Sunday, July 12, 2020

Vikingur Olafsson: News from the Icelandic star pianist

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I.Perhaps the most beautiful music video of the year, a pianist sits in a hyggelous living room on the grand piano. It’s winter outside. He is wearing a brown shirt and blue glasses.

Polyhymnia, the ninth muse, that of rhetoric, usually finds its way into “Les Boréades” to the music he plays. This is the last opera by the only French baroque composer who could take on Bach, who was probably even overwhelmed with narrative madness of timbre. Jean-Philippe Rameau.

Vikingur Olafsson plays Rameau’s “Les Boréades”

The music is gentle. Blows through your head evenly melancholy. The pianist in the living room is Vikingur Olafsson. He is, so to speak, the hipster counterpart to Igor Levit and Daniil Trifonov.

Bach in the fish factory

Once he played – in the most beautiful video of the past year – in a fish factory in Bach. The cinematic short story in which he did this (it was Alexander Siloti’s adaptation of Bach’s E minor prelude from the “Well-Tempered Clavier”) was of great caurismaism.

Vikingur Olafsson plays Bach

Now, while he is playing upstairs in the living room, you see three people opening the treasuries of their cellars. One has a collection of grinning toy robots. One a gigantic library. One soldered and loved pinball machines. When Vikingur ended with Rameau, you can see them smiling, beautiful and proud.

Of course, this has nothing to do with Rameau. With what Vikingur Olafsson did before he sat in the living room. At some point, Olafsson, waiting for the birth of his son, noticed that Rameau was played far too little.

Pianist’s playlist

Which of course is true – despite the Rameau advertising campaigns by Grigori Sokolow, Simon Rattle and Teodor Currentzis, despite Tzimon Barto’s suspiciously perfect piano album “A Basket of Wild Strawberries”. So he went deep into the treasure trove of the Ramavese complete work for Clavecin.

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Olafsson heard, played, edited (among other things, just the “Boréades” entree by Polyhymnia) Rameau for modern piano. And then he established a musical dialogue between Rameau and the composer who, like all French composers, was significantly influenced by him, but was even more equal in terms of sound color madness than Hector Berlioz and finally broke the boundaries of narrative sound color madness: Claude Debussy.

Olafsson spent months putting together his Rameau Debussy playlist (as such he really wants his classic concept album to be understood). It was about stories, colors, harmonies, overcoming times and musical history spaces.

About smooth transitions over two centuries. The mirroring of the impossible communication with which Olafsson opens his imaginary symphony in 28 short stories – this takes place in the overture to Debussy’s cantata “La Damoiselles élue” and tells of the conversation between a grieving man and his beautiful lady in heaven.

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The Icelandic Vikingur Olaffson

Olafsson, who says that he is synaesthetic and can therefore hear colors, is one of the finest touch color mixers today. It can also be a curse. When everything becomes equally beautiful. When everything flows.

Eliminates neoclassical

When – as here – times, spaces, sounds blur so much that for an hour and a half it seems as if Debussy and Rameau have retired to a hygienic living room with tea and cinnamon buns, it’s winter outside, it’s inside pleasantly warm.

Olafsson, who avoids all pathos, every excitement of music like the devil uses holy water, makes them treat each other very morally, does not try to scare them with too violent bizarre acts, let alone – even worse – each other in a competition for the most extravagant sound speech to surpass.

Sometimes it takes a while to know which century you are in. Passes by. In its exquisite wallpaper, it completely eliminates the neoclassical style largely invented by Deutsche Grammophon.

However, if you want to know which musical pandemonium, which cabinets of curiosities are actually found in the basement of Jean-Philippe Rameau, there is still nothing left but the purchase of Tzimon Barto’s wild strawberry basket.

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