With a television audience of 125 million people, this event is a cultural phenomenon in a class by itself. Rybak’s 2009 victory in the event held in Moscow was a milestone – he won not only with the largest number of votes ever – but by the largest margin, almost twice as many votes as the runner up.
The Minsk – Oslo Connection
For this young man, music is as natural as breathing. His mother Natalia plays piano, his father Igor plays violin, and music was in his home and in his blood from the day he was born. Born in Belarus’ capital city of Minsk, Rybak moved to the Nesodden suburb of Oslo when he was four years old, a suburb where people commute across the fjord by ferry to the city centre.
Alexander began to play violin and piano at the age of five, gaining inspiration from Russian composers such as Sergei Rachmaninoff and others. As time passed, the talented young man focused more on the violin, with a love for the instrument in all types of music – classical, folk, popular – beginning to grow as Alexander saw the similarities of the violin in many different cultures. Alexander has worked hard with his music all his life, but as he says, “Although it is hard work, it is something that I love to do – so that makes it fun, creative, and always an important part of my life.”
On the Fast Track
The violin became his primary form of musical expression, studying under a number of talented teachers. In 2002, at the age of just 15, he was awarded a scholarship to study in the USA, where he was selected to participate in a Master Class with Pinchas Zukerman. Through his teenage years he continued to develop aa a musician through study and practice; as well as playing in a wide range of festivals and concerts; and as soloist with orchestras such as the Minsk Chamber Orchestra and the NRK Norwegian Radio Orchestra.
In 2005 and onwards, things began to happen even faster as Rybak competed in the national “Idol” competition and then the following year won the national NRK talent competition “Kjempessjansen” (The Big Chance!), all the time touring with different well-known musicians and singers. In 2008, he gained celebrity status in the northwest of Norway as he travelled around the islands of Valderøy, Vigra, and Godøy, playing concerts in exchange for accommodation and food, getting to know well the local people there.
The Love of Music
This love of music and the people led to an even greater demand for this young man, who showed that money wasn’t everything – music is what matters. According to Alexander, “Classical music will always be the most important music for me, and as people know there often isn’t a lot of money in performing classical music. That is not what is important, what matters is being able to continue to explore the music and to keep improving. For me, it is as much fun to play for a small group of people in a church or a local community house as it is to play in a big venue.”
Even so, big venues were in Alexander’s future. It was in 2008 that he met music expert, trend-setter, and TV personality Per Sundnes; and the two sat down and listened to a composition that the young man had written called “Fairytale”. As Alexander remembers his first meetings with Per, “I knew that ‘Fairytale’ was a good song, but when Per told me that it was good enough to win the Norwegian Eurovision competition – and even the European competition – I was sceptical. Still, as I began to work more with Per and the team, I began to believe, and to just have fun.”
It has also given him the chance to learn more about Norway’s capital, “Here in Oslo, I now have the chance to explore the city, something that I never really had the opportunity to do before. I am always discovering new areas for me, like Bislett, where I can seem to be in the city one moment and then in a beautiful park overlooking the city the next moment. My goal is now to buy my first apartment and have a small music studio where I can compose and play my music.”
Alexander was having fun. In early 2009, he won the Norwegian final of Eurovision competition by a wide margin, and then in May of the same year he won the Eurovision Song Contest. This victory has opened new worlds for Alexander Rybak, but his feet are still firmly planted on the ground. As he says, “I know that the popularity I have enjoyed by winning Eurovision may never repeat itself. I try to keep it all in perspective. The victory has given me the possibility to travel and play my music in places I never dreamed possible, and to meet people from all over the world.”
The reigning Eurovision winner, talented violinist, composer, singer and actor belongs right here in Oslo, but at least for now, he is a man of the world. In the creative atmosphere of Oslo, things can happen very fast, especially for those who have prepared, which Alexander has done well.