Music in the family

Music in the family

Music is now their life, but Norwegian violinist Mari Samuelsen, 30, and her brother, cellist Hakon, 33, almost did not make a career out of it.

When Hakon was 18, he stopped playing the cello because he "got sick of all the practising". His sister, Mari, then 15, told her mother that she too would like to stop playing the violin.

Thankfully, the siblings changed their minds. After studying in regular public schools in Oslo, Norway, they went on to earn bachelor and master's degrees in music performance from universities in Germany, Spain and Switzerland. They turned professional soon after.

Their latest album, released last month, is the first classical album to top the Norwegian pop charts in two decades.

Titled James Horner: Pas de Deux, it is named after the Oscar-winning soundtrack composer of movies such as Titanic and Avatar.

A centrepiece of the album is the recording of Horner's new work Pas de Deux, a concerto for violin, cello and orchestra which he wrote specially for the siblings.

The Samuelsens grew up on a farm in Hamar, Norway, where they had a view of a forest and a lake. They kept a dog, some kittens and horses.

They have been performing together since they were in kindergarten and now live in a house on an island near Oslo.

Their parents, in their 60s, still live in their childhood home. Dad works as a farmer while mum runs an art gallery. Mari and Hakon, who have no other siblings, visit their childhood home whenever they have a free weekend.

What sparked your interest in music? Hakon: My mother used to play the piano and we grew up listening to classical music. We had a piano at home and my sister and I would drum on it when we were young.

When I was six, I started to learn the cello. The schedule for piano classes at the music school was full, so the dean came to me with a cello and asked me if I'd like to learn to play it instead and I said yes, just like that.

Mari: When I saw my brother playing the cello, I wanted to play it too but my mother felt that instead of having the two of us play the same instrument, I should do something different and I ended up playing the violin when I was three.

We started to perform together a year after and appeared on a television show.

What was your childhood like?

Hakon: We had a joyful childhood. Where we lived, it was common for children to do sports like skiing, but it was more uncommon for kids to play musical instruments. None of our neighbours' children played one.

Although we spent a lot of time practising our music, like the other children, we also played a lot in the forest. We swam in the lake during summer and skied during winter. Our father used to be a professional cross-country skier and he taught us how to ski.

Mari: I feel we had a nice balance between playing music and doing sports. We climbed trees and fell from them. Unlike my brother, I also did horseback riding.

What is your relationship like?

Mari: It's a fantastic relationship. We are good friends and colleagues. Our personalities are quite different but we can work well together. I am full of energy and loud while he's more on the quiet side.

We have been playmates since we were young. We hardly ever get into a big fight with each other. Yes, we would disagree or argue, but we patch up quickly. Sometimes, he gives in. Sometimes, I do.

Hakon: We are very lucky to have each other. As professional musicians, we travel a lot. As we have each other, we don't feel so lonely. We find being together a strength.

How were you disciplined as children?

Mari: My mother was very caring. She could understand the minds of children and teenagers very well. But she was also strict in that she made sure we practised hard for our music.

We increased the number of hours of practice as we grew older. By our teenage years, we practised for an hour before school and another six hours after school. We motivated each other to practise.

Our father was more quiet. He's more of a listener while my mother was more of a talker. He was less involved in our lives as he was busy running an agricultural business and making sure that there was enough money to let us continue playing music and travelling to perform it.

What is your relationship with your parents like?

Mari: It's great. They are both pretty easy-going people though they believe strongly that if you are going to commit to doing something, then you should follow through.

Hakon: We still keep in touch through regular calls and visits.

Can you imagine yourself in another career?

Hakon: We are both very determined people. With our drive and ambition, we imagine that we would have been successful in other careers.

But for now, both of us enjoy music and performing so much that we cannot imagine ourselves doing anything else. Music is our life.

leawee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 14, 2015.
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