In the Light of Air

For viola, cello, piano, harp, percussion, fixed electronics & installation
Duration approximately 40 minutes
Written for the International Contemporary Ensemble


Selected reviews:
In the Light of Air … is an exquisite tetralogy that forms a single statement, in which melodies are thrown up by the music’s very exploration of sound and texture. It’s a music perusal of light and air, and of visibility, temperature and geology.” - Andrew Mellor, Gramophone, Jan 2019

"In the course of four movements, this evanescent material acquired mass: droplets of melody and harmony precipitated from the air. Just before the end, darksome bitonal chords began crashing on the harp and piano, like the bell of a phantom cathedral."
"Suddenly, the wall at the back of the auditorium was rolled aside, ushering in the bright-gray light and chilly breeze of a cloudy Ojai morning. Nothing I witnessed in opera houses this past season was as dramatic." - Alex Ross, The New Yorker, July 6th 2015

"Thorvaldsdottir has a notable compositional voice: her unique ability to manipulate her material so that the passage of time is made beautiful ... it was one of the most involving and affecting concerts in several years. ... The music has a center around which the instruments circle, in minor mode, and there is a feeling of tonal and temporal suspension, an endless dominant chord. One waits for the tonic, holding one’s breath so as not to miss any gorgeous, delicate moment. When the tonic arrives, it barely registers: the suspension, the sensation of being held between two ticks of the clock, is the point." George Grella, New York Classical Review, August 20th 2014

"The four pieces that make up In the Light of Air ... are positively hypnotic: you sink into their world, rooted by drone basses, punctuated by whispered motifs and enhanced by electronics that interact with the dark, glinting and shimmering qualities of the instrumentation. This is music refreshing in its subtlety, a soundworld that forces you to listen hard in order to home in on its tiny shifts of harmony and gesture. It’s an all-enveloping experience; with harmonies that move very, very slowly, the effect is at once absorbing and oddly purifying." - Jessica Duchen, Primephonic, October 20th 2016

"Not everyday does an extended introduction to a composer prove as unusual and immediately gratifying as the one the International Contemporary Ensemble gave Saturday night at the Museum of Contemporary Art. ... [A]n ambitiousness of presentation and persuasiveness of content ... made for a special hour from a subtle and beguiling artist." - Alan Artner, Chicago Tribune, April 27th 2015



In The Light Of Air is a tetralogy of works that together form a structure of a single piece. The four movements, bear the titles Luminance, Serenity, Existence and Remembrance and are connected by short transitions to form a seamless flow throughout the work.

The work streams from one movement to the next through a flowing texture of sound materials and harmonies. The music material is constructed with focus on subtle nuances and poetic textures that form lyrical gestures throughout the work. Melodies are generated just as much by sounds, gestures and nuances as by pitched lyrical material. Parts of the work are constructed around the idea of each performer being a "soloist" in the setting of a chamber ensemble, in the sense that - throughout the work - the performers alternate between traveling through fields of collective instrumental alliances and moving into soloistic approaches.

The piece incorporates a lighting constellation that is a part of the work and is designed in collaboration with ICE. The lights enhance the atmospheric experience during a live performance by visually portraying certain aspects of the performance. The performers directly contribute to the performance of the lighting figures through their breath as well as through their instrumental performance.

For the work Anna has also designed an installation of metallic ornaments that are used in live performance. The installation contributes to the visual atmosphere of the music as well as to the audio experience. The ornaments, called Klakabönd in Icelandic, which translates as “a bind of ice”, are created by Svana Jósepsdóttir.

The piece is written for the International Contemporary Ensemble in 2013/2014. In the Light of Air was premiered by ICE at the Reykjavik Arts Festival on May 25th 2014. The work has been widely performed by various ensembles. A recording was released on the Sono Luminus label in 2015, performed by ICE.

Parts of the fourth movement - Remembrance - insisted on echoing the theme of a song that my husband - Hrafn - wrote and dedicated to me in 2000. I am deeply thankful for this presence in the work.

"Internally I hear sounds and nuances as musical melodies and enjoy weaving various sounds together with harmonies and lyrical material. Structurally I like working with perspectives of details and the unity of the whole and the relationship between the two." - Anna Thorvaldsdottir

Here is a clip from the premiere at the Reykjavik Arts Festival in May 2014. This is the first movement, Luminance

Here is a short video documenting the workshop that took place in March 2013.