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Mari Samuelsen on being a rebellious musician and her new CD

By Reuben Fenemore Posted: 14. Sep, 2017

Mari Samuelsen is set to release her solo album Nordic Noir (photo: Kaja Bruskeland)

Ahead of her upcoming Yellow Lounge performances at Reeperbahn in Germany and Oslo, Norway, Mari Samuelsen caught up with Reuben from Music Norway’s Berlin Office

Ahead of your new album being launched later this month, I know you just recently played in Bremen for Musikfest, can you tell me about your experiences performing there?

It was really fun and was my first time in Bremen at the Musikfest, which is a prestigious festival. I’m happy now coming out with a new album doing the repertoire of Nordic Noir as much as possible and to have the chance to play it. First of all, it was at the BOG Forum, so that was kind of an industrial hall and I really like to play in these untraditional concert spaces. I met musicians who were young professionals and together we were 12 strings and a percussionist. We met the day before and had a rehearsal. I opened the whole concert and Kristjan Järvi, Francesco Tristan and Stefano Bollani were all after me. Altogether, it was a nice of club evening. Apparently it was mentioned by the critics that it was a highlight of the festival. It’s cool to be part of these unconventional and untraditional events. Nice city Bremen, hope to be back.

You are no stranger performing for German audiences; you recently performed in Munich with your brother, Håkon, back in April. How would you describe the reception you receive from German audiences?

It’s hard to say how I find the German audiences, because as any audience, it is very different from city to city and from venue to venue. When we were in Munich, we performed Brahms’ Double Concerto, which is of course more the traditional repertoire. The Prinzregententheater where we played is also a prestigious classical concert venue. What I can say is they pay a lot of attention; audiences are attending Brahms Double Concerto to Yellow Lounge at a club. Where in the first one they sit at their chairs and listen, and in the other they stand with a beer in their hand and listen. I have done long pieces like Chaconne by Bach in a Yellow Lounge, and even though that is a club setting, you could say more pop or rock venue, they are completely quiet and pay so much attention to what you do. There is so much good stuff going on here and they are used to a high level I would say. That is in a good and bad way. But I really like performing here.

In your opinion, how does the Classical landscape differ between Germany and Norway, in terms of tradition, culture and your experiences?

What my experience has been is, I can talk about myself as a violinist who is finding new ways to walk and finding new collaborators. The trend of what we see in Norway of crossing borders, expanding the field or thinking outside the box, that’s been going on here for such a long time, maybe Berlin specifically since it is such a cool city. What we see is just a longer history of it down here. That means possibilities are also, I would say, unlimited. There is no limit to how creative you can be. As long as it is quality and as long as you can team up with good people and have cool ideas and be convinced. Once you bring something to this market you have to know that this is me. It helps to know yourself as an artist, or at least know where you want to go. Not swimming and looking around. That would be my experience and advice, but hey, I have a long way to go. What do I know?

As a musician who is pushing for new collaborations and expanding the borders of music, how do you see your role in this and why did you go down this path?

I’m classically trained, but I guess many musicians are, not all, happy to do traditional things and they are fantastic in it. For me, I felt from quite an early time, when I was living in Zurich, Switzerland, I went to a very disciplinary teacher and I went through the standard way of studying music, but in me, I always felt that, ‘I do not want to do what they tell me’. I have always been a little bit rebellious, and that is my inspiration as well. To be the ‘l’enfant rebelle’ and I’ve always told myself, ‘you can do this, nobody thinks you can, but prove them wrong’ and that’s inspired me to work with people like Dubfire, Jeff Mills and Max Richter. Back in the day, I walked up to James Horner, who unfortunately died, and asked, ‘can you write something for us?’ Going there from little Norway up north and then being in the big Los Angeles and saying ‘hey, can you write something?’ I think, ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ They say, ‘no sorry’. Ok next! Being untraditional, hat’s been my thing. I think I never take a ‘no for a no’. I see new possibilities if I get a no.

What can look forward to from your new album Nordic Noir?

I’m very happy it’s autumn, because I hope that the soundscapes fit the time of year we are going into. It’s dark and it’s mellow. I mean the critics from Bremen last week were very happy about it. They said it was like walking in the forest in Finland. They should have said Norway, but hey forest is forest. So I hope it comes across that you can hear the Scandinavian, Nordic Noir sound and people will probably think of some TV series or films they have seen, and that’s what I want. The idea behind it was that I love those shows, anything from The Killing to The Bridge or even Broadchurch. I wanted to capture the sound of it. Also with Ólafur Arnalds, I hope I’ve managed to do something right with it and we’ll see how people like it.

So will Nordic Noir be the main focus for your upcoming performances with Yellow Lounge in Berlin, Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg and Oslo?

Yes, and I very much look forward to it. First time I’m going to Reeperbahn Festival of course and first time they choose to have a Yellow Lounge and classical gig there. Rock and roll classical though. That is brave from their side too. That gig is after being here in Berlin the day before and then going to Oslo the day after that. It is going to be a Yellow Lounge week, which is a format I very much like to perform in.

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