No Christmas without Sissel!
Norway’s beloved songbird celebrates with two new songs
LORI ANN REINHALL
The Norwegian American
It’s been said many times that “there is no Christmas without Sissel.” And it is true that for many, attending one of the Norwegian songbird’s Christmas concerts is the highlight of the season. I count myself among those fans, having twice made a trip across the Atlantic to partake in the musical joy.
But Christmas 2020 will be completely different than what Sissel Kyrkjebø had imagined. Originally, she had planned another whirlwind tour, “Sissel’s Christmas 2020,” through the concert halls of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Germany, but in September, she realized she had to cancel because of the pandemic.
“We had to cancel,” she said in an interview with Gitte Johannessen of NTB. “We had a Christmas tour that was to go to four countries, and as the situation is now, it was not possible to carry it out with the quarantine. Since the production was quite large and we did not have to have so many concerts in Norway, it was impossible to carry out just that part.”
With such a large production at stake, so many people involved, and so many uncertainties, Sissel and her team looked for every solution to make it work, but in the end, the best solution was a complete change of plans. Many involved in her Christmas tours depend on income earned during the holiday season, and she did not want to hold them back from other gigs, should she be forced to cancel at the last minute.
“I think we turned every stone we could to make a go of it, but it did not work,” said Sissel. And in the end, she wanted everyone to be safe. “We hope to get on the road next year,” she said.
Up close and personal
But that does not mean that there will be a Christmas without Sissel. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, she will perform 10 concerts in more intimate venues, with fixed seats and strict infection control protocols in place. The tour kicked off at the Hotel Britannia in Trondheim earlier this month, while in December, she will appear at the Palm restaurant at the Grand Hotel and Finstua at Frognerseteren in Oslo. At each venue, a three-course dinner followed by an “intimate concert with Sissel” is offered.
Sissel is used to singing in front of very large audiences—the Christmas concerts are always sold out—and the singer is looking forward to a new experience. This year it will only be her and a pianist, which brings her much closer to the audience. “I’m really looking forward to it,” she said. “I’ve never done anything like this before.”
Songs for the season
Sissel will not celebrate Christmas this year without giving something to all her fans. Late in October, she already put out a new recording of “Christmas Time is Here,” a jazz standard that many know from “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” followed by a new release of “Glade Jul” (“Silent Night”) in mid-November.
For the recordings, Sissel worked with Tim Carmon, an American keyboardist from Los Angeles, who often plays with Eric Clapton. The two had worked on her “Reflections” project, a series of recordings released over the course of a year. The Christmas song recordings came about in a somewhat impromptu manner. Just before the coronavirus hit, the two were working together on another project in the studio, when Sissel asked Carmon if they could “just record some Christmas songs” if they had a little extra time.
A special feeling
“Christmas Time is Here” has been recorded by many artists over the years since it was first released in 1965, but this year the song takes on special meaning in the age of the coronavirus. It tells of the wonder and excitement of the Christmas season for children, of family gatherings, happiness and cheer, music, memories of times gone by, “love and dreams” to share. “Oh that we could always see such spirit through the year,” the song ends—words so appropriate for the times.
With Carmon at the piano and minimal string orchestration, the arrangement is “stripped down,” giving it a personal intensity. The arrangement feels natural and spontaneous, as if Sissel is singing to you and you alone. There is a tinge of melancholic nostalgia that warms the heart: a perfect song for Christmas 2020.
Sissel first recorded “Glade Jul” with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in 1987 for a big event, but her new recording with Carmon is very different. Everything was recorded stripped down, with only her and the pianist in the studio, again giving the song a special focus.
Most everyone loves Christmas, and most everyone loves Sissel, too—not in the least her collaborator Tim Carmon, who turned down a gig with Eric Clapton to work with her. “I’m gonna go with Sissel,” he said. And we can be glad that he did, as we can now look forward to celebrating the season with this Norwegian-American duo with their special renditions of two very magical and heartwarming Christmas songs for a very special holiday season.
To listen to “Christmas Time is Here” with Sissel and Tim Carmon, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZr2UcyBQhs.
Their new recording of “Glade Jul” in both Norwegian and English is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=33vWqlPk4Jw.
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 27, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.