January is not an enjoyable month in Iceland. But amid the cold and windy days, a festival is held – a music festival. On the evening of January 26th, I had the pleasure of attending Dark Music Days in Eldborg, Harpa where the ISO played five pieces by Icelandic composers. Despite the dark and depressing name of the festival, the concert, Flekaskil, is quite the opposite.
The opening piece is Mar by Kjartan Ólafsson. It leads the listener into the depths of the ocean, drawing up pictures of powerful waves and loud storms with a calm in between. What surprises most is the use of the grand piano, it is very noticeable and even gets a solo, interpreted wonderfully by Mathias Halvorsen. The work is devoted to the composer’s teacher, who died shortly after Kjartan started working on it. Einojuhani Rautavaara was from Finland, where – according to the composer – the mezzo-forte is considered non-existent. Therefore it is only used once in the entire piece.
Hún róar mig, endurtekningin by Haukur Tómasson is inspired by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and divided into three parts, each representing a particular artwork of hers. My favourite moment is in the second movement when a blank piece of paper is ripped, an unexpected addition.
The final piece is Capriccio by Áskell Másson, written for orchestra and darabuka drum, accompanied by three soloists playing the violin, cello and clarinet. At the age of ten the composer started experimenting with that drum and in his older years he felt the need to write a symphony where the soloist would play it, he tells us afterwards backstage. In the concert, Áskell himself plays the darabuka with a technique he developed on his own. Each of the solos is jaw-dropping, especially the violinist, Vera Panitch, who seems totally absorbed by her extremely fast part. The final darabuka solo is unlike anything I have heard before, the variety of sounds coming from the small instrument leaves the audience in awe. Áskell plays with the drum on the floor instead of holding it under his arm – to be able to play with two hands, he tells us later. The audience explodes with applause once the piece is finished and the number of darabuka-fans in Harpa concert hall most certainly increases.Dark Music Days has introduced me to new music I would not have discovered otherwise. The most interesting part of the night was interviewing the composers on their music, because – of course – they can give the best insight into the pieces. This dark January evening was converted into a night of discovery, fuelled by people’s mutual passion for music.