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Ola Gjeilo on the Northern Lights

The northern lights are happening right now in Norway and are reported to be the most intense display of this fantastic phenomenon the country has seen in decades.

I know this because I was having lunch with Ola Gjeilo recently and he mentioned the northern lights were happening. He also talked about the piece he’d written of the same name, “Northern Lights.”

I thought, wow, how serendipitous that the Phoenix Chorale has released our newest recording (featuring Ola’s music and titled Northern Lights) at the same time these amazing images are coming from Norway. I can’t even believe it’s real!

So, here are Ola’s own words recounting his experience witnessing the northern lights and how this inspiring event moved him to write the piece of the same name:

Northern Lights is my most Norwegian production in years; composed in an attic outside of Oslo at Christmas time in 2007, it’s one of the few works I have written in Norway since I moved to New York in 2001. The U.S. is my home now, so I guess my work has been increasingly reflecting my love for American music, writing and scenery. Most of all, this piece and its text is about beauty. About a ‘terrible’, powerful beauty, although the music is quite serene on the surface:

Pulchra es amica mea,
suavis et decora sicut Jerusalem,
terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata.
Averte oculos tuos a me
quia ipsi me avolare fecerunt.

Thou art beautiful, O my love,
sweet and comely as Jerusalem,
terrible as an army set in array.
Turn away thy eyes from me,
for they have made me flee away.

Looking out from the attic window that Christmas in Oslo, over a wintery lake under the stars, I was thinking about how this ‘terrible’ beauty is so profoundly reflected in the northern lights, or aurora borealis, which, having grown up in the southern part of the country, I have only seen once or twice in my life. It is one of the most beautiful natural phenomena I’ve ever witnessed, and has such a powerful, electric quality that must have been both mesmerizing and terrifying to people in the past, when no one knew what it was and when much superstition was attached to these experiences.

Northern Norway is one of the areas where aurora borealis is easiest to spot, thanks to the warming effects of the Gulf Stream, which makes the area habitable. At, you can find incredible pictures of the aurora borealis phenomenon, pictures that also greatly inspired this piece.”

Read more about northern lights in Norway – and see more images – on National Geographic or

Read more about the Phoenix Chorale’s new CD: Northern Lights: Choral Works by Ola Gjeilo.

Listen to samples on iTunes here. Or, pre-order your copy on Amazon now!

– Jen Rogers, Director of Marketing & Communications

This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. I heard this piece for the first time a few months ago, and have since been listening to it often and learning the soprano part, just in case I get to sing it as part of a choir one day (I really hope this happens!)… I’ve been listening to and adoring this incredibly beautiful yet haunting piece of vocal music, and I’ve been wondering what it’s all about. So I’m glad to have discovered this blog. Thank you for sharing Ola’s words. I can now enjoy Northern Lights even more, being able to feel what Ola felt.

  2. My little choir in Wellington New Zealand is going to perform this piece next month. I think is so beautiful and enjoy it. Knowing more about the piece makes it special

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