26 JANUARY 2023 (TORONTO, ON) – On its release last autumn, Víkingur Ólafsson’s most recent album, From Afar, was greeted with widespread critical and public acclaim. Its most successful track to date is the pianist’s own transcription of his compatriot Sigvaldi Kaldalóns’ Ave María, which has already been streamed over 11 million times. Now Ólafsson has made a beautiful music video for the track, filmed on the isolated island of Engey, just off the coast of Reykjavík. The video debuted Deutsche Grammophon YouTube channel at on Thursday 26 January. A complementary making-of video will be available to watch on Ólafsson’s YouTube channel from Thursday 2 February.
“It’s a song very often played at the darkest moments in our lives,
to give hope and to bring light … I’m so happy to see that the message
of this Ave María is universal”
Kaldalóns (1881-1946) was a doctor, as well as a composer, and worked in Iceland’s remote Westfjords region, even taking his name from one of the fjords. Originally written for a play based on a folk tale, his Ave María is very well-known in Iceland, but always sung in Icelandic, which is why Ólafsson was keen to transcribe what he calls its “eternally beautiful melody” and introduce it to the outside world. It was his first transcription, created in 2007 and dedicated to his now wife, Halla.
The Ave María video was shot on Engey, a tiny, uninhabited island in the bay north of Reykjavík. Complementing the theme suggested by Kaldalóns’ composition, the album title of From Afar, and the broader sense of Iceland’s long musical and linguistic isolation from the rest of the world, director Erlendur Sveinsson and cinematographer Baldvin Vernharðsson present Ólafsson alone in Engey’s natural environment. He performs Kaldalóns’ piece on an upright piano (which had to be flown in by helicopter) while in the distance we see snow-capped mountains in one direction, and the Icelandic capital in the other, including the distinctive outlines of the Hallgrímskirkja and Harpa concert hall. Together, the artist and filmmakers create a serene and magical atmosphere.
Inspired by a meeting with legendary Hungarian composer György Kurtág and the childhood memories that encounter sparked, From Afar both pays tribute to Kurtág and sees the pianist return to his musical roots. It presents two recordings of repertoire ranging from Bach to Adès – as well as works by Kurtág himself – offering listeners the two equally colourful and atmospheric soundworlds conjured by an upright piano and a Steinway concert grand.
“Throughout, the playing is thoughtful and full of poetry,
recorded in intimate sound”
BBC Music Magazine, reviewing From Afar
Widely acknowledged as one of the most critically-acclaimed and fastest-streaming classical artists of our time, Víkingur Ólafsson has already amassed over 515 million career streams. His DG albums, characterised by their unique and innovative programmes, have topped the classical charts in the US, Germany, the UK, Belgium and France.