“I love nighttime. I love the mood of night, and feeling all of New York City light up from endless skyscrapers. There’s something very inspiring and even reassuring and calming about that to me. New York at night is very romantic, I think”
So writes Ola Gjeilo in the introduction to his new album Night, available to stream and on CD from Decca, and as a sheet music folio from Chester Music/Hal Leonard (the subject of this review).
Those who’ve not yet had the joy of discovering Gjeilo’s music are in for a treat with this album and will hopefully also explore his previous work, including the earlier piano albums Stone Rose (2007), Piano Improvisations (2012) and his immensely popular choral music.
So let’s take our time and journey towards the dizzying and inviting lights of Gjeilo’s Night…
Shadows of the setting sun…
Born in Norway in 1978, Gjeilo reportedly began learning the piano aged 5, learning to read music at 7. He studied at the Norwegian Academy of Music before transferring to New York’s Julliard School and the Royal College of Music, London.
Gjeilo has enjoyed early success as a composer, his music quickly picked up by major artists, recording labels and publishers. His more significant works to date include the Sunrise Mass, Dreamweaver and The River, each of which combines choral singing with piano and varying combinations or strings.
In his recordings, Gjeilo routinely takes his place at the piano keys, so it perhaps in his solo albums that his musical personality is most acutely laid bare. In all cases, his music mixes Neo-Romanticism with the post-minimalism of Glass, Einaudi et al. Unlike the latter however, Gjeilo’s music seems to bask in an easy, positive, warm glow that undoubtedly accounts for its popular appeal.
And so it is with Night, although here it seems to me there is a compositional craftsmanship and emotional simplicity that transcends Gjeilo’s previous piano work, providing a canvas upon which listener and performer alike can ‘play with the paint’, exploring their own personal response.
As with his excellent set of Piano Improvisations, this new album was largely born in spontaneity, as the composer goes on to explain:
“All the pieces on this album were created in the evening; I did several recording sessions at studios all over the city – free improvisations, some of which would later turn into these tracks. I love working that way; just being completely open and directionless and not let my thoughts get in the way, until I eventually can edit, rework and shape them into coherent pieces.”
Emerging from these sessions, Night offers the following eighteen pieces:
- City Lights
- Night rain
- Before Dawn
- Crystal Sky
- Quiet Streets
Listening to this music, it would be difficult to miss the essential romanticism of which Gjeilo speaks; in actually playing through the pieces, however, they take on a new, deeply intimate life…
It can easily be argued that there is hardly a shortage of “new classical” piano music at present; Gjeilo’s Night has proved to be, for me at least, something very special however.
The intimacy here is not simply inviting but compelling, and playing through the collection I found myself genuinely enchanted by the inspiration of these short pieces.
The collection is published in a simple but classy 56-page book with a glossy soft cover, durable high quality white paper and staple binding:
The notation has been transcribed from the recordings by Ola Gjeilo with Federico Incitti, with additional editing by James Welland and the composer. The engraving is generously sized and spaced, and printing quality exemplary.
When it comes to performance directions, aside from metronome marks few are given. Dynamic markings are sparse, perhaps inviting the player to develop their own response. Each piece includes the opening invitation con ped, then leaving it to the player to use their ears and determine the desirable amount of pedalling for themselves.
Fingering suggestions are also not included, and I should note here that many of the pieces require a stretch of a tenth in order to maintain the composer’s voicing of chords. Spread chords, redistributions and simplifications aren’t necessarily effective either, as the music relies quite heavily on the open resonances of the composer’s original spacings for its full effect.
Overall, the technical demands made by these pieces would suit a late intermediate player (for example, UK Grade 5), but the interpretive demands are generally more advanced. The emotional subtlety of the music is well suited to more reflective adult players.
Did I mention that I really love this music? Once again, I have played through a significant number of albums in this general vein before, but Ola Gjeilo’s Night has not only particularly impressed me, but is a collection to which I have absolutely no doubt that I will return for musical and emotional nourishment in the future.
According to Gjeilo,
“What I wanted with this album was to create tracks that were short, transparent and heartfelt expressions of my deep affection and gratitude for the city I love and get to call home.”
If I might add to his comments, the “city” can, I suspect, be found wherever you choose it to be.
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