What a wonderful evening at the Royal Albert Hall! Ólafur Arnalds, one of the most successful artists signed by a minimalist record label – Erased Tapes – gave a memorable performance to a sold out crowd at the iconic London venue last Monday.
The concert was opened by Manu Delago, an Austrian Hang player. Ephemeral sounds of three Hangs, complemented by some subtle electronics, resulted in a perfect opening act for what we were about to experience.
Ólafur Arnalds brought with him on this tour a string quartet, a drummer, and two self-playing pianos that play sequences of notes generated by an algorithm in response to the chords played by the Icelandic musician on another piano. The algorithm also controlled some of the lights on the stage. Pretty cool! The key element in Arnalds’ music is his sparse piano playing, with long notes coming from strings and gentle electronics. This time the sonic landscape was extended by the sound cascades from self-playing pianos, and drumming, which added nice dynamic to the show. The concert was rather quiet and sometimes required the audience to stay absolutely silent and focused to be able to hear barely audible murmur elicited from the violin.
The atmosphere in the majestic Victorian auditorium was very intimate. Not only was it due to beautiful tunes played by brilliant musicians, but also Arnalds’ charming personality. The minimalist composer seemed to be flabbergasted by the legendary status of the place and humbled by the enthusiastic reception from the audience. Things got emotional when he dedicated one song to the couple in the crowd who got engaged that evening. It culminated at the end of the concert, when, after the first encore the band left the stage, Arnalds, with a trembling voice, thanked his family who flew over from Iceland to watch his performance and dedicated the very last song to his late grandma. He then sat behind one of the pianos and started playing a very quiet and moving piece ‘Lag Fyrir Ömmu’. Halfway through, he was joined by the strings played by his bandmates backstage. The sound was kind of muffled, as if it was coming from a different world.
That was a magical way to end a great concert. I had tears in my eyes. Nothing else could be played after that. Arnalds proved that evening that he deserves all the accolades he receives. He showed that he is a mature artist who is aware of every single sound coming from the stage – or even from behind it – and is not afraid of experimenting. We were presented with a lot of new material on Monday and it made me truly excited about the new album. The whole performance was probably the best thing I have heard from him so far – it was Ólafur Arnalds at his best.