Live Review: Ólafur Arnalds @ Elgin Theatre – June 24th 2018

Icelandic BAFTA-winning artist, composer, musician and producer Ólafur Arnalds returns to Toronto as part of the city’s Luminato Festival.

The festival, which runs for 19 days from June 6 to 24, is an international arts festival dedicated to “performance, media and visual arts, and programming that cuts across traditional artform boundaries.”

With Arnalds, the Luminato Festival has found an artist who easily fits into those criteria.

Fresh off his audio-visual project entitled Island Songs, Arnalds returns to the stage with All Strings Attached. With a new software (Stratus) that the artist devised, Arnalds performs with two self-playing, semi-generative player pianos, as well as a string quartet, synths, electronics and drums.

Due to the pianos’ generative nature, creating an entirely different outcome whenever they’re played, makes every live performance entirely unique.

Ticket-holders arrived early at the historic Elgin Theatre, filling the entrance hall of the century-old double-decker theatre (the last of its kind still operating) to capacity.

In ironic fashion, the unique Stratus software that ticket-holders were so eager to experience was also the cause of a delay. Once Arnalds took to the stage, the composer apologized for the delay in the evening’s programming, stating that there are “too many computers,” receiving laughter from the audience.

Arnalds wasted little time getting the audience invested and involved in the performance. Prior to playing Only the Winds, Arnalds recorded the audience singing out a C note, which was played out throughout the song while the artist performed his complex melodies overtop.

Arnalds announced that they would be performing a number of new songs, as a new album is on its way in August.

Arnalds performed the title-track of the forthcoming release, re:member, which was composed using the new software Arnalds created along with audio developer Halldór Eldjárn. The song flows from beautiful piano chords to shimmering string harmonies before reaching a thrilling electronic finale. The algorithms also helped to create the artwork for re:member.

Following a performance comprised of 13 compositions, Arnalds left the stage before being brought back by the audience’s applause. The audience was excited when Arnalds announced he would be performing 3055, “now that I have a drummer,” Arnalds stated.

Whether it is writing and performing music for his own projects, or the scores for numerous film and television projects, Arnalds’ music consistently creates an emotional response with the listener. During his live performances this is particularly true, as ticketholders leaving the theatre could be heard discussing how the performance flew by and left them wanting more.

Arnalds’ live performance further fleshes out his already layered compositions and is a must-see performance should he make a stop in your town.

Photos © Alex Lupul

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