier. “My father knew the operation might not go well, so he made prior arrangements for us in Denmark. My little sister would be raised by my aunt,” he said. Torsten was just 16 years old, his brother was 19. “In Denmark, we had family, but my brother and I were close and took care of each other.”
For years, his father had wished for him to become a dentist, and Torsten wanted to fulfill that dream. However, in Denmark, he learned that his prior high school course work would not be accepted by Danish standards – he would have to repeat many classes. “I was a good student and graduated early from Templeton High School. I wasn’t having it.”
He remembered that his Atascadero piano teacher had given him a name of a tutor in Denmark. If he was not going to be a dentist, playing the piano was a delightful alternative. He looked up the new tutor and asked for help gaining entrance to the oldest institution of musical education in Denmark, the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music. “Not only would he help me prepare for the entrance exam, he would do it for free,” Torsten recalled. “What generosity! I was so shocked that I nearly fell down a flight of stairs.” At the age of 17, Torsten was accepted into the Conservatory’s prestigious seven-year program which included all facets of music and piano performance. He studied with Arne Skjold Rasmussen, renowned interpreter of Beethoven and Carl Nielsen, and with the internationally known pianist and accompanist Kjell Olsson.
While studying in Copenhagen, a local pastor wondered if Torsten would like to meet a young woman who also happened to be visiting from California. What a small world! He remembers that first meeting and “seeing a beautiful, blonde woman across the room.” He married Eva and a few years later, the couple returned to America. Eva’s parents lived in Southern California, and Torsten wanted to return to his roots in Templeton to teach and perform.
“I love the beauty of music. It is a gift from God and it’s meant to be shared,” he said. Here’s a brief interview with Torsten talking about how he was inspired by a man in a penguin suit to perform his concerts with a more connected focus with the audience.
The November 18th concert features works from Ludwig Van Beethoven and Franz Liszt – two composers who had an interesting introduction in 1823. Liszt was 12 years old when he played for Beethoven, who was more than 40 years his senior. Beethoven was unimpressed by child prodigies and had refused to see the young Hungarian pianist. When they did finally meet, Beethoven requested several difficult pieces and gradually warmed toward the youngster’s abilities. Feeling a bit encouraged, Liszt cheekily asked Beethoven if he could play one of his works. “Beethoven smiled and was overwhelmed by Liszt’s ability. He stroked his hair a few times and called him a little rascal,” Juul-Borre explained. “This is even more interesting because Beethoven was profoundly deaf at this time. Beethoven would have ‘heard’ the playing by feeling the vibrations of the piano and observing Liszt’s fingerings.”
Symphony of the Vines presents the annual Torsten Juul-Borre piano recital on Sunday, November 18, 4 pm, at Cass Winery, 7350 Linne Road, Paso Robles. Tickets range from $15 – $27, and students are free with a paid adult thanks to a sponsorship from Jim and Carolyn Brescia. The concert is also sponsored by Lieselotte Stockmann, and Stephen Lasalle and Barbara Schoenike, and William and Grenda Ernst. Get your tickets here!