Iceland Reveals Rich Musical Scene

By Harris, Holly | Winnipeg Free Press, November 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Iceland Reveals Rich Musical Scene


Harris, Holly, Winnipeg Free Press


Final Nordic Festival program delivers with a charismatic, gifted pianist

Think Nordic, and images of frozen glaciers and expansive vistas quickly come to mind.

But the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra also showed its audience Friday night the rainbow of colours created by its composers as it wraps up its Nordic Festival this weekend.

The weeklong extravaganza celebrating music and culture from Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden has been in full swing since last weekend's Masterworks concert. A variety of events showcasing this city's rich arts organizations have been presented each night, including concerts, film and a lively roundtable discussion.

The final program led by Alexander Mickelthwate, Vkingur Plays Grieg: Nordic Festival Finale featured rising star Icelandic pianist Vkingur ìlafsson marking his local debut with Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16.

The Reykjavk-based musician is one of those artists who instantly command attention by sheer charisma alone, completely at home in his own skin even before tickling a single ivory. He is known for inaugurating his hometown Reykjavk's Harpa concert hall that opened in May 2011, sharing the stage with renowned Russian-born conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy. However the Juilliard graduate also proved he possesses a poet's soul, underscored by a sense of artful showmanship always a pleasure to watch.

After the famous timpani-roll introduction, ìlafsson immediately attacked his opening flourish that cracks like sea ice in an Arctic fjord. His thundering to the bottom of the keyboard during the Allegro molto moderato also provided the first taste of his bravura. He paced his delivery -- always held back just slightly -- until seeming to unleash new reservoirs of power during his breathtaking cadenza.

He also displayed melting lyricism during the Adagio. Runs rippled like babbling brooks; luminous single notes in the section's theme rang like bells. The finale Allegro moderato with its ebullient folk-song-inspired theme was executed with rhythmic vitality, with only a few stray notes falling between the cracks of the orchestra's accompaniment. …

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