Album: Daniel Bjarnason, Over Light Earth
A Connection with Something Marvellous
This significant new album nods in the direction of early twentieth century composers Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Rachmaninoff. I was immediately put in mind of the animated Disney wonders The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Fantasia, those splendid films, made during one of Disney’s few brief golden ages. So It’s quite apt that the title track, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, will premiere at the Walt Disney Concert Hall this December.
Icelandic composer Bjarnason recorded the album by placing the microphones close to the soloists and creating multiple tracks, so the sound feels more intimate and full-bodied than recordings in which the orchestra is recorded at arm’s length. In his own words the title track is “a two-movement work for chamber orchestra that draws inspiration from paintings of the so-called abstract expressionists.” Rothko and Pollock, to be precise.
Bjarnason was creatively stirred by the artists’ works when visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) last year, and, to prove the common ground of the artistic experience, he based this music on his experience of the paintings in much the same way that Mussorgsky was inspired for his famous piano work Pictures at an Exhibition.
Over Light Earth is a bit of a throwback, at least in avant-garde terms; if there’s such a thing as classical avant-garde, this would be it. But it focuses on those elements of twentieth century serious music that are more bombastic and less dissonant than, say, the music of Schoenberg, whose disciples slavishly produced “difficult” (hard to enjoy) music right up until the last decade. Bjarnason is true to the best of modern serious music, incorporating classical compositional style with elements of free jazz and electronic experimentation.
Bjarnason’s song titles suggest a preoccupation with the existential dilemma (i.e. “Emergence,” and “Solitudes”) as well as outer space and spiritual ecstasy. “Dance Around in Your Skin” is a delightful, world-influenced, experimental piece: spare, minimal, and playful at first but building in tension to a defiant orchestral tour de force. (Listen for suggestions of the soundtrack from Psycho.)
You get a feeling of being connected to something huge while listening to this album. It’s the sense that you and Bjarnason are surrounded by good company — the best minds of the twentieth century — engaged in a dialogue on the meaning of art and existence. Postmodernism has much to lose when it jettisons this rich, recent past. It’s good to see it being preserved, and even better to see it being reinterpreted.
Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.