UR_ will be premiered at Theater Trier on September 11th 2015 and will be featured at Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival at the Norwegian Opera And Ballet on September 18th and 19th.
Here are some features on the release:
Will Robin wrote about the release in the New York Times
I had a talk with Porter Anderson for Thought Catalog
Richard Allen wrote about the album for A closer listen
The album was featured as a first listen at NPR
Q2 Music featured the album as 'album of the week'
Alex Ross listed In the Light of Air as recommended new CD at The Rest is Noise
I am currently in Germany where we are staging the new chamber opera UR_. It is wonderful to have such a substantial rehearsal period, thanks to our premiering Theater Trier and our wonderful project manager and Far North founder Arnbjörg María Daníelsen.
The rehearsals are going well and we are all very excited and looking forward to the premiere in September in Trier and then at the Ultima Contemporary Music Festival in Oslo.
UR_ combines two main narratives, told through an abstract metaphorical persona, the various aspects of which are portrayed by the different elements of a trilogy (the three singers) which together forms a single character in the work. The elements merge and divide throughout the work, but are fundamentally tied together through the presence of a central being (ambiguously portrayed by the actor). The grand piano is a separate character, representing the “Mother” – the protecting element.
One narrative looks backward, the other forward: The first narrative, which is the primary focus, is the story of the human being struggling to find a way back to the UR_ – the perspective of this narrative is primarily that of the trilogy; the other, the secondary focus (more theatrically presented), is the story of how we got here, so far removed from the UR_.
The progression in the voices primarily represents the backward element – the UR_ in the human being waking from hibernation and finding themselves in an unfamiliar environment, struggling to find their voice and to be heard – this is the struggle of the human being rediscovering the UR_ in itself (in its several forms, which – although different – are part of the same), the abstract persona conflicted and confused by its seemingly unheard voice and presence. This struggle is characterized by the struggle of each to find its voice, their struggle to communicate with each other, and their struggle to communicate as a unity with the “other” side of the abstract persona, the one responsible for this alien state. This is all part of the struggle to find a way back to “nature”, which can have many meanings. Once found/heard, it is liberating and beautiful but also difficult in many ways. For all its presence and importance for the human being, however, this wondrous achievement all but disappears as we become aware of the UR_ itself, its vast and massive expanse. The human being, despite its (perhaps inevitable) perception of the significance of its own values, its place in the world, and the impact it has had on it (for good and bad), may “disappear overnight”, its time here “a blink in the eye of evolution”.
The forward element – how the UR_ in the human being was pushed into hibernation – is less represented in the music and more in the theatrical elements. This narrative contains elements of the trajectory of Western culture which got the human being to where it is, for good and bad. This current environment in which the UR_ elements find themselves, and find to be alien to them, is also represented primarily theatrically – it is the “other” side of the modern human being whose UR_ has now woken up, confused and desperate to find its way back, to be heard.
The primary narrative – the search for a way back to the UR_, the struggle to be heard/included – is spoken through sequences of musical imagery and phonetic sound structures where language merges with music in sound and expression. Phonetic patterns become an instrument where elements of various languages are dispersed and recombined, generating a strained and fragmented idiolect. Language – in its familiar form – in part represents the emphasis on human reason which partly underpins the ideology of Western culture that got us to where we are. Language facilitates an important kind of understanding, but there is also a certain kind of understanding that it can limit, be a barrier to. It can mean the difference between “us” and “them”. Being heard, understood, can change these boundaries, redraw the line – being truly heard means being genuinely included, and true inclusion is a kind of freedom or liberation, an elimination of hierarchy.
Communicating through expressive phonetic gestures is a mechanism that allows for important conversations that cannot be had in language, but can still be understood and appreciated – conversations that remain lost until the UR_ elements find a natural way to communicate and a natural voice to speak with.
Without these, they are truly voiceless.
In writing the opera I really had to dive deeply inwards in a unique way to search for themes, layers of metaphors and expressions, and to find ways to carefully weave the threads together but still to leave elements open for theatrical interpretation. It took me on a substantial inner search for sounds, textures and expression for the human voice, to find the "right" lyrical materials and textures to construct the whole and the text for each part. The process was extremely personal but at the same time in constant realization that in the end the music would be placed in the hands of another to interpret the work visually and theatrically and thereby growing it into its ultimate existence.
The layers of metaphors in the work can be interpreted in different ways and one of the several interesting approaches that director Thorleifur Örn Agnarsson is taking is that of an "opera in the making", a kind of contemporary self-scrutiny of the operatic form. I am very excited to see what the production will become and can't wait to share it with everyone!
Anna Rún Tryggvadóttir is doing stage design and costumes, Bjarni Frímann Bjarnason is coaching the music during rehearsals and conducting, Baldur Brönnimann will be conducting the premiere, the rotating ensembles are BIT20 and CAPUT, and the performers on stage are: Melis Jaatinen mezzo-soprano, Joa Helgesson baritone, Sofia Jernberg singer, Miké Thomsen actor & Tinna Thorsteinsdóttir pianist.
I am incredibly honored and grateful to be named The New York Philharmonic's Kravis Emerging Composer. Writing for orchestra and large ensembles constitutes in such a fundamental way who I am as a composer - what a wonderful privilege to be working with them in this way.
Here is a link to their announcement:
The music is *here* now!
I have been working on the music, narrative and ideology for the chamber opera for a very, very long time and it is an absolutely great feeling to have the music ‘ready’ in my mind and spirit now – this is always a very special time for me in the process of composing each work, when the dots have been connected and the gaps have been filled – I am currently in the process of finishing writing the notation out and will be editing the music in the coming months – but the music is "here" and it is a great feeling to have its resonance in my spirit.
The music is currently finding its way from the hand-written pages to the software...
There will be an hour and ten minutes of music and I am extremely excited to have the music come to life this fall through all the wonderful performers and to see how it will find its way to the stage in collaboration with director Thorleifur Orn Arnarson and stage designer Anna Rún Tryggvadottir!
The work will be premiered at Theatre Trier in September, followed by performances at Ultima Oslo and other places. It is very exiting to have the amazing cast determined, which are the following: Melis Jaatinen mezzo soprano, Sofia Jernberg singer, Joa Helgesson baritone, Miké Thomsen actor, Tinna Thorsteinsdottir pianist and Bit20 Ensemble. The CAPUT Ensemble is also involved. The work is commissioned and produced by Far North.
For my parts it seems like 2015 will be the year of the opera. I am currently working on a project commissioned and produced by the Far North Cultural Network. The project is a chamber opera which will be premiered in Theater Trier in Germany in September 2015, and will be featured in other places following the premiere, e.g. at the Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival in Norway, and at Dark Music Days in Reykjavik, Iceland in early 2016.
Working title UR__
The work features 3 voices, 1 actor, grand piano and an ensemble of 12 performers. Without wanting to say too much while the work is still in progress, here is a small - admittedly abstract - window into it: The music invites an intimate setting and the subject is centered around an ambiguous and atmospheric narrative, spoken through sequences of musical imagery where language merges with music in sound and expression. Language becomes an instrument where elements of various languages are dispersed and recombined, generating a strained and fragmented idiolect. In the work, “characters” and “roles” merge but are two different things.
The opera will be directed by Thorleifur Orn Arnarsson and Anna Rún Tryggvadóttir will be doing the stage design. I am very much looking forward to our work together. The narrative is constructed by Anna Thorvaldsdottir and the text is a combination of words and phonetic textures by Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Mette Karlsvik.
Needless to say I am very excited to meet and work with all the amazing people who will be a part of the project. We have our first workshop together coming up in the last week of January, which will conclude with an open workshop at the Dark Music Days Festival at Harpa in Reykjavik on January 31st - everyone is welcome to attend!
2014 was filled with beautiful musical adventures and I am very excited to welcome 2015 with new and continuing projects and collaborations. I will soon write about some of the upcoming projects, but first I wanted to share some thoughts from the end of 2014.
Releasing Aerial through Deutsche Grammophon / Universal Music Classics was truly a great adventure and I am so happy and thankful for the warm reception the album has received. We have gathered press for the album here.
Also wanted to share a video feature that Sinfini Music did in November. Kate Molleson visited me here in Reykjavik, Iceland, and we had a great day of conversations and tea, walking in nature and at Harpa Concert Hall. Marteinn Thorsson was the film director.
Warm wishes into the new year,
The works are performed by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, the Caput Ensemble, Duo Harpverk, Nordic Affect, members of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Tinna Thorsteinsdottir & Anna Thorvaldsdottir. The recordings were made in Reykjavik at Sundlaugin Studios, Guðríðarkirkja by Georg Magnússon, Greenhouse Studios, and in Harpa Concert Hall by Studio Sýrland. Saga Sig took the cover photo and Armann Agnarsson did the cover design.
I am very grateful to be nominated in three categories at the Icelandic Music Awards, for example for Aerial which is nominated as 'Album of the Year'.