From Iceland — I'm No Expert #2

I’m No Expert #2

Published December 22, 2009

I’m No Expert #2

Heyrðu mig nú (“Hear me now”) is a concert series that the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra organizes as an outreach to younger music lovers. Thankfully, I’m not a teenager anymore, but… you know… I scored free tickets. This time, on November 6, they were going to play a piece by Igor Stravinsky called The Firebird. I had never heard the piece, but Stravinsky has always interested me since I heard about how another piece of his, The Rite of Spring, caused his audience to riot when it premiered.
    “Tonight we are going to play a masterpiece for you,” espoused conductor Rumon Gamba and instantly connected with his teenage audience. Step by step, we learned about the story the piece tells, the concept of the piece, how Stravinsky liked to paint a picture using different sections of the band as colours. Then he made the band play examples to support his teachings. All in all, this was well taught and a well received lesson in classical composition. As we, the audience, were so informed about the music, we had to agree upon hearing it in it’s entirety that a masterpiece was indeed being performed
    On November 22nd, I took my newly acquired compositional knowledge to Hallgrímskirkja church to witness a world premiere of Cecilía by Áskell Másson and Thor Vilhjálmsson. This oratory is written in honour of Saint Cecilia, who died a martyr’s death in the 2nd century. She sang her praise to God while dying, and is therefore the saint of music and musicians. I was excited to witness instruments like the Stone Harp and the Water Drums. In plain English: the lyrics were wonderfully written and the music was fantastic. What stood out the most, however, was how well the church’s natural acoustics came out. This was especially evident when the choir sang a Capella. I was also impressed with compositional decisions, such as chain vocals that brought out natural delay or instrumental ideas such as Stone Harp or glasses of water. The water drum, though, wasn’t as impressive as I had hoped. I feel they could have amped it up a bit, maybe put a little echo on them, just to let them shine more. It was a nice idea that could have been better executed. This didn’t cast a shadow on the great composition and fantastic performance.

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