Mari Samuelsen’s latest Deutsche Grammophon album sees a bold new curation of dynamic and original music dedicated and influenced by life and light. Lys – Norwegian for “Light” – presents music by thirteen female composers, from Hildegard von Bingen to Hildur Guðnadóttir, combining specially commissioned works with new arrangements of existing pieces. The fourteen tracks are woven together to create a meditative, and energising playlist on this life-giving phenomenon. The Norwegian violinist’s eclectic programme moves through light’s infinitely subtle qualities to reveal a musical world of boundless shades of emotion and expression. Lys is set for release on 20 May 2022.
“We humans have so many impressions of light, what light feels like, in good and bad times,” Mari Samuelsen observes. “I hope that speaks through the music on this album. We instinctively sense the way light affects our feelings, and the influence on our being of dark light, of ‘negative’ light, of the light people talk about just before they die or the ugly light we see from a hospital bed, of shocking laser light and so many other kinds of artificial and natural light. Then you have extreme sunlight, burning down, leaving the land dry and parched. Maybe it’s to do with living in the North or simply with getting older, but these varieties of light touch me now more deeply than ever. All of this was turning over in my mind before I started thinking about who could write the pieces.”
Lys spans a breadth of styles that mirrors Mari’s openness to music from a multitude of genres and her wholehearted advocacy of new work. It embraces everything from a moving arrangement of the Beyoncé hit Halo to music by twelfth-century Benedictine philosopher, mystic and visionary Hildegard of Bingen; from the transcendent stillness of Hania Rani’s La Luce and the melancholy sounds of Hildur Guðnadóttir’s Bær to the laser-like precision of Anna Meredith’s Midi and Laura Masotto’s charming Sol Levante.
The tracklist also includes pieces by other such diverse contemporary classical composers as Lera Auerbach, Meredi, Hannah Peel, Caroline Shaw and Dobrinka Tabakova, as well as music by Mari’s fellow string players Margaret Hermant and Clarice Jensen, whose Love Abounds In Everything is a compelling contemporary complement to Abbess Hildegard’s chant O vis eternitatis.
The idea for Lys came to the violinist in the summer of 2019, around the time Deutsche Grammophon released her debut album, MARI, while she was waiting to board a long-delayed flight. She seized the moment to think about what her next release might be. “Waiting for that plane gave me space to think about the ways in which music connects to light, shade and darkness,” Mari recalls. Her initial thoughts evolved slowly, informed by the long history of describing music through metaphors of light and personal memories of childhood days spent in the winter darkness of rural Norway.
Mari’s choice of composers grew from a long-list of people, most of them women, she felt would have something interesting to say about light. The finished album’s all-female tracklist, she explains, flowed from her desire to connect individual pieces to an overall soundscape rather than any preordained concept or “manifesto” about female musicians. She reached out to composers she already knew, contacted others for the first time, and worked closely with DG’s New Repertoire team to refine the performance details of each piece. Thanks to conversations with either the composers themselves or their arrangers, she was able to influence the individual tracks and the album’s overall soundscape.
“I’m immensely grateful to have had this chance to create an album where I could work so closely with the composers,” notes Mari. “They’re all very different personalities. It gave me a new dimension as a performer, because I could ask them about the meaning of their music. It’s both exciting and a little risky to put together pieces that come from various times, places and genres, but these are the projects that fascinate me most. I want people to experience Lys as a whole story rather than a collection of ‘sentences’ or impressions by different composers. There’s a larger picture here that I hope will take listeners on a journey into light and the atmosphere it creates as it shifts and changes.”