Six months after the world premiere in Liverpool, Mari and Håkon Samuelsen brings Pas De Deux to their home country of Norway in a spectacular concert in Stavanger, which also saw James Horner himself conduct suites from Braveheart, Titanic and Wolf Totem.
Dress Rehearsal and boat ride to the Pulpit Rock
Wednesday morning, I attended the dress rehearsal for the concert. This was my first time hearing Pas De Deux, which I will come back to later. In short, the concert audience were in for a treat! The other selections from the programme also sounded great and ready for live performance. Still, they were making small adjustments. Both Torodd Wigum and James Horner, who would share the conductor’s podium during the concert, had small instructions passed to the musicians.
Head of Communications in the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, Gaute Aadnesen, also shared how they had been chosen to host the Nordic premiere of Pas De Deux:
“The Stavanger Symphony Orchestra is probably one of the innovative orchestras in Norway, and has previously won prizes for their marketing and garnered much international attention. We have a very good relationship with Universal Music and through this collaboration, we got this project on its feet. Mari Silje and Håkon Samuelsen wanted an orchestra with high artistic qualities and at the same time an orchestra who dares to explore new territory. And after two meetings, they chose us for the Nordic premiere of Pas De Deux.”
He also revealed how they convinced James Horner to conduct:
“We were very happy to get the Nordic premiere and we hoped to get James Horner to conduct parts of the concert, but we knew it would be hard as this is something he rarely or never does anymore. However, like with all other things in life, if you ask in a nice and good way, you will receive a good reply. We got just that, he told us ‘Yes!’ at once.”
When the dress rehearsal concluded, I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with the incredible Eric Rigler. James Horner, Mari and Håkon Samuelsen, Torodd Wigum, Clara Sanabras, Eric Rigler and many others were now headed out in boats, going out to Pulpit Rock, which is an outcropping high up over the Lysefjord. A popular tourist destination by foot, it is also a spectacular sight from below. I also was given the chance come along for the two hour trip, something that again demonstrates how well we were treated by everyone during these two days. We were divided into three boats, James Horner, Mari and Håkon Samuelsen as well as Margit Bøhn from Universal Music and some international journalists were in one boat, while Gaute Aadnesen, Eric Rigler and a few others manned boat number two. I joined the third boat along with, among others, Clara Sanabras and Torodd Wigum. The trip was a wonderful, adrenaline-filled experience that included high speed, awe-inspiring sights and good company with all these amazing people. When the boats were safely back, people started to prepare for the concert. I conducted a short interview with the ever-wonderful Clara Sanabras. This interview, as well as the interview with Eric Rigler will be published at a later date. The boats eventually made their way back and, later in the evening, we arrived at the concert house a little more than an hour before the start of the concert for an interview with conductor Torodd Wigum. A native of Trondheim, the 45 year old conductor has a background as a viola player, having served as principal viola in the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra while still a student and as solo viola in the Trondheim Soloists, a chamber orchestra that has worked with many world-renowned musicians. For the last few years, his main vocation has been as a freelance conductor as well as house conductor for the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra. Tonight he would conduct suites from Avatar, Aliens and Legends of The Fall, not to mention the Nordic premiere of Pas De Deux.
“I was planning to see this concert, as I found Pas De Deux to be an intriguing piece of music. A few weeks before the concert, I got a call saying James Horner was coming to conduct parts of the concert. However, he would not conduct the entire concert and so they needed an extra conductor and wondered if I was interested. Fortunately I had room in my schedule and was happy to accept”, he said about getting picked as conductor for this concert.
After the interview we patiently waited until the doors opened. Our seats were in the very first row, just to the left of the conductor’s podium. The hall steadily filled up to maximum capacity. The concert was sold out, and people were clearly anticipating a great concert. What is also worth mentioning is the age of the audience, clearly much younger than what you would expect at an average classical music concert.
Right on time, the last of the audience found their seats, the doors closed, and the concert honoring James Horner was ready to begin.
The hall was completely silent, when the stage door to the left of the orchestra opened. First, Eric Rigler came out on to the stage. He found his seat, before the door again opened, this time for the maestro himself, James Horner. Humble as always, he carefully made his way to the podium, bowing to the audience before turning to the orchestra, and behind them, the VIVA youth choir. The first piece of the concert was the End Credits suite from Braveheart. Incidentally, this marked the first time Eric Rigler and James Horner performed this piece since the recording sessions at Abbey Road 20 years ago. Sitting just a few feet away from Rigler, hearing his exceptional playing of the Uillean Pipes was very moving. The Stavanger Symphony Orchestra played the piece really well, and apart from a small glitch in one section, the choir as well managed to transport the audience to the Scottish highlands.
Horner then left the stage, and Torodd Wigum came on stage to introduce Mari and Håkon Samuelsen for their Nordic premiere of Pas De Deux.
Already from the first few bars, the audience is invited into the vast musical universe of James Horner. The orchestral colors remain unmistakably his own, but still manages to convey a freshness of ideas that is so appealing. The gentle, intimate start of the piece, perhaps like coming into a forest clearing is such a good way of inviting the audience in. Then the dancing of the two solo instruments lead on, sometimes both going in the same direction, sometimes going in slightly separate ways, like they want to explore slightly different paths in this colorful universe, but never straying too far from one another. Backed beautifully by the orchestra, the piece weaves together passages of meditative contemplation, a sense of wonder, warmth and even a sense of discovering new worlds or at least looking at them from a new perspective. Mari and Håkon’s playing, along with the orchestral voices, in the last couple of minutes of the concert, for me, even managed to conjure images ranging from flying over green landscapes, to images of colorful, massive galaxies and planetary nebulae colliding in graceful dances from their combined gravitational pull, spinning and dancing while ever changing in shape. I am sure the audience members had their own images, just as vivid but probably entirely different, from my own.
We have come to know the universe of James Horner from so many movies, but this is the first time we get to experience so many corners of it, in just one piece, with such perfect musical storytellers as Mari and Håkon Samuelsen. Sitting in the first row it was a true privilege to hear these two brilliant musicians play. One cannot help being moved from the sound created from the two siblings’ playing, with such mastery of their instruments. We are lucky to have such talented musicians here in Norway. The piece was followed by loud applause from the audience!
After the break, Torodd Wigum continued his expert conducting of the orchestra, this time for the suite from Aliens. After the inviting, contemplative tones of Pas De Deux, the unfriendly vicious nature of Aliens was quite a contrast. The brass felt sharper, the percussion more thunderous. You could almost feel the audience sinking in their seats out of fear of what alien creature might lurk in the shadows of the Fartein Valen concert hall. The xenomorphs were eventually dealt with, and when back on planet Earth we found ourselves in China, with James Horner back on the conductor’s podium. We were of course hearing Wolf Totem. Horner suggested including the piece less than a week before the concert, just before arriving in Stavanger. Wolf Totem hasn’t been released yet in Norway, so this was the first time the majority of the hall got to hear this piece. The piece that was played, Return to the Wild, is arguably one of Horner’s finest pieces of music from the last few years and is one of my personal favorites. To hear it live, played so beautifully by the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, and conducted by Horner himself, was both memorable and moving.
We then traveled to Montana, to enjoy the lush, romantic music from Legends of the Fall. The piece was performed exactly as you could hope for, with the orchestra conveying the sweeping themes and warm atmosphere perfectly. Next was Avatar. As mentioned in the rehearsal article this was the same suite as in Vienna in 2013. But the nuances were different. In some areas the ethnic drums were not included. This worked to give the piece a more dynamic feeling, which made the grand, loud passages seem even bigger, as well as letting the Stavanger Symphony Choir come more to the forefront of the soundscape. Torodd Wigum really pushed the orchestra to full throttle for the final segment from the War cue, supplying the audience with the proper rush of adrenaline.
For the finale of the concert, what piece could be more natural than Titanic? It is by far Horner’s most popular score, and no Horner evening would be complete without it. And tonight it would be conducted by James Horner himself. Joining him was Clara Sanabras, Eric Rigler and VIVA. Everyone has some sort of relationship to Titanic and the music, and it came as no surprise to see how captivated people were even from the start of the 12 minute suite. VIVA did an excellent job during the Southampton theme, and Clara Sanabra’s voice can hardly be described in words, with such graceful yet impressively powerful qualities. The segment from “My Heart Will Go On” could not have been performed better, neither the emotional finale of the piece.
That people were thrilled with the concert was evident from the thunderous applause that ensued. For what must have been close to a full ten minutes, the audience continued its’ standing ovation. We agree fully! This was a night to remember!
After the concert, we stayed behind in the concert hall to take a picture for VIVA, of the choir along with James Horner, Eric Rigler and Clara Sanabras. Afterwards, Horner, Mari and Håkon Samuelsen sat down in the foyer of the concert house for a CD signing session. The crowd was big, and it was clear that Pas De Deux had moved the audience during the concert.
We made our way to the post-concert reception, hosted by the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra. Here we got to spend a few minutes talking with James Horner, as well as Eric Rigler, Torodd Wigum, Mari and Håkon Samuelsen. The party went on for several hours, and served as a wonderful end of this memorable and eventful day.
The next morning we met with James Horner, Mari and Håkon Samuelsen for an interview. They were all happy with the concert:
HS: “The audience was absolutely amazing. We were thrilled to play for them and with the whole package that they prepared here in Stavanger with the orchestra, the hall. It was really great. They seemed really happy, it was a good reception for the piece and for the rest of the concert as well.”
JH: “I thought it was amazing. I thought the whole evening was brilliant, and the orchestral playing was great. And the audience’s reaction, you couldn’t get a better reaction than that. It was pretty amazing.”
MS: “I think it was great. I’m really happy that the Scandinavian premiere happened here in Stavanger. It’s a very innovative orchestra and they are very flexible. I think they put together a beautiful evening, and I was happy that the audience was so mixed – it was quite young. I think it also reached out to people not only going to subscription concerts who only go the concert because they happened to have a season ticket. They wanted to be here, and that’s not always a given.”
Gaute Aadnesen, Head of Communications at the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra was also thrilled with the response:
“The entire experience has been fantastic and with the response we have had from the audience and James Horner himself, I am not so sure this is the last time we have seen him conduct during a concert. Perhaps we will be lucky enough to bring him back on a later occasion? We can at least ask, it worked well the last time”, said Aadnesen, with a smile.
The same day, the Samuelsen siblings and Horner, went on a helicopter flight, flying over the previously visited Pulpit Rock, the Lyse Fjord and other sights in the area.
No doubt, Stavanger has left many people with many fond memories, concertgoers and musicians alike.
© Thomas Gausel Olsen
Mari and Håkon Samuelsen, James Horner, Torodd Wigum, Eric Rigler, Clara Sanabras, Margit Bøhn, Gaute Aadnesen, Elisabeth Krey Jenssen, Jostein Hakestad and the fantastic Stavanger Symphony Orchestra