Interview: Marius Neset

New album ‘Snowmelt’, with LCoM principal lecturer Ivo Neame and the London Sinfonietta.

The sessions for Marius Neset’s new album ‘Snowmelt’, featuring London Sinfonietta and soon to be released on ACT (Germany), included piano from Leeds College of Music’s own award-winning Principal Lecturer Ivo Neame, who, as a multi-instrumentalist and composer, has won MOBO, Jazzwise and Parliamentary Jazz awards.
Whilst Marius wrote and arranged all of the music, sections include improvisation from band members. Ivo says “it's quite complex music so we had a few rehearsals before the session. I don't think there are many people writing the kind of music that Marius is writing for orchestra these days. It has elements of contemporary classical harmony, but rhythmically it owes more to jazz. I've played Marius' music for 5 years now and it contains that rare mixture of complexity and accessibility. It has taken about that much time to feel completely comfortable with the material!”

Marius Neset was born in the sleepy Norwegian harbour town of Bergen, coincidentally home to the NattJazz Festival, where he won the 2004 Talent Award. Taking up saxophone at the age of five, and eventually studying at Copenhagen’s RMC under English pianist and arranger Django Bates, Neset is now one of the most successful young musicians in jazz. He’s still not hit 30.
“I put together the score myself, as well as all composing and arranging. It took really a lot of time and was hard work, but at the same time it led me into a creative process that opened a lot of musically new doors for me that I think I wouldn’t have discovered if I wasn’t through this process. 
I was much inspired by the harmony of classical composers like Mahler and Bartok, and I tried to integrate this in the music in a way. My goal was always not to let this be a project with a jazz quartet featuring a classical orchestra, but to see it as a whole, so that we all were part of one big orchestral work, that we were integrated in the orchestra as well, sometimes with a sciolistic role. It really wasn’t easy to find a way were we also could be jazz musicians with a free approach and add our personality into it. Of course me, Ivo, Anton and Petter are improvising musicians, so it was important that we still could be kind of free in the music. That was a challenge, because there are really lots of complex scores with not much room for improvising from the beginning. And actually I composed everything for the orchestra alone before I wrote a single note for Anton, Ivo, Petter and myself.”
“The piece Arches of Nature was the piece that I spender most time on writing. I did a lot of this back in 2012/2013, but it continued to change during the years, I always found new ideas that I wanted to develop into the piece, and found stuff that I wasn’t very happy with, so it was a long process composing this. It is based on 3 or 4 very simple ideas. I composed the last theme first actually. I made a very simple, singable melody that I reharmonised and tried to do everything I could with. Actually I often find myself start working on something, and then the first or second thing that I wrote ends up as the last part of the song, the ending of the whole. And you can feel that is gonna happen early in the process. Also I made my own 12-tone line that comes back many times during the piece, and a rhythmic concept that was mad around triplets in a 7/4 groove in a way, to me these 3 elements are a lot of what the music is based around from the beginning. But then I have the tendency to put a lot apart from each other again, if I don’t think it sounds like it should, I will always use my ears and try not to think too much about what I’m doing. I think that makes it sound more musical and fresh in the end.”
“A lot of the titles on this record, are a picture of how things changes. I grow up in areas that was a lot of nature and mountains, and it’s very fascinating to me how things takes form and changes all the time there. I find a similar thing going on in this music actually, ideas changes sometimes slowly, other times more surprisingly, but it always comes from something that develops into something else. It can be a melody, phrase a rhythmic figure, an harmonic development or just dynamic effects, but it always changes a little.”
“It was both fantastic and also a little scary to do this, I couldn’t know the music was going to work, there were so many people involved, so many details in the music, and things could have gone wrong. I think it was very important that I told myself to not even thing about that, but «decided» this was going to work, and it is really important to believe 100% in it when you do it and just go for it. The orchestra sounded amazing from the first note, and there was a lot of enthusiasm from everyone, which is so important. The feeling that everybody that is involved want to give the very best they can to make your music sound as good as possible, is so great and important for the creativity process in the continuing.”
“I’m very happy with the result, and hopefully I’m going to do lots of more of these large ensemble projects in the future, as well to continue doing new records with my smaller group, as both things are a big part of me as a musician/composer.”

To launch the ‘Snowmelt’ album, the team are performing a series of events alongside the London Sinfonietta in London, and touring across Europe with different orchestras. The tour includes a performance at the beautiful LSO St. Luke's on the 18th November during the London Jazz Festival, which will definitely be a ‘not to be missed’ show.

Watch an interview with Marius and some of the 'Snowmelt' process here.

Main photo of Marius by Pål Laukli, AIR Studios photos by Rich McCor.

Your conservatoire

Undergraduate study

We have a number of music degrees at undergraduate level – find out about our Foundation, BA, combined and top-up degrees

What's On

Our packed concert season welcomes everyone from global superstars to up-and-coming talents – and Leeds College of Music students are always at the heart of the programme

Short Courses

Keen on developing your skills on an instrument – or your voice? Check out our short courses on offer