Dec 12, 2023
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For over a decade, Lindsey Stirling has enchanted audiences across the globe by performing a certain spellbinding magic with her electronic violin, dreaming up an exquisitely composed yet boldly inventive sound entirely her own. On her new album Snow Waltz, the classically trained musician/songwriter/dancer/author finds herself fully in her element, sharing a selection of holiday classics and original songs that evoke intense emotion through her immersive arrangements and mesmerizing melodies. The follow-up to her debut holiday album Warmer in the Winter—a 2017 release whose hit single “Carol of the Bells” made history as the only instrumental song ever to reach the Top 10 at AC Radio—Snow Waltz emerges as a singular new entry in the holiday-music canon, once again proving Stirling’s extraordinary gift as an instrumental storyteller.
“On my first holiday album I toyed with more traditional Christmas sounds like big-band music, but this time I wanted to give the songs a more whimsical, pixie-like feeling that’s quintessentially me,” says Stirling. “It’s always a challenge to put your own stamp on a classic song that’s been recorded hundreds of times, and I really loved experimenting with different approaches and making sure that every song felt completely unique to who I am as an artist.”
Stirling’s sixth full-length and first album since 2019’s Artemis (a No. 1 entry on Billboard’s US Top Classical Albums and US Top Dance/Electronic Albums charts), Snow Waltz took shape at her home studio in Los Angeles, where she mainly worked with longtime collaborators like producer Mark Maxwell and orchestrator Stephen Anderson. “One of the more positive takeaways of the pandemic was learning how to record myself, so that now I can capture ideas right when they come to me,” notes Stirling, who executive-produced Snow Waltz with Gladius (a Grammy-nominated producer/songwriter who’s worked with pop superstars like Demi Lovato and Justin Bieber). “I was able to harness my own creativity on the fly instead of having to wait until it was time to meet with a producer, and because of that there’s a sense of freedom that I think you can hear in all the songs.”
A dazzling showcase for the kaleidoscopic musicality first displayed on Stirling’s 2012 self-titled debut (a gold-certified effort featuring her platinum-selling smash single “Crystallize”), Snow Waltz takes its title from an original piece that perfectly exemplifies that unbridled creativity. “‘Snow Waltz’ came from thinking about that period of time between Halloween and Christmas where the two seasons overlap,” she explains. “I wanted to create something in the same world as The Nightmare Before Christmas or the Harry Potter movies, where there’s sort of a Christmas-y feeling alongside all the spookiness.” Rooted in her ineffably expressive violin work and graced with so many cinematic details (darkly sweeping percussion, lilting flute melodies, bright and sprightly glockenspiel tones), “Snow Waltz” immediately conjures that delightfully eerie mood, wholly embodying the limitless imagination at the heart of Stirling’s artistry.
When it came to reinterpreting timeless holiday songs for Snow Waltz, Stirling tapped into the same boundless and unfettered ingenuity she brought to the title track. On “Joy to the World,” for instance, she joined forces with Gladius and Anderson to create a gloriously stomping, Celtic-inspired take on the 18th century Christmas carol. “Celtic was always my favorite music to play when I was younger; the rhythms felt way more exciting to me than the classical music you tend to perform in violin lessons,” Stirling says. “As I was choosing songs for the album, ‘Joy to the World’ really spoke to my Celtic soul, and it was so much fun to put together something that bounces so quickly from major to minor and back again.”
All throughout Snow Waltz, Stirling matches the stunning complexity of her arrangements with a warmly effusive energy that shines through every song. One of the album’s most left-of-center moments, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” centers on an elegantly frenetic violin performance from Stirling, who also adorns the beat-heavy track with her hypnotic and heavenly vocals. For her flamenco-infused rendition of José Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad,” she enlisted the guitar-playing talents of fellow multi-hyphenate Mark Ballas (a dancer/choreographer/musician/actor who served as her partner on the 25th season of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars”). “Little Drummer Boy” features a powerhouse performance from her longtime touring drummer Drew Steen, while “O Come Emmanuel” unfolds with a brooding intensity that instantly lends the album an irresistible touch of drama. And in reimagining “Deck the Halls,” Stirling deliberately pushed the boundaries of interpretation, weaving in elements of “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and “Silent Night” to create a captivating medley that gracefully cycles through a dizzying whirlwind of time signatures.
Although all of Snow Waltz bears a potent emotionality, songs like “Magic” ft. David Archuleta hold a particularly powerful significance for Stirling. One of several vocally driven original numbers on the album (along with “Crazy For Christmas” ft. Bonnie McKee and “Christmas Time With You” ft. Frawley), the bittersweet but uplifting ballad was sparked from what Stirling refers to as “one of the most profound moments in my life.” “When my father was passing away, my sisters and my mother and I were gathered around him—all of us were just silent, because everything felt so heavy,” she recalls. “But then one of my sisters suggested we go around the circle and tell stories about my dad, which led to us bringing up all these loving and funny memories about our favorite moments with him. It was the purest emotion I’ve ever felt, because even though I was so sad and devastated at what I was losing, I was also overcome by gratitude and joy. One thing I love about Christmas is that it helps us to recognize the magic in our lives, so this song is my way of trying to inspire people to find that inner joy no matter what time of year it is or what they are going through.”
For the closing track to Snow Waltz, Stirling selected an original instrumental called “Ice Storm,” a guitar-fueled and wildly rousing track revealing her more rock-leaning sensibilities. “When I first started writing this record I’d been working on a rock album, and during that transition time I decided to create a rock Christmas song,” she says. “I grew up loving Trans-Siberian Orchestra, so I felt like ‘Ice Storm’ would be a great way to nod to all the other TSO fans out there. I think it could become a niche favorite among some of my more diehard fans.”
With a holiday tour now in the works, Stirling is eager to bring the songs of Snow Waltz to life onstage. Known for her highly visual live performance, she even began conceptualizing many facets of her upcoming shows while in the thick of the writing process. “When we were working on ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,’ I got the idea to incorporate trapeze work in the live show—the arrangement feels so quirky and avant-garde, it calls for some kind of circus-like element,” says Stirling, who also takes a hands-on role in designing her elaborate stage costumes. And by channeling so much of her personality and spirit into every aspect of Snow Waltz, Stirling has fulfilled her mission of creating a one-of-a-kind holiday album sure to leave an indelible impact. “There are certain Christmas songs that take me right back to my childhood, and a lot of those songs are from artists who stay true to their style and bring Christmas into their world,” she says. “My hope is that this music becomes a part of people’s holiday traditions: something that holds so many special memories for them, and really makes those memories last.”
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