Archive for the 'music' Category

More Harpa

Formal opening ceremony tonight, hopefully possible to watch here, starts 17:50 GMT. (in a bit less than 2 hours). Can’t wait. My huge choir will sing the 4th movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the end of the concert around 20:00 GMT or so if anyone’s interested. Will post a link if this will be available on the net afterwards but I’m not sure it will be.

First part of the concert, symphony orchestra, youth choir, opera singers, children’s choir, an excellent pianist, second part the cream of Icelandic popular music, then the third part, a brand new piece for the opening and then the Beethoven. Quite a mixture of music. I’ll be in the audience for the first two parts and then run backstage to take part in the symphony movement. Don’t want to miss a thing…

A newsclip on a German radio station, you can see me + sister and daughter on 4:15 if you like – I’m second row furthest to the left and daughter comes to view beside me when the camera zooms out. Imagine the joy!


I really don’t have the right words to describe the music hall – and the atmosphere in all three concerts. 1800 people in a great mood, my husband heard before the concert and in the break various people proclaim that they hadn’t been keen on the building being finished when the economic crash came, of course such an endeavour isn’t cheap but all those people now think it’s all been worth it.

Concert was amazing, you can listen here.

photo borrowed with kind permission from Harpa Hrund, fellow singer.

Agnus Dei

Just wanted to share one of my pieces, from when I went to Norway in March this year. Christians Consort and Agder Orkesterforening play the Agnus Dei, the last movement from Mass of Guðbrandur. Martin Pearson conducting.

Will keep on with my Australian travel diary soon, promise :)

Day #9 First day of touristing

What a nice feeling to wake up and not have to be anywhere special, just to be able to do whatever we liked. We were both pretty stiff and aching after the surfboards the day before, though.

Saw quite a few festival guests at the breakfast buffet, most of them were on their way back home that day so a few farewells were in order. Most spoke of flight plans and volcanos…

After breakfast and a short peek at the internet we were off, Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and the Botanical Gardens were to be the order of the day. Walked for about an hour to get to the bridge, stopped a few times on the way though, f.ex. in Queen Victoria Building, an amazing shopping mall of sorts. There I saw these shoes I really, really wanted (well, I’d have had to buy a complete dressing outfit to go with them actually) but since they cost 600 AUD (the Australian dollar is a bit less than the American one – not a lot less though), well I sort of didn’t buy them.

Loved the building, stained glass windows (see on my Flickr page) and an amazing clock in the middle, showing day, month and year (and time, of course), with a ship sailing all the world’s seas around the clock (literally). Brill.


The Harbour Bridge was awe-inspiring too, 500 metres between the piers but we walked quite a bit longer than that kilometre, you can’t get up on the bridge by the piers. Apparently you can walk up on the bridge arc, I think I’d probably have died of fright if I tried that, though.

Took about a thousand photos of the Opera House from the bridge, a brilliant view. Also photographed a house I wouldn’t mind having as a summer house – maybe next time we have a few billion dollars we don’t know how to use!


Down again, had lunch on the roof of a restaurant in The Rocks, view over the harbour and opera house again. 10 dollar steaks turned out to be huge with rucola salad w/balsamico, fries and a really good champignon sauce. The “light lunch” promptly changed to the main meal of the day, wasn’t even any way we could finish. The restaurant didn’t have doggie bags (some regulations) so I fished a clean small plastic bags from my backpack and stowed the rest of the steaks away. No way we’d let them throw them out, nope.


Walked round the not circular at all Circular Quay to the Opera House. Took a short video of an aboriginal playing his didgeridoo for the tourists, then threw a few coins in his bag. He then sang a Thank you, through the instrument – unfortunately I of course had stopped recording.

On to the Opera, walked round the house but decided the weather was way too nice to spend an hour or two inside in the guided tour. Save that for later in the week. Sunny and 25°C is perfect for me – outside. It was supposed to cool a bit down later that week. Took some more photos though.


The Botanical Gardens were right behind the house, went there and saw incredibly many exotic plants and a ton of bats. Not sure I’ve seen a bat before, definitely not that many. Wished I had a better camera.


Back to hotel, found out we had walked at least 10 kilometres that day and a lot of them on steps so our feet were glad to get back to the room. Bought some Dim sum and various other Chinese ramekins for dinner, nice to be in the middle of Sydney’s China Town, lots of exciting take-out food all around. Dim sum is another dish I only knew from Restaurant City.

Donned pajamas and bed, got a glass of red and sat down with computer to write in my travel diary, even though the clock was only & PM. Hardly left the bed after that, some internet and reading and sleep around 11 PM.

I totally forgot earlier to post the ABC Classics theme (the classical section of Australia’s biggest radio station) used before all the ISCM Festival concerts – the station recorded all the festival concerts, some were broadcast live and some later, a great support to the festival and to new music.

Here’s the theme:
ABC ISCM theme by cyradis

Day #8. Final day of festival

Woke up early, breakfast and then met up with some new and older friends for a trip to the beach. Eight of us, took two cabs to the famous Bondi Beach.

I don’t think I’ve been to such a fabulous beach before, apparently it’s supposed to be one of the 10 best beaches in the world. Not that I know how they figure that sort of thing out. About a kilometre long, 100-150 m. wide and squeaky clean, no trash floating around. The sea was also incredibly clean, especially since the beach is pretty central in a big city. They have loads of beaches in Sydney, it’s one of the things I really like about the city.

The sand was just a bit cold, air temperature was only about 17°C this early in the morning (and fairly late autumn too) but I sure prefer cold to too hot, can’t stand burning my feet on hot and dry sand.

The water was great, not very warm, maybe about the same temp as an Italian swimming pool (Icelandic swimming pools are way warmer), just a bit cold to dive in but one got used to it at once.

Anna, a local woman who had something to do with the festival (don’t quite know what) came and helped us, loaned us a couple of surfboards and taught us to ride the waves a bit. Some of us managed better than others… I didn’t get to try the big board because about an hour into our beach trip Anna had an accident – actually she was really lucky that two of our friends noticed in time that she had gotten mixed up in the ropes on the board and helped her. Who knows how it might have gone – she got a small concussion on her head and was pretty disoriented in the water. Whew! Fortunately she felt much better after a short while, but didn’t feel like going into the water again that morning. Anyway, I still haven’t tried a proper board. Later, hopefully.

a few from the group heading into the waves.

The beach got a tiny minus point for ice cream that didn’t really taste of anything, but after that we went back to the hotel in another taxi with most of the group. The others were heading back to other parts of the world but we were going to a concert. Said farewell to our friends, didn’t envy my Icelandic friend of flying home, we didn’t even know if his flights to and from London would go, our not so beloved volcano was acting up. You don’t really want to be stuck in Abu Dhabi, no you don’t! (well, I’d actually very much like to visit that part of the world but apparently it’s really expensive). Anyway, Eyjafjallajökull (Aya-fyad-la-yo-kudl) had a week to quiet down before we were supposed to fly home so we decided not to worry too much about that.

The concert bus, an old rattletrap we had been riding in all week, took off from the hotel at 13:00 in lovely weather. The temperature was by then about 23°C (74°F), quite nice and sunny. Took about an hour to drive to the Blue Mountains, there we came closest to seeing kangaroos until then (some street signs warning about kangaroo passing). No live ones though.

This was the concert I had looked forward to the most, (well, except for my own one of course), Sydney Chamber Choir, singing a very exciting programme.

Loved the organ.

I wasn’t disappointed either, a brilliant concert. Decided to try to get the music and a recording of one of the pieces, by Australian Ross Edwards. Sure I could find it in Australia’s Music Information Centre.

In the intermission we started talking to some people we hadn’t met before. They turned out to be extremely nice (as almost all the Australians we had met, actually), when we talked about wanting to visit the mountains properly they invited us to come later in the week for a tourist day up high. We’d just have to take the train there. Of course we said yes please! and got their telephone number and email address to be in touch when we got back to Sydney.

Back to the hotel, both fell asleep on the bus. They say it takes a day per hour to get rid of the jet lag. According to that, most of the festival guests didn’t manage to turn the day around at all, we not until on the Thursday in our latter week.

Out for dinner, decided to not go very far from the hotel. About 50 metres away from the hotel entrance we found a Korean restaurant with the dish Dolson Bibimbap on the menu. I just HAD to try that – had only seen that dish on the Facebook game Restaurant City and it sounded really exciting. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to photograph the dish until after it was stirred together, when it comes to the table it’s really colourful, all the meat and vegetables separate in the bowl with an egg yolk in the centre but then it’s stirred with a tablespoon or two of a red spicy sauce and looks less fancy. Excellent meal.

Dolsot bibimbap.

Jón ordered a dish called Sewoo Bokkumbap but that was much less fancy, fried rice with veggies and shrimp. Tasted very good too. We had also gotten some appetizers in small bowls but the service was so fast that we weren’t even close to be able to finish those before the main courses were on the table.

Back to hotel, relaxing after a long day. Jón went out to see if he could find a sports bar that showed Formula 1 but no go. Found a big bar with 2 gigascreens but one of them was showing bike racing and the other Australian rugby. Bought one day of hotel net instead so he could follow the race live on a site that shows statistics and Twitter-like comments on the race – and so that I could get on the net a bit, afterwards too.

Formula 1 fan in action.

I suppose most of us know the feeling to be tired but not sleepy. The other way round – sleepy but not tired feels weird, though. Rather nice actually, at least when you can allow yourself to fall asleep. Not so at some of the concerts in the week before, I really didn’t want to fall asleep but there was totally nothing I could do about it. Just like somebody pushes a button and bang – you’re asleep.

Day #7. Out of town

That Saturday we left Sydney behind, concerts and meetings in Campbelltown, about 40 kilometres south and west of the city. Took a bus along with the delegates and a few other guests at 11:00, a beautiful day, sunny and 23° Celsius.

Campbelltown isn’t a very exciting town, actually we had a fairly bad experience there, well let’s not go ahead of myself here, though.

Didn’t matter much, the day was fairly packed with festival activities. Arrived at Campbell Arts Centre, a nice lunch and concert at 13:00, excellent string quartet music, 4 for Australia, new and older Australian string quartets. Loved the concert (no falling asleep, nope).

Loved this cello, on the wall in the Arts Centre:

After the concert, the General Assembly of ISCM in the town’s Civic Centre. I and Jón Lárus didn’t want to hang around for the whole meeting (not being delegates), so we went downtown for some basking in the nice weather and to see if we could find a pub. On the way downtown Jón actually got attacked, we were walking over a junction, 3 young guys were walking over the street in the opposite direction. I was a couple of steps ahead of him and all of a sudden I hear this commotion behind me. One of the guys had then used an Australian football technique, bumping his shoulder really hard into Jón Lárus, so he fell on his back in the street. Fortunately he didn’t hurt himself but was of course a bit put out. The guys thought this hilarious and walked away laughing. Grrr! He stood up and we walked on, a bit shaken, about 40-50 metres on we met some other guys, those looked a bit shady, one hulking and tattooed, another extremely thin, almost like a walking skeleton, don’t remember the third one too well. Must say we were a tiny bit frightened, maybe this was a dreadfully bad part of town, we didn’t know, but decided not to try to run away or pass to the other side of the road. Those guys turned out to be really nice, they had seen what had happened and said the same happened to the horribly thin one. Can’t judge people on the outside, I guess…

Well, we found a pub and got a beer each, I must say I’ve been in nicer pubs, but it was OK and we found a balcony with a nice view and fairly quiet. Afterwards we sat down in a public garden with our books for a while, until Kjartan (Icelandic delegate) sent us a text message about some more exciting things starting to happen in the meeting. Elections and a mutiny and everything – well I won’t want to go to deeply into the politics here.

Also saw some introductions to the next festivals, next year in Zagreb, Croatia, Belgium 2012, Austria/Slovakia together 2013, Poland 2014 and more.

We were thinking whether or not to show interest in having the festival in Iceland in the next 8-10 years but with the volcano spewing we didn’t think it would be enthusiastically received. Better wait a bit.

Loved those flowers:

Back in the bus after the meeting – probably half an hour later than planned. Back to the Arts Centre, finger food for dinner, lots of it and very good too, just as well since we were all pretty hungry after a long meeting.

A guest with by far the longest hair I’ve ever seen:

I might have been tired but I thought the latter concert wasn’t as good as the first one. A really nice group from Belgium but I kept falling asleep over the pieces. Was very glad when it was over and we got to go back into the bus and I could close my eyes without being ashamed of it. Well, actually I didn’t sleep, Jón Lárus did though.

Back at the hotel, we went straight to bed over the objections of our Faroese friends who wanted to have some drinks. Well, we were planning to hit the beach early next morning so going out for drinks really wouldn’t have been a good idea. Took a short look at the net and then to bed.

Day #6. Concert

Stomach problems very much better, fortunately, not quite up to standard but good enough to get going. Met up with our fellow Icelander in the lobby, had heard of things happening at home, moguls being arrested and such, finally. Can’t say we were unhappy about that.

Philippa, the festival manager asked us if we wanted to come to an open meeting, we of course went there. Was pretty good, an interesting panel and good and intellectual questions and answers. Also good to see some more of the festival guests. The only thing I thought lacking was that we were all staying in a hotel – with no hotel bar where everyone would gather in the evening and get to know each other.

Finally found a proper supermarket, didn’t buy anything at the time since we were heading to a concert. Also found a huge market with all sorts of things to be bought at a cheap price, much like our own Kolaport, except instead of dried fish, shark and flat bread they had tons of exotic fruit and vegetables which we’d never seen before, even though the supermarkets at home are fairly well stocked with fruits and vegs from around the world. The pictures on the T-shirts also were quite different, aboriginal art instead of lopapeysa patterns.

Fleiri á flickrsíðunni minni.

Bought a few beers to put in the fridge – I only wanted a small one so I bought a Pilsner Urquell (one of my favourite Czech beer brands, their dark Master just might be my favourite beer in the whole world), a 25 centiliter bottle. Without checking the price. Got a small shock when I realized what the beer had cost, about 4 times more than at home – and people complain about the state having monopoly on selling alcohol and about the prices! Obviously everything will get better if/when sales of alcohol will be free in Iceland – not!

A concert in the ABC house at 13:00, brilliant piece by Kristian Blak, another I liked a lot too by Hubert Stuppner – wouldn’t mind having a recording of that one (hmm, wonder if ABC’s site’s still open). 3 more pieces, one for Shakuhatchi flute and strings, not bad, and 2 other ones just for strings, maybe a bit too long for my taste.

Back to the hotel to change clothes for the concert with my piece on it. Had some extra time to kill, walked to a pub with free WIFI, bought a lemon marengue pie each, a glass of white wine for me and a beer for Jón. Just as good the pies and drinks were nice, the net didn’t work. Had the system rebooted for us, no go. I’m on a Mac and Jón on Windows and nothing worked. Irritating. Australians seem to be just a bit backwards in Net usage, we didn’t see anyone else trying to use a computer in the pub (around here a third to fourth of café users will have a computer on their table). Also saw a book store computer using MS Dos, didn’t think anyone in the whole world used MS Dos any more… Book shop had about 6-7 books I wanted, though! Might want to visit it again, later in the trip.

Then to the concert in The Con, brilliant concert, fabulous children’s choir – surpassing our best one here (and that one was really good, too). Recorded my song on my camcorder, here goes:

Skipped the day’s final concert, went out to a nice Italian place instead to celebrate. All in all an euphoric day.

Day #3. Sleepyheads

I have no idea when May 3rd left off and the 4th began, really confusing which time to use but some time during the night the 4th arrived.

This part of the way was basically like this: Abu Dhabi-Muscat-Goa-south for Indonesia for some reason-northeasterly Australia-Sydney. Flew almost straight over Uluru (formerly known as Ayer’s Rock) but it was pitch dark so we wouldn’t have seen it even if we had been awake.

Watched Sound of Music, haven’t seen that old film for 30 years at least, actually I think our version in Reykjavík City Theatre better, if anything (for new readers, I took part in the show as part of the nun’s chorus – quite brilliant experience). Fun to watch though and compare and of course a good way to spend 3 hours out of the 14 inflight. Finished one book and began reading another.

They didn’t have enough warm breakfast trays, 2 or 3 missing and of course I had to be one of the people that didn’t get any. Well, did get some warm cherry cake, weird for breakfast though. Jón Lárus then gave me a part of his breakfast, thanks again my dear.

Finally landed in Sydney, no big problems going through immigration and customs, taxi down to the hotel, a bit old but clean and it was totally heavenly to take a shower and the tiniest of naps. Wanted to try to keep awake as long as we could. Some sort of net service in the hotel, not free (we’ve come to expect free net in hotels, it’s free in all hotels worth their salt in Iceland, the other Nordic countries, all over eastern Europe, even a small cheap hotel in rural Czech republic by the Polish border had a really decent free net service. Not here, though, even seemed like the service would be more expensive in the better hotels. Weird. Also we didn’t even get properly in contact with the net service even if we wanted to buy access. Hrumpfff! Of course we weren’t in Australia to surf incessantly on the internet but it could get really awkward not to get connection at all for 2 weeks. Well, maybe they had heard of free WIFI in cafés – might try that later on.

But let’s stop snivelling – after the short break we took a look at the event calendar and map, then out of the hotel to find the concert hall for the first concert of the day. Wasn’t far, according to the map. We had a couple of hours so out we went and walked towards the harbour. The sun being in the north messed us up of course, we walked for a bit in the wrong direction, found out in 500-600 metres or so and turned around of course. Walking towards Circular Quay where the opera house is situated was about 2 1/2 km away from the hotel, maybe we would have gone there if we hadn’t started off in the wrong direction. As it was, a bit too far so we just went straight to the concert hall.

On the way there we tried to find a supermarket of any kind, in the hotel room we had a nice fridge and it would be nice not to have to buy all meals in restaurants. Didn’t find any proper shops, only tons of really expensive 7-11’s and small oriental supermarkets (found out later in the day that the hotel was situated in the middle of Sydney’s China Town).

The concert hall was easy to find, Eugene Goosens Hall, situated in ABC Australian Broadcast Corporation, Australia’s public broadcasting service. We were an hour early for the concert so we sat down in the ABC café and had a beer each. No Foster’s to be seen (not that we were looking) but those two were tasty and nice and cold.

The jet lag was getting at us though. I think the concert was good, 21 short piano pieces by 21 young composers, performed by 21 piano students at the Sydney Conservatory of Music. Both of us fell fast asleep though and I just hope we didn’t snore since the concert was broadcast live countrywise…

Here‘s the station with some web broadcasts from the festival, my concert’s there too under Voices to Thrill, if anyone wants to hear. My name’s pronounced pretty weird there, though.

Well, this was no use, we went to one of the Chinese fast food places, bought 2 huge chicken thighs and something to drink, back to the hotel to eat, meant to lay down and sleep for 45 minutes. Woke up 3 hours later of course but totally too tired to go to the 2 remaining concerts. Just stayed in bed and read until we fell asleep again about half-past ten in the evening.

Long time

no blog, maybe I should bring a short update for the ppl that still look in here occasionally.

Last blog was about first stage performance, well I did get 15 shows and loved every one of them, now no more. I’ll definitely try for another show sometime, shame I’m not a very good dancer, they seem to want people both dancing and singing most of the time. But at least I did get to experience this sort of work.

Winter’s coming to an end, finally, hasn’t been a hard one at all but I’m looking forward to my summer holiday. Which will start earlier than usually actually.

Went to Norway for a performance of my big Mass for choir, soloists and orchestra (Amazon has it, here if anyone’s interested – I do recommend it, even though I say so myself), met up with some family, great trip.

Middle daughter got confirmated, had a nice family gettogether for that, Easter weekend.

And now I’m travelling again, this time all the way to Australia. Again to follow up a piece of mine, chosen to be on the ISCM new music festival in Sydney in May. Can’t wait. It’s a great honour to be picked for this festival and I hope to meet up with some distinguished colleagues and hear exciting music from around the world. Husband’s coming along and we’ll be Down Under for 2 weeks.

Kreppa news, well Alda covers that on the Iceland Weather Report blog, I really can’t try to beat her, nor do I want to. Our family isn’t doing badly at all, everybody’s got jobs, the elder teenager didn’t even lose her job-along-school. Which is nice.

Maybe – just maybe – there won’t be 7 months till next update…

my first

appearance on stage tonight, yeah! The Sound of Music show up here at the moment is really tight and good, totally loved the experience. Can’t wait for my second show – next Thursday.

Red wine in glass. Raining outside and the country going to hell. Doesn’t detract from my bliss at the moment. Cheers!


(no, not Grace)

There was this speech, by Karl Paulnack, for parents of new students at the Boston Conservatory. It’s a bit long, but really worth reading all of it.

“One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn’t be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother’s remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school she said, “you’re WASTING your SAT scores.” On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they LOVED music, they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren’t really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the “arts and entertainment” section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.

The first people to understand how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you; the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. Let me give you some examples of how this works. One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940.

Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940, sent across Germany in a cattle car and imprisoned in a concentration camp. He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose. There were three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist, and Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.

Given what we have since learned about life in the concentration camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture why would anyone bother with music? And yet from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn’t just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, “I am alive, and my life has meaning. ”

On September 12, 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. That morning I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter? Isn’t this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless.

Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.

And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day. At least in my neighborhood, we didn’t shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn’t play cards to pass the time, we didn’t watch TV, we didn’t shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, that same day, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang We Shall Overcome. Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.

From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of “arts and entertainment” as the newspaper section would have us believe. It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.

Some of you may know Samuel Barber’s heart wrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio for Strings. If you don’t know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn’t know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what’s really going on inside us the way a good therapist does. I bet that you have never been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but I bet you there was some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there’s some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn’t good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding cry a couple of moments after the music starts.

Why? The Greeks. Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can’t talk about it. Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn’t happen that way. The Greeks: Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects. I’ll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers, foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in Fargo, ND, about 4 years ago.

I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began, as we often do, with Aaron Copland’s Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland’s, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation.

Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier even in his 70¹s, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.

When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again, but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself.

What he told us was this: “During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team’s planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute chords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn’t understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle.”

How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me? Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects. This concert in Fargo was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.

What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year’s freshman class when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this:

If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft. You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevys. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor or physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should it together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.”

I tend

to wax eloquent about my kids’ music making (what parent doesn’t do this about whatever their children are doing?) but the other day my own mother found an old tape with some of our music, she used to be my choir conductor. I and two cousins of mine sang together quite a lot and once had a few songs recorded for a radio programme on the Icelandic State Broadcasting Radio. Just uploaded the songs onto my server, and here’s one. Fairly proud of this, actually:


heard from the IMIC today (not that I’m not in touch with them every day, sometimes often, at the moment). But the director called me this morning with the news that a Norwegian choral director emailed an order for my biggest piece hitherto, wants to perform. I might just want to go to Norway, for the performance, it will be in May 2010.

Pretty good news…


As I’ve said here before, I’m currently chairman of the board in the Iceland Music Information Centre, where Icelandic music is collected and kept so performers and musicologists can have access to it.

Well, we had a fire, yesterday.

Not IN the Centre, but two floors up, but there’s water on the floors and of course smoke everywhere. Just managed to save the brand new security update of the scanned pieces (the update was ongoing when the fire came up – and finished while the fire squad turned out the fire).

Things look a bit better than we were afraid of. There’s a lot of music in there, that would be really hard to find again.

No, we don’t have a fireproof vault. The center is dreadfully underfunded. It wasn’t a question of if, but when, something like this would happen.

Here’s a news article about this.

long time

no blogging.

Yes, I’m fine. Been busy with normal life and trying to get the last Central Bank director to resign. A couple of days ago a group of us met up and sang funeral hymns to try to lay to rest the bank government. One out of three – the most hated one still sits there like he owns the bank.

Yes, we’ve got a new government, a social-democratic one. I’m moderately hopeful, they’ll sit there for 82 days iirc and then we’ll have a vote. Sort of scared that the old capitalist party, which is mainly responsible for the economic crash, will get too many votes. They really shouldn’t get the chance to govern for the longest time now, been the big government party for the last 17 years. Horrible.

We’ll see…

Meanwhile life goes basically on as usual for most people here, at the moment I’m sitting in the kids’ music school waiting for orchestra rehearsal to finish, later on in the day we’re having fellow protesters for dinner. We were sort of afraid that now people would save money by taking the kids out of the music schools, but apparently the waiting list only grows longer than usual. Makes me happy, not only since I’ll keep my job, but also I think it shows that people know where the real values lie, and are trying to not let their children suffer in spite of the problems.

July 2020