Trio Mediæval weaves a new musical tapestry with the Mats Eilertsen Trio
For music lovers, the time of the coronavirus has brought almost everything to a screeching halt. Orchestras cannot rehearse or perform; opera companies have brought down the curtain, and touring artists cannot tour.
That’s why it’s especially good news for music fans that Norway’s Trio Mediæval has given us something new and quite beautiful to hear: a brand-new CD that spans the ancient and the modern in a unique way. Memorabilia, a collaboration with the Mats Eilertsen Trio, knits together elements of the traditional mass with poems by the Norwegian writer Tor Ulven and Eilertsen’s music. It also unites what you might think of as two completely different genres: the purity of medieval vocal music, and the cool jazz of a modern instrumental trio (piano, drums, and bass).
Thanks to Anna Maria Friman, one of Trio Mediæval’s founding members, we’re able to share with you the interesting history of this mesmerizing new recording—and her thoughts on music in the time of the virus. Speaking from her home in Mölnlycke, Sweden, via the technology of Zoom, Anna Maria explained the gradual evolution of her trio from its founding days 23 years ago to the collaborative ensemble it has become.
“Linn Andrea Fuglseth started the trio in 1997. She had been studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. She was very excited about the very early repertoire, and especially the medieval music, and she brought it home to Norway and decided to try it out with some friends. Linn and I met in the Norwegian Soloists’ Choir, and Torunn Østrem Ossum, later replaced by Berit Opheim, and then in more recently in 2018 by Jorunn Lovise Husan, who Opheim knew from the choir Grex Vocalis.”
It takes considerable creativity to bring medieval music to life. As Anna Maria observes, “It is impossible to know what this music would have sounded like in the Middle Ages, and therefore impossible to recreate a medieval vocal sound. We have in a way chosen to use the lack of original information to inform our performance in the present, something that gives us the opportunity to be creative in our music making.” This gives the trio the freedom to “let our imagination and ideas flow, as though we are creating contemporary music.”
In its first decade, the singers in the Trio Mediæval were indeed focused on the repertoire of its name, but quite early on, they started to perform Norwegian folk song and contemporary pieces written for the group. But the ECM Records release in 2007 of the Folk Songs album with percussionist Birger Mistereggen opened some new doors.
“That was nominated for a Grammy for the best chamber performance, which was a great category to be nominated in, I think,” Anna Maria observes.
Meeting her husband, Arve Henriksen, opened another repertoire possibility for the Trio in 2007: some exciting new music for three voices and trumpet.
“We started to work on that in 2007. And then in 2017, 10 years later, we released an album called Rímur, also on the ECM label. We had started to work more with other musicians after singing so much three-part music; it was tremendously exciting to have other people coming in and adding layers to the sound world and also to bring in different perspectives.”
The latest manifestation of those perspectives, the recent Memorabilia recording, combines the Trio with reflective jazz instrumentals in a completely new way. After 23 years together, the Trio’s strong, pure and distinctive sound is instantly recognizable in any repertoire. But there’s no question that the new recording brings the Trio into a new musical sphere.
How did it all happen?
“Very early in the process in 2016, when we started to work with Mats, he asked us about our vocal ranges and what was comfortable for us to sing,” Anna Maria explains. “We all have different vocal qualities, and we wanted to use our vocal qualities and ranges in different ways. We were very excited about new challenges: we want to explore new things and new sounds. We can quite quickly see in the musical score whose voices work best for the different parts. The regular lineup has Jorunn Lovise on the lowest part and me on the top voice, but we experiment quite a bit now with the lineup to create a more varied palette of sounds.”
The new album, Memorabilia, is mesmerizing. The laid-back and contemplative instrumentals meld with the purity of the vocal lines in ways that draw the listener in: you want to hear the recording again and again. The music is tailored specifically to these artists, and there is an unforced ease in the performances that lifts the listener out of the troubled present day and into a more contemplative dimension.
Joining the three Trio Mediæval members and composer/bass Mats Eilertsen are pianist Harmen Fraanje and drummer Thomas Strønen.
Ulven’s lyrics are understated and evocative. An example:
“Minutter, kanskje timer / av din egen eksistens
som du har glemt, / men som jeg husker.
Du lever et hemmelig liv / i en annens minne.”
“Minutes, perhaps hours / of your own existence
that you have forgotten, / but which I remember.
You live a secret life / in the memory of another.”
And, of course, once you hear the Memorabilia recording, you want to hear this repertoire live as well—something that’s not possible just now, during the time of the coronavirus.
“Performing is about having many people in the same room and traveling,” Anna Maria reflects. “Of course, that doesn’t work now. And I live in Sweden, and Linn and Jorunn Lovise live in Norway, so we can’t meet and rehearse. But you know, when we do meet, it’ll be fantastic, and we’ll be able to try out the new arrangements we are creating for our future projects. We have these Zoom meetings, so we sit and plan projects and so on. But because it’s so unsure what will happen; it’s all so strange. We haven’t seen each other for a long time. And we have been so much looking forward to starting touring again in America, but it’s very unsure now. We just don’t know what will be possible.”
Trio Mediæval had been planning four international tours: the first one in November/December, and then in February/March of 2021. All the tours were planned for about 12 to 14 days. At this writing, it remains to be seen whether they will all be rescheduled; Trio fans certainly hope they will.
“I haven’t been in the same place for a long period since I was 18 and went to high school,” adds Anna Maria, who also earned a 2010 doctorate in music at the University of York in the United Kingdom, specializing in the modern performance of medieval music by women.
“Now I’ve been able to be home and watch the trees and the flowers. And I also hope we can learn to live in the moment, to make this situation a chance to relax and to find the peace in it – to do nice things for yourself and others, and try to enjoy the slower tempo, now when the world has stopped.”
To learn more about Trio Mediæval, visit their website at www.triomediaeval.no.
You can buy their latest CD, Memorabilia on Amazon. You can also download it at Amazon and iTunes.
This article originally appeared in the June 12, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.