BY LAURA BIEMMI
Cast your mind back to the first time you watched Disney’s 2013 hit movie, Frozen. Did you marvel at the opening sequence of spectacular choral singing?
The piece of music in question is Vuelie, composed by Frode Fjellheim and performed by the famous Norwegian, all-female choir Cantus. And there’s more where that came from. These two powerful forces of music-making have once again come together to create Cantus’ newest album Northern Lights.
We speak to the president of the Cantus board Hanne Sjaastad, and esteemed conductor Tove Ramlo-Ystad about Cantus’ latest record.
Firstly, thank you for chatting with us here at CutCommon, and congratulations on your new album Northern Lights! What can you tell us about the album, and its place in the evolution of the choir?
H: Thank you! All of the songs on the album are composed by Frode Fjellheim, who also wrote Vuelie from Frozen. Frode has been with Cantus since the beginning; he actually wrote Eatnemen Vuelie, the song that Vuelie is an adaptation of all the way back in ’96. With Frode being such a big part of the choir’s history, it is really nice to be able to record a whole album with only his compositions.
The whole process of making this album has been very exciting. When Decca approached us a couple of years ago, we didn’t really know what we were getting into; I don’t think we still do. It is all a bit unreal.
Cantus famously performed Vuelie for the opening sequence of Frozen. How did such widespread publicity affect the ensemble and its members?
H: It is still something that is a bit strange for us, I think. Although we are really proud of Vuelie, and that Disney wanted us to record it for the movie, it is not something that we notice a lot in our every day life. That being said, Frozen has been a huge stepping stone for us, and led our major record deal with Decca.
Cantus is made up of non-professional singers, which is surprising! How does the choir maintain such a high standard of musicianship?
H: I think part of the key for Cantus is exactly that: we are an amateur choir. Although none of us are professionally trained singers, we get to spend our spare time singing beautiful music together with a great ensemble. We work hard to come together as a group, and although every individual is important, it is what we can do together that is truly amazing. And of course, having our extremely talented conductor work her magic helps a lot!
Tove, you’ve been with the choir since its inception in 1986. How would you describe the relationship between an ensemble and a conductor who has been on board since day one?
T: The members of Cantus are changing annually, so my task is to continue working out of my ideals of choral sound and interesting repertoire. I will describe the relationship between the singers and the conductor as good and healthy, where everyone knows we need each other to make good results.
How is the dynamic of the ensemble affected, if at all, by its all-female membership?
H: Being women has less to do with it than being 30 people all reaching towards the same goal. We are all very driven, always seeking improvement, and nothing we ever do is achieved by one individual alone. We work very hard in order to reach the goals we set for ourselves, and since we spend so much of our spare time together, Cantus becomes almost like a second family.
How would you describe the influence of Norwegian culture on the music Cantus performs, and on the ensemble at large?
T: Cantus enjoys singing Norwegian folk music and the music of the Sami heritage. Because of our sound – honest, near, clean, light, distinct, transparent, and with passion – I think you could hear the influence of the Norwegian culture in everything we sing! So I think our sound combined with our expression and passion describes this influence.
What does the future hold for Cantus?
H: Who knows? Being a part of Cantus is not really knowing what comes next, and these past few years have really shown us that anything is possible.
Check out Cantus’ new album Northern Lights as distributed by Universal Music Australia.
Cantus image supplied. Credit: Geir Vidar Nubdal. Frozen image by Amy via Flickr CC2.0.