Listen New Classical Tracks: Ola Gjeilo
Listen New Classical Tracks: Ola Gjeilo (extended interview)
Ola Gjeilo: Winter Songs (Decca)
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If you're familiar with the world of choral music, then you know the name Ola Gjeilo (pronounced OH-luh YAY-loh). He's a Norwegian-born composer who now calls New York City home. He's also an accomplished pianist. On his new recording, Winter Songs, he combines his love of choral music with his passion for piano improvisation and strings.
Tell me about your collaborators on this recording.
"The Choir of Royal Holloway is a really wonderful college choir from just outside London. They have such a beautiful, really fresh, gorgeous, very real, kind of natural sound that I really like. So that was a wonderful experience to work with them. And 12 Ensemble is an unconducted string group, also from England, that does a lot of performing. I think they perform a lot with Max Richter, for example. So, that was also a new group that I haven't worked with before and that was really, really excellent."
Let's dive into the recording itself. It opens and it closes with "The Rose" and then "The Rose, Part 2." What is the significance of these bookend pieces?
"It's the new piece of mine, so I was really excited to put that on the album, and I love that poem by Christina Rossetti. It's also kind of melodic, so it felt natural to also have an instrumental version of it, as well, with the cello playing the melody. So, we decided to put both on the album as sort of bookends. We started out the album with a choral version and end it with the instrumental version.
"I definitely put a lot of thought and care into how the program flows, and how each piece following the other has a kind of emotional arc to it."
So what would you say is the emotional peak in this recording?
"I don't know if there's a specific peak. It's more like the center of it to me is a track called 'Home.' It's the shortest piece on the album, less than two minutes, and it's an instrumental with piano and strings. That track is just really close to my heart."
I noticed that you have a lyricist with whom you like to work, and it happens to be the same lyricist with whom Eric Whitacre often teams up with, Charles Anthony Silvesteri. He wrote the lyrics for "Across the Vast Eternal Sky." Would you talk about that piece and how the idea came to be for the text?
"I love working with Tony. He's kind of a rare thing in that he's almost like a choral poet. The title of this piece, 'Across the Vast, Eternal Sky,' was the last line of our previous collaboration, 'Tundra.' So, the last line of that was 'Across the Vast, Eternal Sky.' It uses the image of the phoenix and rebirth, but it also more specifically refers to how we renew ourselves."
There are a few familiar Christmas carols on this recording, and I thought it was especially interesting that you chose to do an instrumental arrangement of 'Silent Night,' rather than a choral arrangement.
"I just really wanted to do something solo, because solo improv is my favorite thing to do as a performer. And it means a lot to me to be able to just create something in the moment that's sort of completely unprepared and just kind of dive into that."
Now, 'The Holly and the Ivy' is one of those carols that can be very repetitive. You made it very interesting. You included a lot of variations. Would you talk a little bit about the different variations we hear in that carol?
"You're right, it can get kind of repetitive because the melody is repetitive and not very long. So, one of the things I did with that one is I wrote a countermelody, which then comes back toward the end and then it becomes its own theme at the very end."
To hear more of Ola Geilo talking about his new release, Winter Songs, download the extended podcast on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts, or click on the link for the extended interview above.
CD giveawayYou can enter for a chance to win a copy of this week's featured CD on New Classical Tracks. Winners will be drawn at random. Be sure to enter by 9 a.m. CST on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017.
Ola Gjeilo (official site)
Ola Gjeilo: Winter Songs (Amazon)