SLSO cellist Bjorn Ranheim on Brahms, musical memories, and the banjo

Bjorn Ranheim was appointed to the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra cello section in 2005.

Was your childhood spent in the city, a country town, or in a remote location? How do you think that environment has affected you as a person?


Bjorn Ranheim

I was born and raised right in the heart of Minneapolis, Minnesota and my family was very active in the music fabric of the Twin Cities. Growing up in a vibrant and diverse urban environment while attending public schools meant that I had a very normal kind of upbringing alongside people of all walks of life. As a musician, it affected me a lot because I had access to incredible resources; two world class orchestras, the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, chamber music series, phenomenal youth orchestra programs, and private teachers. These all provided access to our art form at such a high level.


What other instrument would you play if you didn’t play cello?

I was a pianist through high school and always loved that. I'm starting to get back to it now that my daughter has started piano lessons. I would love to learn how to play the guitar or banjo, too. As far as orchestral instruments, I had a brief hankering to play the trombone since my elementary school didn’t have an orchestra program, but I didn’t really take to it.


Hardest composer for you to play? Why?

I would say the music of Johannes Brahms. And the reason why it's difficult is that he was a fantastic piano player and that shaped how he created melodies and harmonic structures. Whether for symphony, chamber ensemble, or sonatas, his writing is gorgeous and complex but doesn’t always lie well in a technical way. As a string player, or when you play an instrument other than piano, you have to find ways around that to bring out the nuances and musical lines in the way that he intended.


What is your first musical memory?

My mother is a professional flutist who also teaches out of our home in Minneapolis. I would say that my first musical memories were the sound of the flute emanating from her basement studio. Being part of a musical family, it's hard to differentiate what your first memory is because all of my memories have some musical component.


Were you ever interested in playing the flute?

I don't think I was, at least I've never heard that I was. People often ask me how I picked the cello and I honestly don’t remember since I was only 4 years old. My mom insists that I loved it best when we went to a toddler and mother music program at a community music school in Minneapolis that introduces little kids to all of the orchestral instruments. I do know for a fact that next to the flute, the cello, and the French horn are her favorite instruments. I became a cellist, and my brother was a horn player for many years.


You have a weekend completely free. What do you do?

At this stage of my life, it means freedom to do all kinds of fun family things that we don't always get to do. We have two beautiful daughters, Freya is almost three, Inga is four-and-a-half. A weekend completely free means going out and doing fun stuff as a family and not having to worry about getting all geared up, both mentally and physically, for a concert at Powell Hall.


A version of this Q&A appears in the January 2019 issue of Playbill.

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