Deutsche Grammophon is excited to announce the release of Poems, the collaborative DG debut album from Icelandic composer, conductor and producer Viktor Orri Árnason and soprano and visual artist Álfheiður Erla Guðmundsdóttir. The album’s ten exquisite tracks draw on the pair’s shared cultural heritage, setting poems by Icelandic poets past and present, as well as lyrics by Árnason and Guðmundsdóttir themselves. Poems is released today on CD, on vinyl and digitally, together with the video for “Líkaminn er þaninn fiðlustrengur”, directed by Guðmundsdóttir.
Árnason and Guðmundsdóttir found inspiration in the work of Ólöf Sigurðardóttir frá Hlöðum (1857–1933), Hulda (1881–1946), Guðfinna Jónsdóttir frá Hömrum (1899–1946), Sigurður Pálsson (1948–2017) and Arndís Lóa Magnúsdóttir (b.1994). Drawn to poetry that speaks of vulnerability and solitude, change and renewal, the beauty of the natural world, and the power of words to express our dreams and innermost selves, they also contributed one new poem each to the album.
“Like all good poetry, these lyrics can be interpreted in different ways,” says Árnason. The opening track, for example – a setting of Sigurður Pálsson’s “Rödd” (“Voice”) – could mean “noticing the inner self observing the voice that speaks within, an experience we all share and that is so central to being human”. It could equally apply to those who have struggled for recognition, such as the female Icelandic poets of the 19th and 20th centuries represented here, or their 21st-century counterpart Magnúsdóttir, whose disability means she has endured her own battles to be heard as an artist.
Her poem “Líkaminn er þaninn fiðlustrengur” comes from a collection exploring themes of isolation and self-expression. “The setting of my poem to music is something I never expected, especially since I myself have never read my own poetry aloud,” says Magnúsdóttir. “To see my text come alive through Álfheiður’s wonderful voice is simply amazing.”
Álfheiður has now also produced and directed a video for this track. Shot in a peaceful woodland setting, it features dancers Matthea Lára Pedersen and Frank Fannar Pedersen. “We were inspired by the incredible poem ‘Líkaminn er þaninn fiðlustrengur’ by Arndís Lóa Magnúsdóttir, who explores the physicality of language and the need to exist through communication,” says Guðmundsdóttir. “The poem is deeply connected to music, sound waves and neurological messages and sheds light on a body that refuses to yield control, while revealing its beauty.”
Recording Poems gave the award-winning soprano, who is a member of the ensemble at Theater Basel, the opportunity to experiment with a different way of using her voice. Used to having to fill a concert hall or opera house with her sound, Guðmundsdóttir was encouraged by Árnason to focus on a far more intimate form of expression. Viktor adds piano accompaniment to her hushed, floating vocals throughout, in the settings that emerged from their initial studio improvisations in Berlin and which he describes as “abstract but also simple and approachable”. At times he plays violin and viola as well, with some tracks featuring additional strings (members of the Reykjavík Orkestra) and/or subtle electronic elements. This minimalist style helps create the tranquil atmosphere needed for the moments of conscious reflection the artists hope to inspire in their listeners.
Some of the repertoire from Poems was presented live for the first time when Árnason and Guðmundsdóttir supported Hania Rani’s European tour at venues including Paris’s Salle Pleyel and Lucerne’s KKL this autumn. More live dates are planned for 2024.