Feature of the Week: A Musical Dialogue


Feature of the Week: A Musical Dialogue

33-year-old composer and conductor Daníel Bjarnason recently got back from Los Angeles from the premier of an original composition commissioned by the L.A. Philharmonic, just in time to conduct La Bohème at the Icelandic Opera.

Published in the 2012 spring issue of Iceland Review – IR 01.12. By Valgerður Þóroddsdóttir. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.


Iceland Review: How does being a conductor inform what you do as a composer, and vice versa?

Daníel Bjarnason: Working as a conductor, one is very hands-on, especially with the musicians. So one has a certain connection to reality. It helps me be a bit shrewd with regard to practical things. To know what is possible and what is not. So in that respect the two are very compatible. But time-wise they do not work well together. And I find it difficult to do both at once.

IR: Would you prefer to work only as a composer?

DB: I sometimes say that if I had to choose, I would choose composing. But I hope I won’t have to choose. Recently it seems to be heading in that direction though, because there is so much to do, so many commissions for pieces. So I’ll be conducting a lot less this next year, a little bit less.

IR: What is it like to suddenly be sitting in the audience, listening to someone else conduct your work at a premier?

DB: I haven’t experienced it that often; that’s not how it’s been in the past few years. But that’s how it was in L.A., the other day. I imagine it could be frustrating, say, if you don’t agree with the conductor. But you learn things from it. You don’t have direct access to the musicians, so you see better how what you’ve written works strictly on the page.

IR: It demands that the notes speak for themselves.

DB: Yes. That they be very clear. But they can never say everything, any more than written text in a theater. It’s always going to be a question of interpretation.

IR: How important is collaboration to you in the writing process?

DB: My most recent album, Sólaris, was created entirely in collaboration [with Ben Frost]. All of the music was improvised to the film by Andrei Tarkovsky, which really steered the way. And it would have turned out completely different had the two of us been in our own corners composing and then tried to put our individual pieces together. It’s not really my music, and not really Ben’s music either. It’s somewhere in between, it’s a kind of conversation.

You can read the remainder of this article in the 2012 spring issue of Iceland Review – IR 01.12. Four times a year the print edition of Iceland Review & Atlantica brings you a wealth of articles on all aspects of life in Iceland including Páll Stefánsson's latest images of the country's majestic landscape. Click here to subscribe. Click here to browse through a selection of pages from the current issue.