Colorful, open and honest

Focus Víkingur Ólafsson

Víkingur Ólafsson does not shy away from musical boundaries. As an artist in the focus of the Musikverein, the Icelandic pianist can be experienced with excellent artistic partners – and with a repertoire that represents his diverse mastery.

© Julia Wesely

“Iceland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world,” says Víkingur Ólafsson about his homeland, “but the darkness in winter makes it a harsh beauty, a country where it can also be difficult to live.” He believes this is a possible reason Iceland is such a musical nation, where people sing together a lot: “Music brings warmth and light into people’s hearts when the days are only four or five hours long in December.” Iceland is a nation of singers – and increasingly also of instrumentalists, as Víkingur Ólafsson knows. He is one of them – and what a one.

Born in Reykjavík, the son of a piano teacher and a composing architect, he received his first piano lessons from his mother. Eventually, he studied at the Juilliard School in New York. In 2011, he played Grieg’s Piano Concerto with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra under Vladimir Ashkenazy at the new Harpa Concert Hall opening in his hometown. During the pandemic, he sent musical messages out into the world from the silence of this hall – projects that were streamed several million times worldwide. The artist likes to use these media possibilities, for example, under the title “Reflections”, by rethinking repertoire pieces and combining them with electronics, according to the motto “Any music played today is modern.” Streaming figures here are now in the three-digit million range, and he is thus also reaching younger generations with an affinity for media beyond his traditional classical music audience.

In 2023/24, Víkingur Ólafsson is all about Bach. He recorded the “Goldberg Variations” as the latest album under his exclusive contract with a major label and is currently playing them from Hamburg to Sydney. Bach is a recurring theme throughout his career. The pianist, who had just turned forty, had long been a star in his native Iceland when his international career took off. His first Bach recording from 2018 may have provided the final push. The “New York Times” dubbed him “Iceland’s Glenn Gould” – a comparison that the pianist indeed accepts.

Víkingur Ólafsson’s repertoire, of course, extends right up to the present day. He has premiered several piano concertos by Icelandic composers and regularly commissions works – most recently, he asked John Adams, his close friend in music and long-time artistic partner, to write a new work. This piano concerto will receive its Austrian premiere at the grand finale of Fokus Víkingur Ólafsson in May 2025 with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra under Lahav Shani.

At the beginning of his Musikverein focus, to be experienced right at the start of the season in early September, Víkingur Ólafsson plays the Schumann concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra under Franz Welser-Möst, a dream line-up for the soloist and, of course, for the audience too. “It’s a fantastic orchestra,” enthuses the pianist after their first collaboration last year, emphasising the chamber music intensity and quality of this large symphony orchestra, which comes very close to that of a chamber orchestra. “Franz Welser-Möst has led the orchestra into a hot sound world.”

The First Concerto by Johannes Brahms with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Edward Gardner completes the triad of piano concertos focusing on Víkingur Ólafsson in November. The pianist has planned an extraordinary project for October: a duo evening with Yuja Wang. The idea was born three years ago at a dinner together. The two are coming to the Musikverein with Schubert’s Fantasy for piano four hands and Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances for two pianos. “That’s the normal part,” says Víkingur Ólafsson, “and then we also have music by Ligeti, Conlon Nancarrow’s ‘Studies for Player Piano’, John Adams, Arvo Pärt and Dave Brubeck.”

Focus Víkingur Ólafsson at the Musikverein: “It will be,” he says in anticipation, “a quartet of very beautiful events: colorful, open and honest.”

Ulrike Lampert

Concerts 24/25

September 6, 2023


Großer Saal

September 6, 2023


Großer Saal

September 5, 2023


Großer Saal

    Arnold Schönberg Center, Vienna

    Colossal sounds

    © Wolf-Dieter Grabner

    Contemporary music

    © Julia Wesely

    Strong relationships

    Archive, Library and Collections of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna

    Fine and fragrant

    © Brand photography

    Conducting on the royal road

    © Julia Wesely

    Simply conduct

    © Felix Broede

    Suction effect

    © Deutsche Grammophon - Andreas Hechenberger

    With charisma and temperament

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