On this page you can read our interview with Hakon and Mari Samuelsen, recorded Thursday November 13, 2014 at the Hope Street Hotel, Liverpool.
Main subjects covered:
JHFM: Yesterday during the rehearsal, James Horner was making observations sometimes but not really. He was in the background and let you do your thing.
Hakon Samuelsen: Not all composers are like this. He lets us be free. He has a very specific way of how he thinks it should be, but we can be free to also convey suggestions in the piece, so would say some small thing. Especially when it comes to phrasings, you know? When James composes, he writes some bowings that means this could go that direction or so, but he leaves quite a lot up to us. So then we come up with suggestions. Because it makes a difference because when you play many tones on one bow, or if you change….and this also has an impact on the orchestra, when we do a move and then the orchestra takes over that move. That was earlier in first rehearsal, where we had many things like this.
JHFM: So is it a different experience for you in terms of performance compared to the classical repertoire, the classical world?
HS: We are working under the same kind of system, which means when you practice the piece, first of all you need to know the solo parts but you need to look over the score. What happens when we play in the orchestra is sometimes he writes solo for violin and trumpet together or cello and horn together and then we go out to woodwinds and many details…and it makes a difference on the players.
Mari Samuelsen: How was your impression of the last night?
JHFM: Very emotional for us last night. It's so passionate. We can feel that vibration when you play.
MS: We feel that, with the time now that we are getting more and more into the piece and it's also for us…you know when you read James' scores they are so big, and for us as solo performers we aren't used to seeing so many things spread out like this. We're more used to this, really (gestures smaller). So it's been very helpful that we have recorded all the rehearsals, so we can hear and study, and that makes us get more into the piece and we just love it more and more.
JHFM: It was interesting for us because we've been listening to his music for years so in fact we are familiar with…
MS: …with the tonality.
JHFM: Yes. This music, we know it by heart, and most importantly from the heart. For us, it was for a first time, because we know his music in through albums but now we see it live and you have your own part in it, it was very wonderful to see this fusion of two performers and orchestra.
HS: Thank you very much. And also, James has taken this task and this commission very seriously. I think he does with films, of course ; but here he used 3 years.
Mari Samuelsen: It's been a process of three years. We started already in spring 2011 to discuss the shape and he is, you know, a very humble person so he is not coming “this is it, this is how it's gonna be.” We've always had discussions and he is very open-minded, and at the same time he knows himself very well and he knows exactly what he wants and what will work. So it's been a very exciting process.
MS: You know James was out flying that day and he did not have permission to land.
HS: He is a jet pilot
MS: And helicopter! He was coming from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I think, and he did not have permission to take off–or land, I don't remember–because of the weather. So we just heard that “Mr. Horner will not be able to make it, as he was stuck in a flight” and I thought he was coming like a normal passenger and just recently I found out that he was flying himself!
HS: Because Harald Zwart was trying to call him, took off, and what to do? We already had to start because the performance was in his residence…
MS: We had to start and there were a lot of other guests of Mr. and Mrs. Zwart there.
HS: Yeah, lots of film producers there…and so he did not pick up, what to do? We had an intermission, and I was really nervous, and our friend here said ‘look who's coming down the street' and it was James.
MS: Yeah he came in with a baseball cap and we're, like, “Is that James?” Very down to Earth.
JHFM: Were you familiar with his film scores?
MS: Yeah! He is a whole world of sound ; maybe not the scores but, of course, we knew a lot of what he had been writing.
JHFM: Pas de Deux is like a summary of this sound.
MS: Yes, and I think he has managed to find a very nice balance between two instruments and a big orchestra.
HS: We felt this when we had been invited into Abbey Road with Simon Rhodes to see how they work. This was Cristiada but it was called something else, For Greater Glory, and then for the time we saw how marvelously he writes for 2 voices, soprano and electric cello, and we understood he can write for two voices well. MS: We also saw that in Black Gold. We were also in that production and saw how he manages all kinds of world music. All the voices from the far east to west to north to south, in this combination.
JHFM: This work met your expectations?
MS: Yes. Oh we have been working on it, we met with James five, six times in London. Especially now for the last year and we have made comments, we've asked him, even now on stage, I asked him a couple of things and he is always so open. He says, sure lets try it.
HS: First we were thinking of including a choir and he was trying to work that in.
MS: He was very happy about that. It was his idea from the very beginning to include the voice, whether it would be Sissel or a choir.
JHFM: But it was not feasible after all?
HS: It would be possible, but it would make it more complicated for the piece to live a life around the world. If we go now to the next orchestra, it is very fixed. If we have to include a choir we need a lot of organization.
MS: We want it to be a piece that promoters and orchestras can say “Yes we can take that on”. If it is too much, it's very easy to say “too complicated”.
JHFM: You plan a tour around the world with this work?
Mari Samuelsen: There's been a lot of conductors and managers and they want to see the score and they want to hear it, of course, but until tonight we'll keep it quiet. Norwegian premiere was set for May 2015 just after the CD is coming out. It was supposed to be in the first quarter 2015, but it will be in the second quarter 2015. April or May.
JHFM: What do you feel when you play Pas de Deux?
HS: It goes through so many colors and keys. It is not Pas de Deux in E major. It is not “Concerto for violin and cello by James Horner in E major”. It ends in E major but it starts in C and goes through all the different keys.
JHFM: That's what makes it so modern. The modulation.
MS: Yeah, but it's also very challenging because every key and every chord has its own sound and this sound is its own world. So, to go through it you have to be in many different moods and atmospheres. It's not the same like playing Beautiful by Brahms. It is very moving. It's like a dance, it's like a pas de deux.
HS: It is little bit somehow sad, but in a hopeful way; and then when you come to the middle of the concerto, the big opening, it goes more emotional, outward, and then you have the finale, with the taiko drums–of course an idea, maybe, from Avatar. He's worked a lot with percussionists to get this special type of sound.
JHFM: Is it a rare thing for you to transmit so much emotion through music within a contemporary piece? It's quite unusual in the concert world today.
MS: That's true, modern music is more distant. For very modern music, yes.
As players, Hakon and I have somehow different approaches; but, together, it's about getting unison–and that's also how we feel, especially in Pas de Deux, that we have our individual interpretations but together, somehow, we are balancing it.
HS: One of the ideas of us placing such a major commission was to find a composer where the audience coming to the hall tonight, when they go home, they remember and they have something in their hearts and not something completely so abstract.
MS: Something beautiful.
JHFM: How do you feel between Debussy and Tchaikovsky in this program?
HS: I think it's a very nice combination for the piece. In the process of this programming, many promoters have asked if we can do Pas de Deux and in the second half do a special suite of all the films, but he doesn't want to do this.
JHFM: When you play, it looks like you're in heaven. So much passion.
HS: Thanks. The instruments are very special as well. They called from London and said "do you want a Stradivarius", and it's one of the finest in the world. So, that makes a very special sound difference of course.
JHFM: Was the score changed because of the sound of the instruments?
HS: No, he composes it as it is in his mind, but it will come out better with the Stradivarius.
MS: Colors can be more… these are very three-dimensional instruments. They have the whole range.
HS: Because we had the rehearsals with our normal instruments, I mean they are very good and very expensive, but we then came out with the Strads and there was a very big difference.
MS: For us, it's very good–especially because of the recording, as well.
JHFM: So will it be a different experience recording it instead of playing it live?
HS: Just more prepared.
MS: Yeah, in a different way because we can hear from the rehearsal recordings there are certain ways of playing that you want to do in concert that you don't want to do on a CD. Always be aware of how you want to produce the sound because you know it will all be recorded. It makes me quite aware and conscious of how to play every note.
HS: We tried in sections, we can try ten different ways to play and we have to go for that again and again.
JHFM: The CD is planned to be coupled with other works?
MS: I will do Arvo Part: Fratres. We also spoke with James about what to combine it with and also with Universal and we've come to a very good match instead of Waxman, Korngold, what you would think.
HS: I will play Giovanni Sollima: Violoncelles, Vibrez! which I will play with American cellist, Alisa Weilerstein. She's really wonderful. She's my age. This piece you can also find on YouTube.
MS: And then we will do Ludovico Einaudi: Divenire and also some bonus things. It's very atmospheric.
JHFM: It's all contemporary composers. You're taking this chance to release this program of pure 20th and 21st century music.
MS: But I think in a way, it's very accessible for a wide audience. It's not Stockhausen. You can listen and immediately have a relation to it.
JHFM: We think Arvo Part's Fratres is puzzling for music lovers and performers. It's so simple but you cannot understand why it's so good.
MS: It's so simple, the bar is going 7-9-11, 7-9-11, again and again and tonality is actually the same cycles, but somehow it takes you there.
HS: It was used in There Will Be Blood, the Daniel Day-Lewis film.
JHFM: This piece fascinated a lot of filmmakers, and in one score by James Horner, Sneakers, Robert Redford's film, you can hear influences of Arvo Part. It was a score based on his love of minimalist composers and there are many influences from that. Very unusual score.
MS: I'll check it out. I think James is very happy about the combination that we found for the album. So we'll do the recording of the second part for these pieces in January here with the same orchestra. So we are very lucky, they're very good here. We know them very well, we did a tour with Brahms' Double, we did seven Christmas concerts last year, so it's a good feeling.
Hakon Samuelsen: James was scoring something here in London…the Jean-Jacques Annaud Chinese film Wolf Totem and people in London he's worked with were hand-picked and some have asked to play Pas de Deux with Liverpool. JHFM: We were thinking of the finale of the piece, it was so spectacular. Was it easy to play this?
HS: No, it's not easy! Because he wrote these big singing things, which we have a special technique, and it got very rhythmic like a metronome. You cannot do much within it. We wanted to make small timings and suddenly comes six duplets! I'm very happy it has a finale. Film-like.
MS: I asked him to add extra octaves in two places, and when the train starts, we have to be on it! We're very happy, we were discussing the ending from the very beginning with James on how to shape the piece.
In the middle of the process, James called us and said “I think I've changed my mind!”
HS: Oops!…it was very interesting, the process in London and we worked at his place with him on the piano and the big scores, writing, and he tried so many things, and then
he started to play the finale, how we were thinking of it, because then he went through very fast modulations.
MS: I think for James, writing this piece has been a challenge for him.
JHFM: Did you feel the presence of the horns? Because horns are very important to his writing, as he's a horn player himself. There is a whole part in the piece where we can recognize the James Horner sound, it's very prominent.
MS: That is one of his signatures.
HS: You know the Dvorak Cello Concerto, has some big horn themes. It's another way of presenting the French horn but it makes it very royal.
MS: Second Concerto, Prokofiev, also. This beautiful theme in the violin and then comes the horn and does the same.
JHFM: It's one more way to relate his work to the Eastern European tradition.
MS: Yeah, I think his Prokofiev fascination, you can hear it.
JHFM: You can hear it in his scores, his fascination with Prokofiev and Shostakovitch.
Hakon Samuelsen: Also in one of the cadenzas in Pas de Deux, the first cadenza when I play very low, it almost reminds me of Sinfonia Concertante, from Prokofiev. Because of the language. So we have to change many things, the colors, one color and another color.
JHFM: So our last question is : do you feel pressure for tonight?
MS: It was good to have a run-through yesterday. It's a new piece, you can feel immediately taking it to a new room and–I mean, we've been practicing with an orchestra but not here. So everything that's new, we feel it. But we're looking very much to feel good with Petrenko, we'll talk before rehearsal.
HS: I must say, I feel the pressure. We've been on stage for 25 years, so we are used to dealing with pressure, but tonight it will be ten different press houses : The Times, Independent, Guardian, everyone is here.
MS: We're very lucky, I mean what if they wouldn't come? They're here because they're very excited. It's just a big plus. There are commissions being performed without anyone being present.
HS: There are a lot of eyes on this night, because it's the first time Horner is coming to the classical concert stage. So we are happy about that. The technique to taking this pressure is when we play just to focus on the music and try to put all the energy into it, and try not to think of everything outside.
MS: And also, James Horner is very good to have around. I think he's very happy with our interpretation and our playing of the piece and he makes us feel very relaxed instead of "look, we have to change this and this and this". He's very, 'this is so fine, this is all good'.
JHFM: Plus, years and years of professional practice with professional musicians makes things easier for you to feel secure.
MS: Experience, self-confidence, hard work. So we couldn't be luckier. It's been very important having him around.
Thanks to Mercury Classics / Universal Group for allowing us to publish their pictures.