For his new Deutsche Grammophon album, Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson explores the wellspring of Johann Sebastian Bach’s keyboard music, delivering experimental, innovative and timeless performances

Víkingur Ólafsson is a musical free spirit with a mission. He first made the classical world sit up and listen in early 2017 with his recording of solo piano works by Philip Glass – a fascinating journey through the time and space of their minimalist structures. Glass is now followed by Bach. Set for release in September, Ólafsson’s second Deutsche Grammophon album, the pithily entitled Bach, contains a mixture of original works and transcriptions, which the pianist has woven together in intriguing style.

“It would all mean nothing without Bach,” says Ólafsson. “If Glass’s music is minimal, then Bach’s is maximal!” Having studied his music intensively, he here casts new light on some of the composer’s many different faces. Excerpts from the Well-Tempered Clavier such as the Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 855 or contrapuntal gems such as the Sinfonia No. 15 in B minor, BWV 801 showcase him as, in Ólafsson’s words, “the master of the short story”, while the larger-scale but playful Aria variata, BWV 989 forms the structural heart of the album. The original works are juxtaposed with colourful contributions from other composers, including Rachmaninov’s arrangement of the Gavotte from the Partita No. 3 for Violin in E major, BWV 1006; Busoni’s transcription of the chorale “Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ”; and Ólafsson’s own mesmerising transcription of the first aria from the solo cantata for alto “Widerstehe doch der Sünde”. As his Glass album demonstrated, the pianist is an intelligent and innovative sculptor of sound, an artist who defies conventional categorisation and is redefining classical music. On Bach, the 34-year-old’s lean but immensely expressive playing captivates listeners, his eloquence and the sensuous delight he takes in experimentation holding them spellbound.

The infinitely inspirational power of Bach’s music will be heard again on Ólafsson’s next recording. Scheduled for release on Deutsche Grammophon in late 2018/early 2019, the album will bring together atmospheric reworkings of music by composers such as Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Ben Frost, Peter Gregson and Valgeir Sigurđsson – reimaginings that artfully defragment the creations of Bach. It will also feature a moving and intimate new work Ólafsson has written in memory of his late friend and colleague Jóhann Jóhannsson.

“Everything is there in Johann Sebastian’s music: architectural perfection and profound emotion,” says Ólafsson. In his hands, the universe that is Bach shines with new light.


Featuring a selection of Philip Glass’s Piano Etudes, the Icelandic pianist’s debut DG album will be released in time to mark the composer’s 80th birthday in January

Berlin, November 2016. Deutsche Grammophon is delighted to announce the signing of an exclusive agreement with Víkingur Ólafsson and looks forward to collaborating with the  Icelandic pianist on a range of innovative recording projects.

Ólafsson has recently finished making his first album for the yellow label at Reykjavík’s iconic Harpa concert hall. Christian Badzura, Executive Producer, Deutsche Grammophon Artists & Repertoire, says, “Víkingur is an exceptional pianist and curator. His performance, choices of repertoire and visions for recorded sound are a fresh breeze in the classical music world. Be it Scarlatti, Rameau, Bach or Glass, Víkingur’s interpretations sound timeless.”

Described by The New York Times as a “splendid pianist” and by Piano News as an “immense talent”, Ólafsson is much sought-after by international conductors, orchestras and artists as both a chamber and concert musician. Now 32, he graduated in 2008 from The Juilliard School, where he studied with Robert McDonald, and has since released three albums on Dirrindí, the label he set up in 2009. Last year he contributed two solo piano pieces and the Valse des fleurs for piano four hands to Deutsche Grammophon’s 30-CD Stravinsky Complete Edition. Ólafsson is also Artistic Director of the annual Reykjavík Midsummer Music festival, which he founded in 2012, and last year took over from Martin Fröst as curator of Sweden’s Vinterfest.

L-R: Clemens Trautmann (President Deutsche Grammophon), Ute Fesquet (Vice President A & R Deutsche Grammophon), Víkingur Ólafsson, Christian Badzura (Executive Producer Deutsche Grammophon)
© Stefan Hoederath / DG

“Víkingur is already very well-known in his native Iceland, where he’s been named ‘Musician of the Year’ four times. He brings a new Nordic sensibility to the classical repertoire, making him an exceedingly good choice as artistic director and curator of major music festivals”, notes Dr Clemens Trautmann, President of Deutsche Grammophon. “At DG, we’ve known for a while that Iceland is a hot-spring of top-notch musical creativity and Víkingur is one of its leading figures. Now we look forward to bringing his immense musical talent in classical as well as new repertoire to the attention of a worldwide audience.”

Ólafsson has commissioned and premiered, to date, five new piano concertos from different young composers, and has collaborated on diverse musical projects with a broad range of artists and musicians. These include conductors Vladimir Ashkenazy and Rafael Payare, as well as his compatriot Björk and composers Mark Simpson and Philip Glass.

The latter is the sole focus of Ólafsson’s latest recording project. Philip Glass: Piano Works will be released by Deutsche Grammophon in late January to coincide with the composer’s 80th birthday. The pianist’s fascination with reinterpreting the Piano Etudes grew as he toured and performed the works with Glass himself. “On the surface, they seem to be filled with repetitions. But the more one plays and thinks about them, the more their narratives seem to travel along in a spiral,” he explains. “My approach to each of the etudes is to enable the listener to create his or her own personal space of reflection. A partnership with Deutsche Grammophon, home of so many legendary pianists, will ensure my music reaches the ears of many more of those listeners. So of course I am honoured and excited to join DG.”

Víkingur Ólafsson’s upcoming season includes performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Esa-Pekka Salonen, a concert series with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra under Yan Pascal Tortelier, and his solo recital debuts at Vienna’s Konzerthaus and Hamburg’s newly inaugurated Elbphilharmonie.