Bringing the medieval to the States

Trio Mediæval has released a new ECM album and is preparing for their American tour in February. But New York Times could not wait and sent one of their editors to the trio’s release concert in Oslo.

Trio Mediæval

“It seems like the medieval is back in the spotlight at the moment. After movies like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, people have become more interested in the mysticism of the Middle Ages. I am sure Trio Mediæval’s music could fit into the elf scenes in Lord of the Rings,” Linn Andrea Fuglseth laughs, one third of Trio Mediæval.

Climbing the Billboard
The Norwegian-Swedish vocal trio’s debut, Words of the Angel, went straight to Billboard Classic’s top-ten list and all the concerts on their American tour in 2001 were sold out. Maybe it is not so strange that James Oestrich from New York Times was eager to see the trio before they arrived “over there”. The article and the review will be published in the respected publication 8 February.

Today, Trio Mediæval’s second album at ECM Records Soir, dit-elle, is released in the States, as well as in numerous other countries. The album has already been out in Norway for more than a week and has received great reviews in all the major Norwegian papers.

“After 11 September, it seems like the need for meditative, reflective music like ours has grown. When trying to explain why our previous record had such a success, an American radio journalist, Tom Manoff (NPR), said that Words of the Angel became a cult record that represented the mood in the time after 11 September and before the war in Iraq,“ Fuglseth says.

New and old combined
The new release, Soir, dit-elle, (directly translated, Evening, she said), is a reflection of the previous record, but now old music is outnumbered by new music. Contemporary works are interwoven with the "Alma redemtoris" mass of Leonel Power, a great English composer and theorist of sacred music in the 15th century. The uniqueness of Linn Andrea Fuglseth, Torunn Østrem Ossum and Swedish Anna Maria Friman’s vocals have encouraged composers Gavin Bryars, Ivan Moody, Andrew Smith and Oleh Harkavyy to write new music for the three female singers.

Why are you so fascinated by the medieval music?
“The character of the music is so direct. There is no doubt about how to encounter it. It is unaffected and expressive, and difficult to mistake. It was written for men, and it might seem a bit masculine, or should I say forceful, but it can just as well be performed by women,” says Fuglseth, who was studying in London when she came cross some English carols at school she wanted to try out.

Later, in 1997 she asked two of her friends to join her in a trio. The result became Trio Mediæval. Today, they describe their repertoire as divided into three distinct stands: polyphonic medieval music from England and France, contemporary works and Norwegian medieval ballads and songs.

The Swedish soprano Anna Maria Friman is currently doing a PhD at the University of York (UK), where she is researching the modern performance of medieval music. She also teaches singing and coaches vocal ensembles. Linn Andrea Fuglseth completed her Higher Diploma in singing at the Norwegian State Academy of Music in 1997, specialising in baroque interpretation and writing a dissertation on Restoration Mad Songs. In 1994-95 she studied at Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, receiving a diploma in Advanced Solo Studies in Early Music. Torunn Østrem Ossum was educated in Oslo, with a degree program in early childhood education, specialising in music and drama. She has worked as a kindergarten teacher for eight years, and has wide experience as an ensemble singer. Ossum is engaged in several vocal groups in and around Oslo, and with her extremely wide vocal range, she is much sought after.

Summers with Hilliard
The group’s initial phase was inspired by intense periods of work at the Hilliard Summer Festival in England and Germany, where they spent three summers at a row.

“For a while, we were wondering whether our music was good or not. Few others were doing Norwegian medieval songs and ballads. It was also a bit strange with an ensemble of three women. But I think we had a unique sound, a Scandinavian tone that was clear and direct,” Fuglseth says to MIC.

Today, you have a record deal with ECM Records and Herbert Barrett Management in New York? How have you achieved all this?
“ECM came to us, actually. We used all our savings to record a master tape, and our sound engineer Peter Laenger, who works freelance for ECM, played our mastertape to Manfred Eicher.
One day, Manfred Eicher dropped by his office, and our producer said “listen to this tape, it is really good”. Eicher had the tape for months before he called us and offered a record deal. Fortunately, we had the guts to wait, because ECM is the best label we can imagine. And similarly, Herbert Barrett Management came to us. I think they wanted to fill the gap when the very popular quartet Anonymous 4 disbanded. The best would be if we could manage everything ourselves, but it is hard work, and Barrett has lots of important contacts. We have been very fortunate,” Fuglseth says.

Trio Mediæval are touring in Boston, New York, Washington DC, Chicago, and Lacey from 5 – 15 February.

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