Sometimes music speaks to my heart more clearly than words

Ólafur Arnalds – Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg; October 5th, 2018

This past spring when Ólafur Arnalds played a few concerts in Grmany on his tour, my friend I. said “I was hoping he’d play at Elbphilharmonie”. Therefore, when the concert for October was announced we got tickets right away. Me, despite the fact that I had originally planned to see BAP that night. I. ended up seeing a different concert instead, but I was much looking forward to this for many months. Finally I got to see the mighty Elbphilharmonie and hear Ólafur Arnalds’ new work. The venue was awe inducing and the music… let’s just say it was the first time one of his concerts made me cry. After 90 minutes of thoroughly beautiful music, I left the venue with a happy sigh, content I’d had the chance to be there.

Hamburg remains one of my favorite cities, even though I moved away 15 years ago and it still sometimes feels like coming home when I get there. As usual my train was late and as usual I had planned for it so I arrived pretty relaxed with enough time to check in to my nice hostel, relax, change and walk to Elbphilharmonie. The sun was just setting as I had my first look upon the venue I’d heard so much about and it was very impressive. Somehow it reminded me of Harpa in Reykjavik, even though it is quite different. I took a moment to look at it before I walked in and I took a little time to stand on the balcony and look out over the harbor before finding the right entrance to the concert.

They did not let us in until about five minutes to eight. The concert took place in the big hall so I was surprised that it seemed rather small. It looked impressive and it is pretty high, but somehow I had expected something huge and it wasn’t. Then again, I am terrible at guessing crowds and have no clue how many people fit in there. A few thousand maybe? Counting was impossible for sure. I settled into my seat, took in the amazing view and smiled. I had a really good feeling about this.

We could watch as the string players brought out their instruments and disappeared backstage again. Unnur was on cello, Karl on viola, Victor played violin and I knew the other violin player too. Only the drummer was unfamiliar to me. At around 8:15 pm the lights finally went down. Suddenly, many people started coughing, which lead to laughter by others. They all stopped quickly though and when Ólafur and the band walked out, once we had stopped clapping, there was silence.

From the very first notes played on the piano the music took a hold of me and carried me away. It was so beautiful, I was completely mesmerized and already with the intro I was crying. I like his music and I enjoyed the other two concerts I saw, but it had never before moved me this much. Maybe it was the unique atmosphere of the room or maybe I was in an especially vulnerable state that night. It doesn’t matter why, all that matters is that I really felt the music this time around and I loved it so much, I find it hard to describe the way it made me feel. <3

He asked as if we could sing as he liked to sample our singing for his songs. Many in the rood denied, but we tried anyway, after he assured us he had a backup recording just in case and it sounded surprisingly good. “I knew you could do this, give yourself a big hand”. We did and our collective singing was beautifully incorporated into the music. I had no idea which albums the songs were from. Some seemed familiar, some did not, but recognizing the songs was not the goal here. I just wanted to be filled with the sounds in the room and let my thoughts run free, allow the music to speak to me on levels my conscious mind fails to understand.

At first it was only the piano and the strings, but eventually the drummer joined and stayed for a few songs. They were all playing really well. I loved how the music blended together and how well the drums fir in with the classical instruments. It all worked perfectly well. After a few songs, Ólafur explained about discovering a self playing piano in a hotel in Asia somewhere while he was traveling. It was playing John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ and he concluded that was not the best use for such a piano. I clearly remember the look on Karl’s face at that moment. 😀 Anyway, he told us how he could not play the piano at the time because his hand was hurt, so he bought six of those pianos and spent two years with a programmer on getting them ready for his concerts. He showed us how he could just press a few buttons on a board and they would play.

‘Unfold’ from his new album ‘re:member’ was the song that followed and the title made me smile, because it made me think of that other song called ‘Unfold’. There were many times during the night when I just sighed happily and a few more that I cried. We got to hear songs from the current album, from ‘Island Songs’,  the Broadchurch soundtrack and ‘Living Room Songs’ according to the guy at the merch stand. I have no idea, but I take his word for it. What I do know is that I did not want the concert to end and that I felt blessed for having the opportunity to be there.

They played for about an hour and a half in total and I rarely took my eyes off the stage. They had beautiful lighting to support the music and it created a special atmosphere in the room. Sadly, not everyone seemed as enthralled as I was and I actually saw a few people walk out during the concert. It surprised me, but I guess it was not for everyone. At least they all tried to be very quiet. In the end they turned on the lights and Òlafur turned to each side to take a bow and thank us. We clapped for him to come out again and he did, with everyone else staying backstage.

The encore came with a story about his grandmother who played Chopin to him and always supported his music so he wrote a song for her that he thought fitting to play last. It was lovely and eventually I realized that it was not only him on the piano, but there was the sound of strings coming from backstage. The door was open and I saw all the string players walk in a circle, playing their instruments. It made me smile to get this view. When it was over I got up for standing ovations like many others in the room. The whole concert had been amazing and I felt deeply grateful for it.

Afterwards, in the queue to the toilet of all places I met C., who recognized me from pictures she had seen. We got talking and together with her and her colleague M. we went out for a drink. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful night. 🙂

Setlist

Intro
Árbakkinn
brot
Only the Winds
re:member
Unfold
Beth’s Theme
Verses
saman
Dalur
3326
Ypsilon
Undir
Ekki Hugsa
Nyepi
Doria
Near Light

Encore:
Lag fyrir ömmu

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