Violinist Mari Samuelsen releases new album, Lys, on Deutsche Grammophon

Mari Samuelsen’s latest album from Deutsche Grammophon explores the phenomenon on which so much of life on earth depends. Lys – Norwegian for “Light” – features the music of 13 female composers, from Hildegard of Bingen to Hildur Guðnadóttir, combining specially commissioned works with new arrangements of existing pieces.

The 14 tracks are woven together to create a sonic meditation on something so fundamental it is often taken for granted. The Norwegian violinist’s eclectic program moves through the infinitely subtle qualities of light to reveal a musical world of infinite shades of emotion and expression. Lys is scheduled for release on May 20, 2022.

“We humans have so many impressions of light, what light feels, in good times and bad,” observes Mari Samuelsen. “I hope that is reflected in the music on this album. We instinctively feel the way light affects our feelings, and the influence on our being of black light, of ‘negative’ light, of the light that people talk right before they die or the ugly light we see from a hospital bed, shocking laser light and so many other types of artificial and natural light Then you have extreme, scorching sun, leaving the land dry and parched. Maybe it has to do with living in the north or just getting older, but these varieties of light are touching me now more deeply than ever. It was all swirling around in my mind before I started to think about who could write the tracks.

Lys covers a wide range of styles which reflects Mari’s openness to music from a multitude of genres and her unreserved advocacy of new work. It embraces everything from a moving arrangement of Beyoncé’s hit Halo to the music of 12th-century Benedictine philosopher, mystic and visionary Hildegard of Bingen; from the transcendent stillness of Hania Rani’s La Luce and the melancholic sonorities of Hildur Guðnadóttir’s Bær to the laser-like precision of Anna Meredith’s Midi and Laura Masotto’s charming Sol Levante.

The track listing also includes pieces by other contemporary classical composers as diverse 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, of which Love Abounds In Everything is an irresistible contemporary complement to the chant O vis eternitatis of Abbess Hildegarde.

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 outing might be. “While waiting for that plane, I was able to think about how music connects with light, shadow and darkness,” Mari recalls. His 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 wintry darkness of rural Norway.

Mari’s choice of composers grew from a long list of people, mostly women, who she thought would have something interesting to say about light. The finished album’s all-female track listing, she explains, stemmed from her desire to connect individual tracks to an overall soundscape rather than a pre-established concept or “manifesto” about female musicians. She reached out to composers she already knew, reached out to others for the first time, and worked closely with DG’s New Repertoire team to fine-tune the performance details of each piece. Through conversations with the composers themselves or their arrangers, she was able to influence the individual tracks and the overall soundscape of the album.

“I’m immensely grateful to have had this chance to create an album where I was able to work so closely with the composers,” notes Mari. “They are all very different personalities. It gave me a new dimension as a performer, because I could question them about the meaning of their music. It’s both exciting and a bit risky to put together pieces that come from different times, places and genres, but these are the projects that fascinate me the most. I want people to experience Lys as a whole story rather than a collection of “phrases” or impressions from different composers. There is a larger image here that I hope will take listeners on a journey into the light and atmosphere it creates as it moves and changes.”

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