Ólafur Arnalds played the Moore on January 26, 2019 as part of an multi-continental tour in support of his August 2018 album re:member. The Icelandic pianist and producer combines classical, ambient, and electronic genres.
“We brought a lot of pianos,” Arnalds understated. He sat at a concert grand equipped with three other keyboards. Behind him at left and right were two player pianos that “go bleep bloop,” which created unique note sequences using software algorithms triggered by his primary piano. Accompanying Arnalds were percussionist Christian Tschuggnall, and a string quartet that included violinists Viktor Orri Árnason and Sigrún Harðardóttir, violist Karl Pestka, and cellist Johanna Niederbacher.
Arnalds led the ensemble in creating an atmospheric wall of deep bass, strings, and layered electronic arpeggios. They filled the Moore top to bottom. The lighting included beams aimed straight up, criss-crossed, and blinking, which set moods reminiscent of a thunderstorm, a starry night, and a space voyage. The audience also became an instrument, by singing one note that Arnalds recorded and then incorporated into the tune. An extended viola solo kept the audience so attentively quiet that coughs and sniffles from the upper balconies were audible near the stage.
Arnalds was unpretentious in his attire. He started the set wearing a T-shirt with an eighth-note couplet and bird-themed socks without shoes, but disappeared offstage suddenly and returned with a sweater: “That was not an intentional wardrobe change, by the way. I’m just cold.”
A good storyteller, Arnalds commented on his inspiration for each composition between tunes. One he wrote while visiting an Indonesian island, where their March new year is celebrated with a Day of Silence and an avoidance of technology: “It was one of the best days of my life, on an island with no Internet…giving Mother Nature a day off from humanity.”
Before starting the encore, Arnalds explained how his late grandmother in Reykjavik had steered him toward piano. At the time, he had been drumming in a punk-rock garage band, whose name had been chosen as a joke because they didn’t imagine becoming popular: “Three albums and two European tours later, we said, ‘Oh, f*ck. We shouldn’t have named our band Fighting Shit.’” The audience roared. He continued to say that his grandmother used to intentionally unplug her radio so he would come to fix it, which was also “a good opportunity to eat pancakes and listen to Chopin.” She purchased stacks of CDs at his shows to distribute to her friends in Mallorca—a retirement hotspot he likened to our Florida.
Arnalds sat at a player piano under a single spotlight for the encore tune, “Lag Fyrir Ömmu,” which means “Song for Grandma” in Icelandic. The tender pianissimo tribute was performed with distant strings that slowly decrescendoed into silence. The audience held its applause for an uncomfortably long time, not wanting to interrupt the moment, until Arnalds finally turned around and waved goodbye.