The winning performance by Martin Norberg marked the first time in the 15-year history of the Årets Näck (‘Water Fairy of the Year’) competition that a saxophonist, or a musician playing anything other than a violin, had taken top honours.
The mesmerizing horn player almost missed the competition altogether, however, making his victory all the more unexpected.
“He just showed up a couple of hours before the competition and asked if he was allowed to play a saxophone,” contest arranger Calle Hernmarck told The Local.
According to legend, a water fairy is a supernatural being that takes the form of a naked man playing the violin on the shores of Swedish lakes and streams.
The creature’s captivating music supposedly holds magical powers which tempt people to into the water, causing them to drown.
But Hernmarck, who started the competition in 1995 as a way to put a twist on a more traditional gathering of folk musicians, explained that even though the violin is traditionally associated with the water fairy, there’s no reason that other instruments can’t be used as well.
“The myth of the water fairy is really old and predates when the violin first came to Sweden in 1646,” he said.
“What matters for the competition, however, is bringing the spirit of the water fairy to life and we want to give participants the chance to do that no matter what instrument they choose.”
The 2009 competition, which was held in front of a crowd of more than 400 spectators on Thursday, featured five participants, including the reigning Water Fairy of the Year, violinist Ross Campbell.
Braving the creek’s icy waters, each musician did their best to convince the judges, that he best captured the water fairy’s spirit and musical mysticism.
According to the competition’s rules, participants are only allowed to cover themselves with items “which can be found in nature”.
“It takes a special type of person to be a water fairy,” said Hernmarck.
“They have to be something of an actor so that they can play without thinking, ‘OK, now I’m naked.’ They also have to be good musicians.”
Following performances by the five competitors in this year’s competition, it was saxophonist Norberg who made the biggest impression on the judges, who included folk musicians Ylva Norrman and André Huck, as well as artist Ingrid Roth.
“Just like the Water Fairy, he appeared in a guise we didn’t expect. He captivated and frightened, with his eyes and his enchanted saxophone, he seduced the jury,” wrote the jury in naming Norberg the winner.
“It feels great. I’m both surprised and happy” Norberg told TV4 following the competition.
“It’s not really a water fairy instrument, but it appeared to hit the spot.”
A video report on the 2009 Water Fairy of the Year competition from TV4. NOTE: video clip contains scenes of male nudity.