Ola Gjeilo – A Rising Choral Star

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The young Norwegian composer and pianist Ola Gjeilo (pronounced “Yay-Lo”) has released two gorgeous choral albums on Decca Classics over the past couple of years. First came the eponymously-named release in 2016 that featured performances by leading vocal ensembles Tenebrae and VOCES8. More recently, a new album called Winter Songs celebrates winter and the Christmas season with fresh arrangements of traditional holiday carols and several original compositions. The Choir of Royal Holloway and the string orchestra 12 Ensemble joined Gjeilo on this beautiful album.

Ola Gjeilo. (Photo by Anna-Julia Granberg) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Born in Skui, Norway, in 1978, Gjeilo began piano and composition training at the age of five. He first attended the Norwegian Academy of Music before earning degrees in classical composition at the Royal College of Music, London and at Juilliard in New York, where he currently lives. Gjeilo grew up listening to a wide range of music—pop, folk, jazz, classical—and counts an interesting array of artists as his inspiration, including Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, Thomas Newman, Dale Chihuly, and Frank Gehry.

Gjeilo has become one of my favorite choral composers with his two Decca releases. There’s a crystalline and cinematic quality to his music that I find conducive to meditation and contemplation. I also love that he performs his published compositions with the unusual addition of his own improvised piano solos. I found many tracks on both albums to be stunning and highly recommend them for both devotees as well as those who have just discovered contemporary choral music. Gjeilo’s star will surely continue to rise, and—like fellow composer Eric Whitacre—his music will help expand the popularity of choral music. I invite you to check out his music and be inspired.

Here is the gorgeous song “Ubi Caritas” from the 2016 album Ola Gjeilo. The devotional melody going back to the early Christian church roughly translates as, “Where charity is true, God is there.” The song was originally associated with Christ’s ritual washing the feet of the poor.

And now “The Rose” from the 2017 album Winter Songs: