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Pas de deux

By Tomas Lauvland Pettersen Posted: 04. Jul, 2014

Violin and Cello duo Mari and Hakon Samuelsen announce exclusive long-term recording partnership with Mercury Classics. Music Norway sat down with the two this week to talk about their recent signing and this autumn’s world premiere of a new work written for them by Oscar-winning composer James Horner.

Early July saw violin and cello Duo Mari and Hakon Samuelsen announcing an exclusive long-term recording partnership with Mercury Classics. Their first album, scheduled for release in Spring 2015, is planned to be the world premiere recording of Oscar-winning composer James Horner’s (Titanic, Avatar and Braveheart) new double concerto ‘Pas de deux’. In November, the two are set to premiere the double concerto on stage with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra directed by Vasily Petrenko.

The two have been performing together since childhood and have dazzled audiences around the world with their “highest standards of musical excellence” (Clickliverpool.com) and “sensitive and athletic playing” (Grazia Italia).
Music Norway met up with the Samuelsen’s in early July to talk about their recent signing to Mercury Classics and how it has been to be working with one of Hollywood’s most in-demand composers:

– It’s been a long, long process, Mari and Hakon Samuelsen relate. – It all starts with a wish that a brother and sister shares; the dream of a major, international record deal. It’s been a long journey from being music students to landing a major commission with a composer of James Horner’s status.

The duo’s quest for a label home began with negotiations with another record company nearly three years ago: – Initially, we looked at signing a deal with EMI Classics, but when the label was sold, we had to start all over again. We shifted our focus to Universal and eventually landed with Mercury Classics – a label that represents a fantastic family of artists. From the outset, Mercury was our number one priority and we are both really happy that we are now with a company that embraces new forms of expressions and is forward thinking in their approach to reaching out to new user groups.

To Hollywood

Mari and Håkon Samuelsen photo: Per Heimly

With an ambition to expand the repertoire for violin and cello and a desire to reach out to new audiences the two set about finding a composer that could write a fitting work for the duo:

– We were introduced to James Horner through (Hollywood-based Norwegian film director) Harald Zwart in LA three years ago. A major grant from the Wilhelmsen Foundation gave us the equity needed to launch the project and left us in a position to choose quite freely among composers. Initially, we approached traditional, classical composers but gradually we came to realize that it would be nice if the audience could actually remember parts of the music an hour after the concert has ended. We wanted melodic compositions, perhaps in the vein of motion picture soundtracks that could communicate to a bigger audience. This led us on a path towards Hollywood, and eventually, to James Horner. It was not given that he would agree to compose for us, after all he is a sought after composer that has written scores for blockbusters such as Titanic, Avatar and Braveheart. His acceptance was the culmination of a yearlong dream for both of us.

For the Samuelsen’s, an underlying theme for the project has been renewal of repertoire: – An important aspect of the whole project has been to come up with something new and to expand the existing repertoire for violin and cello. The established, traditional repertoire can be fantastically beautiful, but there’s something rewarding about releasing new works that have not been featured on countless albums already. Had we debuted with Brahms’s Double Concerto, we might have missed out on a potential wider audience out there.

Liverpool Philharmonic premiere

Vasily Petrenko

The 12th of November 2014 sees the world premiere performance of the new double concerto with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Vasily Petrenko.

– The November premiere for ‘Pas de deux’ with the Liverpool Philharmonic, which is celebrating its 175th anniversary in 2014, is set to the very date the city’s concert hall reopens after a long refurbishment process. The concert will also go live on Classic FM in the UK, reaching nearly eight million listeners, the duo relates.

In the Samuelsen’s view, the premiere of ‘Pas de deux’ will bring a sense of familiarity for fans of Horner’s orchestral melodicism featured on his Oscar-winning soundtracks: – What’s vital here is that the listeners will be able to feel at home in Horner’s musical, sonic world. His compositional signature will be present throughout the work – this has been very important for us.

– We feel confident that in the end it will turn out to be a beautiful concerto, written exclusively for the two of us, a full symphonic orchestra and a grand choir. It’ll be exquisite!