Icelandic piano power

He has been called Iceland’s Glenn Gould and in only a few years, 34-year-old Víkingur Ólafsson has seen enviable but well-deserved success. In compatriot Daníel Bjarnason’s piano concerto, Processions, he alternates between quiet, meditative and lyrical moments – often with Ólafsson’s piano as its focal point – and world-shattering passages of Wagnerian magnitude. His aptitude for the richness of sound is something he shares with Anna Thorvaldsdottir who, in Dreaming, prefers to paint with light water-colours rather than heavy acrylics.

Vikingur Olafson about Daniel Bjarnason’s piano concert Processions, and how it is playing with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra:

There is a sense of calm surrounding Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Dreaming, a dreamlike serenity, despite the lack of a distinct harmonic core or predictable musical form. She describes the work’s ”abundance of rich sounds as both a pleasant resting place and a striving forward”. Even though the sounds and the world they create are alien to us, it never turns into a nightmare, not even when Thorvaldsdottir raises the temperature and the piece exposes its dramatic core.

”Much like a dream, the piece is equally inclined to drift endlessly around a single thought as to go through sudden and drastic changes”, Thorvaldsdottir explains. Otherwise, the most telling aspect is perhaps her greeting to the musicians in the notes: ”When you see a long note, regard it as a tender flower that you must carry, while balancing on a thin wire.” Regardless of when Dreaming flowers in harmony, yields to rhythmic flows in the orchestra or alights in a grippingly beautiful valley, it is a dream that should never end.

The expression ’in medias res’ describes the feeling of entering a course of events already under way, like stepping into an ongoing conversation or missing the beginning of a film. The first movement of Daníel Bjarnason’s piano concerto Processions lives up to the title; both the orchestra and pianist immediately set the tone, figuratively and literally. Vikingur Ólafsson, the pianist that makes an impression wherever he goes, has been dedicated this as well as Bjarnason’s first piano concerto. Ólafsson leads festivals all around Europe, runs music projects on Icelandic television and performs across the globe with the most eminent orchestras.

Maybe Ólafsson’s celebrated inventiveness and energy is what makes him particularly appropriate as a partner to Bjarnason, whose music has also been described as the sound of the classical music of the future. Processions also includes passages that brings to mind the great Russian composers and the driving rhythms could be associated with both Bartók and Orff and with modern electronic dance music.

One of the great Russian composers is none other than Peter Tchaikovsky, whose Symphony No. 6 was one of the last works he wrote and the last one that he himself heard premièred. Throughout his life, Tchaikovsky suffered from the fact that he was forced to hide his homosexuality and his professional success was always weighed against depression and personal crises. After Tchaikovsky’s death, nine days after the première, some saw the symphony as a suicide note. Yes, the work is frequently melancholy, but the header Pathétique, in actual fact comes from the Russian ’pateticheskaya’, which means passionate, but with an undertone of suffering, and the work is certainly passionate. It was a joyous project for Tchaikovsky, not a grieving process, and the entire piece is imbued with its master’s touch.

Text: David Saulesco




The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra is one of Europe’s most versatile orchestras, with a worldwide reputation and a repertoire that combines the major classical works as well as exciting new music. In collaboration with the most important conductors, soloists and composers, there is a constant striving to break new ground. The orchestra’s extensive and high-quality music-making has been rewarded with numerous prizes and accolades and they regularly perform at international festivals and concert halls. “The orchestra has a unique combination of humility, sensibility and musical imagination”, says Daniel Harding, chief conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. “I have never had a concert with the orchestra where they haven’t played as though their lives depended on it!” he continues. The first radio orchestra was formed in 1925, the same year that the Swedish Radio Service began its broadcasts and since then the orchestra’s concerts have always been broadcast by the Swedish Radio. The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra received its current name in 1967 and over the years has had such distinguished chief conductors as Sergiu Celibidache, Herbert Blomstedt and Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Concert length: 2 h 10 min incl. intermission