I forgot to mention about the eight works on the Aton concert of Dark Music Days in Ymir concert hall on February 4 that they were all premieres. This also applies to the Icelandic works on the programme of next day’s concert in the same place (this time it was actually mentioned in the programme notes) and there was also a fair number of people in the audience, about 70 in all.

First was “Singing Forest” (wood) [8’] by Áskell Másson, for bass clarinet and a large concert marimba, which, according to the composer, is a fantasy in ABCBCA form. An interesting work in many places, either slow cantabile or in the manner of a virtuoso toccata, which indicated that Áskell had a good idea from the start about the proficiency of the musicians. It was incredible to hear how closely these seemingly different instruments could resemble each other, the bass clarinet with its reed-clicking intonation and the marimba “arco” (bowed) on the deep notes.

A change to bells and 5 Latin (single-headed) tom-toms against woodwind in Kolbeinn Einarsson (of the Aton group) about an Indigenous Spirit [7’] The work was dedicated to the composer’s American teacher Stephen Mosko (1947-2005) who, among other things, studied Icelandic folk songs; the work had an overall character of good-humoured lyricism in spite of the de rigueur modern effects. Next, the percussion player Tobias Guttman played Midaire [8’; 1972] a solo marimba piece by Ton de Leuw (1926-1996) who taught many Icelandic composers, from Gunnar Reynir Sveinsson onwards.

Guttman played this virtuoso composition from memory with a great deal of verve and superb technical command, ensuring an enthusiastic applause in return. The first half was concluded by the duo’s premiere of Brainstorm in a Glass [10’] by Gunnar Adreas Kristinsson;

 

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after a promising beginning of swinging “primordial seeds” it went on far too long with uneventful mutterings in the low register until right before the end when some progress seemed to be on the way. Unfortunately a bit too late.

Áki Ásgeirsson, who with his 355° had tested the listener’s patience and pain threshold to the limit the day before, offered a surprise from a totally different direction with 356° [6’], even though the difference was only 1 degree. Its brevity was aided by the visual factor, which consisted of two musical staves projected on a gauze screen with a computer. On the staves there appeared 5-6 whole note “cells” which the players seemed to follow (probably) in reverse since they would see them from the other side. Quite a brilliant idea – and more productive than the “improvisation machine” of the Swedish Jan Ling who controlled traffic in an orchestra with light signals in 1973 like an extended traffic light pole. The pointillist work, which increased in speed from a slow beginning, would hardly have been as satisfying without the visual element. The solo opportunity for the bass clarinet came in Spans [9’] by the Swedish-Dutch composer Klas Torstensson, written for the avant-garde virtuoso Harry Spaarnay. The work insinuated various forms of velvet terror and witchcraft in Ingólfur’s powerful interpretation and it was incredible what could be squeezed out of a classical instrument.

Finally the duo premiered in Iceland the work Opna [8’] by Atli Ingólfsson which he wrote for Spaarnay and Johan Faber in 1991. An extremely demanding but rewarding work, developing from trills and single-note tremolos into ever larger intervals with in quickly gushing phrases. This marked the end of probably the best avant garde concert of the season as far one might say, which was not the least due to the superb musicianship of the two performers.

Ríkhardur Ö. Pálsson