Wednesday, September 08, 2010
Atli Heimir, National Museum, First Choir Practice
As if to combat the frustration of a couple days' prior, today was wonderful. I called a composer I had long-since admired, and he invited me to his house for breakfast! Atli Heimir Sveinsson is a well-known (and loved) Icelandic composer with an outstanding record in meeting other famous composers (see the wiki page for the star-studded list). He also writes some kick-ass music that can turn on a stylistic dime in an instant, from neo-romantic to brash noise textures, from lilting folk-tune to rock-and roll. I heard his 'Symphony Number 2' in 2006, and it has stayed with me ever since. He's currently working on Symphony #7, though funny enough, Symphony #5 never got a premier as he was making edits to the piece. In any case, he's still writing some amazing works including lieder in English, Icelandic, and German, and has several albums out. We discussed my plans in Iceland, and he gave me some gems of ideas to think about which might inspire music compositions (Surtsey being one of them). He shared some of his own stories of compositions and composers past, including going to Germany to meet Stockhausen, and then realizing there was another (mostly forgotten) composer who wrote like Stockhausen but 'did it better'. But then Atli ended up studying piano and counterpoint and history first instead, so his time to be an avant-garde musician took a short rest.
He and his wife also talked about a change in the way of thinking for Icelanders after the financial crash; they seem to notice that people are less obsessed with money now, and if someone does have money, you wonder where the hell they got it 'cause nobody else doth hef it. Also, there may be more of a focus on more important things, or a growing interest in things like social events (knitting, music, travelling) and self-improvement, rather than just Keeping Up with the Jóneses, or who has the latest and greatest flat-screen TV or their third car in the driveway.
Also, breakfast included herring on buttered bread. Among lots of other things. But scratch 'herring' off the list of fish I haven't eaten yet.
I took a short walk from breakfast to the National Museum of Iceland, which had their free admission day today. This museum is the best one I've seen here! The exhibits are huge and it would be well worth the normal admission price. On one floor alone they have amazing artifacts from Viking age, early soil samples, early Christianity artifacts, Black Death talismans, sailboats, a reconstructed house, an exhibit on Beards and Beardgrooming (omgfinally!!), a good photography exhibit, and a reading room. On another floor is a special exhibit sort of based around an archaeological dig of one area, and the displays were really beautifully produced with purple walls. There are also children's activities and playthings integrated into the museum, which makes it a good place for families even though a lot of the exhibits are really geared for adults and very stylishly designed. The third floor has a more chronological feel, with artifacts from Iceland from the 16th century to the present, including some amazing contemporary groupings of toys and household items through the 20th-century.
To end the day, I went to my first choir rehearsal. Yes, that's right, I joined a choir in Iceland and the rehearsals are only in Icelandic. Luckily, the music is mostly Latin, and 'piano' and 'fortissimo' I can definitely understand. The group seems very social so I'm hoping it gets me to know a few more people, and the church has a beautiful piano and even a harmonium! I hope to get to play them sometime soon. While I don't really understand much of what people are saying in rehearsals, I can usually glean a lot out of body language, and I'm very good at picking out if a measure or page number has been called, so I can come in on cue. Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh it is also not, so I can help the basses out a little bit too. So their win for my bassi range is also my win for more Icelandic immersion. Sorry I can't laugh at your jokes yet, though. I'm sure it was funny, and I think it involved something about coffee.