In the moo-d for a classical concert

Students of the Scandinavian Cello School perform for Mogens and Louise Haugaard’s cows in Lund, Denmark, on April 23, 2021.
Students of the Scandinavian Cello School perform for Mogens and Louise Haugaard’s cows in Lund, Denmark, on April 23, 2021.PHOTO: NYTIMES

LUND, DENMARK (NYTIMES) - During a recent performance of Tchaikovsky's Pezzo Capriccioso, a handful of audience members leaned forward attentively, their eyes bright, a few encouraging snuffles escaping from the otherwise hushed parterre.

When it was over, amid the fervent applause and cries of "bravo", there could be heard a single, appreciative moo.

On Sunday, in Lund, a village about 80km south of Copenhagen, a group of elite cellists played two concerts for some music-loving cows and their human counterparts.

The culmination of a collaboration between two local cattle farmers, Mogens and Louise Haugaard, and Jacob Shaw, founder of the nearby Scandinavian Cello School, the concerts were meant to attract some attention to the school and the young musicians in residence there.

But to judge by the response of both two- and four-legged attendees, it also demonstrated just how popular an initiative that brings cultural life to rural areas can be.

Until a few years ago, Shaw, 32, who was born in Britain, had toured the world as a solo cellist, performing in hallowed venues including Carnegie Hall and the Guangzhou Opera House.

When he moved to Stevns (the larger municipality to which Lund belongs) and opened the Scandinavian Cello School, he soon discovered that his neighbours, the Haugaards, who raise Hereford cows, were also classical music lovers.

In fact, Mr Mogens Haugaard, who is also a former mayor of Stevns, sits on the board of the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra.

"Classical music is very good for humans," the farmer said. "It helps us relax and cows can tell whether we're relaxed or not. It makes sense that it would make them feel good too."

It is not always good for the people who perform it, however.

Shaw said he founded the Scandinavian Cello School to help fledgling musicians prepare for the less glamorous demands of a professional career in an industry that can sometimes chew up young artists in the constant quest for the next big thing.

While touring internationally as a self-managed artist, he found himself exhausted by the grind of negotiating contracts, promoting himself and relentless travel, he said in an interview.

That experience - coupled with a stint as a professor at a prestigious music academy in Barcelona - made him realise there was a hole there that needed filling.

In 2018, Shaw and his girlfriend, violinist Karen Johanne Pedersen, bought a farmhouse in Stevns and turned it into a permanent base for the Scandinavian Cello School.


(From left) The cattle farmers Mogens and Louise Haugaard, and Jacob Shaw, who founded the Scandinavian Cello School, in Lund, Denmark, on April 23, 2021. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Its students, who come from all over the world and are mostly aged between 17 and 25, stay for short-term residencies to hone their musical as well as professional skills - including how to achieve a work-life balance.

The location helps with that.

Situated less than 1km from the sea, the school also offers the visiting musicians the opportunity to help out in a vegetable garden, forage in the nearby forest, fish for dinner or just relax in an area far from the city.

The school receives some financial support from local government and businesses.

In return, the visiting musicians - seven have come for the current residency - perform at schools and care facilities in the region.

And they play for the cows.

Because of coronavirus restrictions, the two concerts on Sunday were held outdoors, and human attendance for each was limited to 35.

Both species in attendance seemed to enjoy themselves.


Johannes Gray of the Scandinavian Cello School performs for Mogens and Louise Haugaard’s cows in Lund, Denmark, on April 23, 2021. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Before the concert, the cows were scattered across the field, munching grass in the sun.

But as the musicians, clad in formal wear, took their seats on the hay-strewn stage and began the dramatic opening bars of Danish composer Jacob Gade's Jalousie (Tango Tzigane), the cows crowded over to the fence that separated them from the human audience and jostled for position.

"It's actually nice playing for cows," Gray said.

"We saw it in rehearsal - they really do come over to you. And they have preferences. Did you see how they all left at one point? They're not really Dvorak fans."