From Iceland — Track By Track: Occurrence - Iceland Symphony Orchestra Project, Vol. 3

Track By Track: Occurrence – Iceland Symphony Orchestra Project, Vol. 3

Published February 15, 2021

Track By Track: Occurrence – Iceland Symphony Orchestra Project, Vol. 3
Hannah Jane Cohen
Photo by
Iceland Symphony Orchestra

The finale in the trio of albums from the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in collaboration with Sono Luminus, ‘Occurrence’ presents works by five contemporary Icelandic composers: Daníel Bjarnason, Veronique Vaka, Haukur Tómasson, Þuríður Jónsdóttir and Magnús Blöndal Jóhannsson. The effort follows the Iceland Symphony Orchestra’s 2019’s ‘Concurrence’—which is currently nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Orchestra Performance Category— and 2017’s ‘Recurrence’ in showcasing the brightest of Icelandic composition.

We sat down with the album’s conductor and aforementioned composer of one of its tracks, Daníel Bjarnason, to talk about how he approached bringing each song to life.

Violin Concerto

Composed by Daníel Bjarnason and featuring violin soloist Pekka Kuusisto
I wrote this concerto for my friend, violinist Pekka Kuusisto, who I have known for many years and always wanted to do something with. It was actually supposed to be premiered at the Reykjavík Festival in LA in April 2017, but it was postponed because I was finishing my opera ‘Brothers’, which was taking up all my time and energy. Coming out of that and into this was kind of a relief. It was fun to go into a piece that was completely different from the opera—lighthearted and playful. The piece focuses on Pekka as a narrator and protagonist. I see him as a somewhat devilish figure seducing the orchestra and leading it on, even astray. He gets to play around a lot and improvise in this piece, which he does wonderfully, so in the end, it’s really a celebration of Pekka.


Composed by Veronique Vaka
I’ve known Veronique for a few years and have become well-acquainted with her process and how she writes, structures and maps out her pieces visually before she starts composing. She’s interested in topography and often uses landscape as an inspiration, so getting into that mindset helped me approach this piece. It’s slow-moving but there’s a lot of detail involved. The challenge of conducting this work was bringing out the topography but also making sure that the details come alive as well.

In Seventh Heaven

Composed by Haukur Tómasson
Vibrant and rhythmic like most of Haukur’s music, this piece is also very bright and energetic. It’s a playful, celebratory work made for the opening of Harpa. I’ve conducted a lot of Haukur’s music and it’s always really challenging for the orchestra, but at the same time rewarding to play. I think this piece is a good snapshot or showcase of what Haukur can do with an orchestra in seven minutes.


Composed by Þuríður Jónsdóttir and featuring flute soloist Mario Caroli
“Flutter” is unique. It has the flute as the main voice and it’s a tricky piece for the flutist. Working with Mario was really amazing, as he had done the piece before and knew it well, so he brought an authority into the performance and, by extension, the recording session, which was wonderful. It’s a little bit similar to Veronique’s piece as it has a lot of detail, but you need to be able to zoom out and see the larger picture as well. As a conductor, it’s about bringing out these wonderful colours and textures in the orchestra and making space for Mario to do his thing.


Composed by Magnús Blöndal Jóhannsson
We decided to end the trilogy with this adagio, even though Magnús Blöndal Jóhannsson is slightly outside the category of most of the composers on these three albums. He’s from an older generation, but we just felt it would be so good to have a new recording of this piece. Magnús was one of the pioneers of modernism in Icelandic music and had a troubled life and career as a composer. This is a nod to him and the composers of his generation who paved the way for my generation and the generations before and after mine that are making the music we’ve been recording for these albums.

Pick up ‘Occurrence’ by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra at the Grapevine store here. You can also pick up ‘Concurrence’ by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra there too

Note: Due to the effect the Coronavirus is having on tourism in Iceland, it’s become increasingly difficult for the Grapevine to survive. If you enjoy our content and want to help the Grapevine’s journalists do things like eat and pay rent, please consider joining our High Five Club.

You can also check out our shop, loaded with books, apparel and other cool merch, that you can buy and have delivered right to your door.

Support The Reykjavík Grapevine!
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!

Show Me More!