Poised on the edge of ambience, meditation and the avant-garde, the Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir treads a fine line and allows the risk to pay off. Having won the 2012 Nordic Council Music Prize (for her work ‘Dreaming’) and the New York Philharmonic’s Kravis Emerging Composer Award, she has a remarkable voice, one that is well worth exploring at greater length.
The four pieces that make up In the Light of Air – Luminance, Serenity, Existence and Remembrance – 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. One could view it as the polar opposite of 2016’s breathless pace of life and the distracting, multitasking shallowness of information overload, but for the fact that it is also light years away from the supposedly chilled-out New Age twaddle that claims to do such things.
Transitions, written two years ago for ICE’s cellist, Michael Nicolas, explores the idea of ‘man and machine’: the instrument becoming both, balancing emotion and expression with technical precision. Again, the ambient drone and drifting, sighing or glittering percussion effects use timbre to create a new universe of sound.
ICE’s performance is devoted and beautiful; and for music of such intense timbral specificity, the enhanced sound quality on these downloads is absolutely invaluable.
Jessica Duchen Jessica Duchen writes about music for The Independent and is the author of a number of novels, biographies and plays. Current projects include an opera libretto for composer Roxanna Panufnik (for Garsington Opera 2017) and a new novel, Ghost Variations, which will be published later this year (Unbound). Her popular blog JDCMB has run since 2004. Rating: Performance: Five stars Sound: Five stars
Anna Thorvaldsdottir: In the Light of Air; Transitions International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE): Kyle Ambrust (viola), Michael Nicolas (cello), Nuiko Wadden (harp), Cory Smythe (piano), Nathan Davis (percussion) Sono Luminus DSL 92192
The entire classical community is watching the formation of two more legendary pairings between conductor and orchestra with great interest and there is no doubt that starting in 2018, nothing will be the same.