Daníel Bjarnason is one of Iceland’s foremost musical voices today, increasingly in demand as conductor, composer and programmer. This season he takes up the title of Principal Guest Conductor with Iceland Symphony Orchestra, leading the Orchestra on tour to Munich, Salzburg and Berlin, as well as in Reykjavík. The appointment follows his tenure there as Artist in Residence. He keeps a busy composing schedule alongside his conducting commitments, with many of his works being taken up beyond their premieres and regularly programmed around the world.
As guest conductor he debuts this season with Gothenburg Symphony and Aalborg Symphony orchestras and Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife. Previous guest appearances include invitations from Los Angeles Philharmonic, Toronto Symphony, Tokyo Symphony and Turku Philharmonic orchestras and Gävle Symfoniorkester.
Bjarnason maintains a close connection with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which commissioned him to write a work for Gustavo Dudamel, Zubin Mehta and Esa-Pekka Salonen to perform together this season at its Centennial Birthday Celebration Concert and Gala, titled From Space I Saw Earth. The Orchestra is also part of a new song cycle commission by the Crash Ensemble, together with Musiekgebouw Frits Phillips Eindhoven, where Bjarnason has been Composer in Residence since 2016, and already requested from him a new concerto for piano and orchestra for a future season.
In 2017 the Los Angeles Philharmonic premiered Bjarnason’s Violin Concerto at the Hollywood Bowl, in a co-commission with Iceland Symphony for Pekka Kuusisto, while he co-curated the orchestra’s Reykjavík Festival, an eclectic and multi-disciplinary 17-day event, in which he featured as conductor and composer.
Violin Concerto became a success with audiences and orchestras and remains very popular. Kuusisto has performed it with Philharmonia Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, New York Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony and Finnish Radio Symphony orchestras. This season he plays it with Gothenburg Symphony, Swedish Radio Symphony and National Arts Center orchestras, MDR Sinfonieorchester and NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester. Bjarnason will conduct the recording of the work with Kuusisto, as part of the final instalment of a three-album recording project with Iceland Symphony for Sono Luminus focussing on Icelandic music and composers.
Since its premiere in 2017, his first opera, Brothers, for the Danish National Opera and directed by Kasper Holten, based on the Susanne Bier film of the same name, was also revived in Reykjavík by The Icelandic Opera in 2018, and opened Budapest’s 2019 Armel Opera Festival.
Future commissions include a new concerto for percussion and orchestra for Gothenburg Symphony, and recent works have been presented by Musiekgebouw Eindhoven and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, et al.
Bjarnason conducted the world premiere of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Last and First Men, a multimedia work narrated by Tilda Swinton, at the 2017 Manchester International Festival with BBC Philharmonic, and subsequently at the Barbican with the London Symphony Orchestra the following year.
A recipient of numerous accolades, in 2018 he was awarded the Optimism prize by the President of Iceland, won the 8th Harpa Nordic Film Composers Award for the feature film Under the Tree, and was nominated for the Nordic Council Music Prize. He also won Composer of the Year, Best Composer/Best Composition and Best Performer at the Icelandic Music Awards in recent years.
Bjarnason studied piano, composition and conducting in Reykjavík and pursued further studies in orchestral conducting at Hochschule für Musik Freiburg. He released several albums for the label Bedroom Community
“Bjarnason is an eloquent conductor with a bent, you might say, for [composer Bent] Sorensen’s sensitivity. It would be hard to imagine a performance as lovely of a 6‑year-old piece that seems destined for far wider exposure.”
(LA Times, February 2020)
“The most satisfying work on the program, for its tonal dimensionality and individual instrumental expression was Bjarnason’s Five Possibilities, in a superbly crafted and nuanced performance. From fast and fuzzy to spacious and luxurious, it’s a hare and hound race that eventually settles on its signature key. The composer also has the good sense to leave its audience wanting more rather than less. (…) More than half the audience had left Disney Hall by the time [the performers] took the stage. It was their loss. Qui Tollis by Bjarnason proved to be a panoramic tour de force.”
(San Francisco Classical Voice, February 2020)
“[Re.Concurrence] No praise can be too high for the outstanding musicianship of all involved in this priceless album which may well end up being my disc of the year.”
(Richard Hanlon, MusicWeb International, February 2020)
“The star performers, however, are the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, well directed by Daniel Bjarnason, whose understanding of the various styles, the underlying expressivity and sheer virtuosity of interpretation are wholly involving.”
(Re.Concurrence, Gramophone, March 2020)
“Concurrence [CD] reminds us of Daniel Bjarnason’s consummate skill as a conductor. In his capable hands, the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra triggers its own tectonic shift. This album is where to turn to hear tomorrow’s music today.”
(A Closer Listen, November 2019)
“[Re. Processions] In short, masterful.”
(Arbetarbladet, March 2019)
“The Icelanders in Gävle Concert Hall lived up to the high expectations. (…) [Re. Processions] A modern masterpiece, performed with all the required feeling and sharpness. It’s just surrendering.”
(Gefle Dagblad, March 2019)
“Collider is one of the best orchestral albums of the year, by one of the world’s finest composers.”
(acloserlisten, October 2018)
“Daníel Bjarnason (…) scored a hit with his first opera, Brothers. Unlike many first operas, this modern-day version of the return of Ulysses, based on the film Brothers by Susanne Bier, is a genuinely gripping theatrical and musical experience, and it deserves a wider staging. Bjarnason’s score is remarkable in its invention and sophistication, blending influences from Tippett to Arvo Pärt, as well as the cadences of Icelandic folk music and the staccato beats of a Reykjavik club night.”
(Opera Magazine, September 2018)
“[Processions] is a thoroughly satisfying concerto bristling with virtuoso passages for the soloist (…) as well as some very imaginative orchestration. It was elegantly conducted by Bjarnason and smartly interpreted by Olafsson. (…) It would be wonderful if the Toronto Symphony Orchestra invited back both Bjarnason and Olafsson to show off more of their considerable talents.”
(The Star, March 2018)
“…expect to hear much more of Bjarnason’s music over the years ahead.”
“…coming eerily close to defining classical music’s undefinable brave new world.”
(Time Out New York)
“[H]is colorful, restless score drew me in, with its passages of overlapping cyclic riffs, slowly heaving instrumental expanses and episodes of darting fragments, like some mystical dance.”
(New York Times)
“With fierce intelligence confirmed, Bjarnason now seems primed for a romp through the rest of the 21st century.”
(A Closer Listen)
“The program opened with Mr. Bjarnason’s “Bow to String,” a 2009 work originally written for solo cello with multilayered electronic elements. The version played here, by members of the Philharmonic with a few guest artists, is for solo cello and nine instrumentalists. The first movement is pulsing, thick and frenetic, with aggressive, Bartok-like chords, given extra punch by a thumping piano. The second movement is like a fractured, jittery dance, at once cosmic and sensual. In the slow, subdued final movement, the elegiac solo cello is comforted by hazy, plush, pungent chords.”
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