In the course of his short life, Icelandic composer Jóhan Jóhannsson managed to leave a visible trace in the dozens of different genres, many of which are hard to reconcile with each other. He became a real star of the neo-classical genre after writing the soundtracks to several movies directed by Denis Villeneuve (including Sicario and Oscar-winning Arrival) and the original score to Stephen Hawking’s biopic The Theory of Everything that brought him a Golden Globe.
But movie soundtracks account for less than a quarter of Jóhannsson’s creative oeuvre: he had performed with a number of different bands, founded the Apparat Organ Quartet whose music can best be described with references to Krautrock, teamed up with two influential contemporary music ensembles to perform his Drone Mass at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, collaborated with such different musicians as Marc Almond and Finnish electronica experimentalists Pan Sonic (and everyone in between), and managed to release nine solo albums (with more coming out). No wonder, then, that Jóhannsson is considered one of Iceland’s principal musicians along with Bjork, Sigur Rós, Ólafur Arnalds, as well as a very important representative of the global neo-classical scene. His works have been and continue to be performed at the world’s largest concert venues (from London’s Barbican to the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles) as often as the works of other stellar neo-classical musicians such as Ludovico Einaudi, Nils Frahm, and Max Richter.
Jóhannsson learned to play the trombone and piano from age 11. His childhood was also accompanied by the sounds of the synthesizer: his father, who was a computer engineer, tried to compose electronic music and recorded a lot of musical sketches (some of them can be heard on Jóhannsson’s album IMB 1401, A User’s Manual). For a while, the future composer left music behind and went to study foreign languages and literature at the University of Iceland. This background undoubtedly had a great influence on his thinking. On the one hand, Jóhannsson was a professionally educated musician with broad-based knowledge. On the other, he was an artist who knew how to express himself clearly and succinctly, without the fear of occasionally sounding sentimental or highbrow. This is why his work is valued both by the fans of sensual dramatic music and by the exacting critics from the authoritative music portal Pitchfork.
Jóhannsson’s performance history in Russia will begin with a concert at the Zaryadye Concert Hall – and it’s a rare occasion when new music comes to the country on such a grand scale. The concert will be curated by Larus Johannesson who was a close friend of the composer, and who now heads the Jóhan Jóhannsson Foundation. This organization promotes Jóhannsson’s music all around the world, organizing composer workshops and lectures, and each year stages a gala concert with performances of contemporary composers’ work.
Well-known Icelandic musicians who collaborated with Jóhannsson often will come to Moscow for the first ever Russian concert of composer’s works. They are the violinist Una Sveinbjarnardóttir who recorded with Bjork and performed with Ensemble Modern, the five-time Icelandic Music Awards winner and multi-instrumentalist Skúli Sverrisson, as well as the pianist and percussionist Olafur Bjorn Olafsson who has recently collaborated with the frontman of Sigur Rós and composer and celloist Hildur Guðnadóttir. They will be joined by Russian experts on contemporary sound, the Studio for New Music ensemble headed by Stanislav Malyshev.
The performers will also be joined by the well-known Russian neoclassical composers Kirill Richter and Misha Mishenko, themselves admirers of Jóhannsson’s music. They will perform selected works of the Icelandic composer.
The concert program will include Jóhannsson’s music that was never meant for the big screen. The curator selected the pieces from the vast array of genres and styles: dramatic neoclassical, minimalism and post-minimalism, ambient, drone, bold post-rock, and even non-radical noise music – and these are just the main nodes of the composer’s sprawling discography. There will be some sure hits from Jóhannsson’s original score legacy: the dreamy melodies from Hawking’s biopic, the music of chilly sadness from the Prisoners, and the glossy black, somber and unnerving music from Sicario, which should be played for anyone who considers Jóhannsson unduly sentimental.
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