HCMF 2014 revisited: Anna Þorvaldsdóttir – æquilibria (UK Première)

by 5:4

i went to Huddersfield last November not knowing anything about Icelandic composer Anna Þorvaldsdóttir‘s music; two months on, following an HCMF première and a CD release (review coming), that’s happily no longer the case. In many ways æquilibria, the work of Þorvaldsdóttir’s receiving its first UK performance at HCMF, serves as something of a paradigm for her work as a whole. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a composer from a country characterised and constantly being altered by shifting geological activity, her music often avoids concrete statements, preferring the establishment of firmaments, the stability and permanence of which are forever being undermined and questioned. In æquilibria (the title being an archaic plural of equilibrium) this is captured via a series of fundamental pitches—’tonics’ in a post-tonal sense, reinforced by being heard in multiple octaves—over and upon which intricate lines of filigree extend and rival harmonic emphases are brought to bear. As octaves become untenable, other intervals—4ths and 5ths—start to operate as indicators of permanence, Þorvaldsdóttir flirting with conflicting major/minor connotations above them, before threatening these too, roiling low winds at the work’s epicentre leading to a huge surge and ebb, leaving the piece in an entirely unclear state. The way, as here, that Þorvaldsdóttir creates textural fabrics of pure obfuscation is rather marvellous to behold. Only gradually do the makings of a fundamental return, and even then seemingly accidentally, a passive product of the instruments’ meandering behaviour. Finding itself on a 5th, solo strings initiate a melodic intention, but this swiftly halts, ebbing through a soft haze into nothing.

The UK première of æquilibria was given at HCMF by BIT20 Ensemble, conducted by Baldur Brönnimann.

**The audio has been removed as a commercial recording is now available.**

1 comment

Chris L January 20, 2015 • 12:15 - 12:15

Simon, you’ve made my day! I’ve been wanting to get hold of this since it disappeared from iPlayer, and Þorvaldsdóttir doesn’t seem to have posted it on her YouTube channel yet. Have you heard her debut album? I sang the praises of Hrim here, but the other pieces are well worth investigating, although I’m of the view that splitting the piano-as-percussion-instrument (something of at Þorvaldsdóttir trade mark, I now realise) pieces was a wise move, as those might get a little monotonous heard one after the other. Anyhow, it’s on Spotify should you wish to investigate further.


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