An artist who defies classification and disregards traditional generic boundaries, Icelandic cellist, singer and composer Hildur Guðnadóttir has earned a unique place on the contemporary music scene thanks to her virtuosity, versatility and originality.
Now based in Berlin, she is currently enjoying unprecedented international recognition for her work, having become the first female composer ever to win the Academy, Golden Globe and BAFTA awards in the same season. She has also set a new record for the highest number of awards ever received in a single season by a female composer.
Her groundbreaking score for the HBO series Chernobyl won an Emmy in September 2019, led to her being named Television Composer of the Year at the 2019 World Soundtrack Awards a month later, and went on to win the Grammy for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media, making Guðnadóttir the first solo woman ever to achieve victory in that category.
She then made more history with her haunting soundtrack for Todd Phillips’ dark psychological thriller Joker (an “unorthodox cello concerto”, The Guardian) when she became the first solo female winner of the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score (Motion Picture) since the introduction of the category in 1947. Having additionally won the Critics’ Choice, Hollywood Critics Association and BAFTA awards for Best Score, the Joker soundtrack then secured Guðnadóttir her first Academy Award, for Best Original Score, and, in March 2021, her second Grammy for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.
Guðnadóttir signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon in October 2019, and a new single, Fólk fær andlit (“People Get Faces”), was released by DG in January 2020, along with an accompanying video. This haunting song was inspired by the international refugee crisis and features the composer’s vocals. Guðnadóttir’s Chernobyl album had been released in August 2019, and she had also worked previously with the Yellow Label on recordings with the late Jóhann Jóhannsson as well as writing and recording a track for pianist Víkingur Ólafsson’s Bach Reworks album.
All four of her acclaimed avant-garde solo albums – Mount A (2006), Without Sinking (2009), Leyfðu Ljósinu (2012) and Saman (2014) – are now available under the DG imprint, as is her eleven-minute extended single Iridescence. Her earlier discography additionally includes soundtrack albums for, among others, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Mary Magdalene (with Jóhannsson) and the Icelandic TV series Trapped.
Guðnadóttir’s latest film score (a Deutsche Grammophon release) is for the 2022 movie TÁR. Directed by the Oscar-nominated Todd Field (In the Bedroom, Little Children) and starring Cate Blanchett in the title role, TÁR tells the story of a (fictitious) female composer-conductor at the height of her career.
Together with Sam Slater and field recordist Chris Watson, Guðnadóttir gave the world premiere live performance of Chernobyl in a disused factory as part of Unsound 2019 in Kraków, and the same team has since gone on to give further live presentations both on stage and at other less conventional venues, including a former crematorium. The most recent of these, a fundraising concert for Ukraine, took place at Berlin’s Kraftwerk in May 2022.
Since then Guðnadóttir’s The Fact of the Matter has received its world premiere at the BBC Proms, performed by the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Orchestra and Dalia Stasevska (July 2022). Her music also featured in the first ever Gaming Prom (August 2022), whose programme included the European concert premiere of selections from the groundbreaking soundtrack to Battlefield 2042, written in collaboration with Sam Slater.
Born in Reykjavík in 1982, Hildur Guðnadóttir grew up in a musical family and began playing cello at the age of five. She studied at the Reykjavík Music Academy, then moved on to study composition and new media at the Iceland Academy of the Arts and Berlin’s Universität der Künste.
She has written music for, among others, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, National Theatre of Iceland, Tate Modern, the British Film Institute, Royal Swedish Opera, Gothenburg National Theatre and the BBC Proms. She has also performed and recorded with artists including Hauschka, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Nico Muhly, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Valgeir Sigurdsson, Skúli Sverrisson and David Sylvian, whether as vocalist or playing cello or one of the less traditional instruments she has made her own, such as the Halldorophone (a feedback instrument) or the Ómar (a six-string electroacoustic cello/viola da gamba).
Guðnadóttir was nominated for the Nordic Council Music Prize as Composer of the Year in 2014 and for the WSA’s 2018 Discovery of the Year Award. She won Best Original Score at the 2018 Asia Pacific Screen Awards (for Mary Magdalene, shared with Jóhannsson) and Best Score at the 2018 Beijing International Film Festival for Journey’s End. In 2019, just prior to receiving her Emmy and WSA awards, she was made a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.