The Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA, has transformed into a sonic shrine for some of Iceland’s most talented artists, composers and bands. Last week’s performance by Sigur Rós with the LA Phil was not just an orchestral gift to the ears but a visionary piece of moving, sometimes anxiety-inducing art. Before Sigur Rós took to the stage, the night started off with a performance by Icelandic chamber choir Schola Cantorum. The world renowned group provided a downright haunting and inspiring start to the three plus hour night. World class acoustics paired with stunning talent made the entire place echo with a sound that felt old. By “old,” I mean ancient and it was that primordial quality that ushered us into another era, another place — a perfect way to begin our journey to Iceland.
Keeping in close range to Schola Cantorum’s dynamic, the LA Phil (conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen) performed a piece titled "Aequora" by María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir. Its beginning and end was connected with a string of emotional dips and turns but never strayed far from the dissonant hum that carried throughout.
Next up was James McVinnie’s take on Jón Leifs’ organ concerto. A strong departure from the previous works, the song started off with a jarring and some what heart pounding explosion of sound, and never let up. There was never really a true moment of consonance, with almost every two notes being somewhat unrelated in tone. The audience’s physical reaction to the piece was palpable with almost everyone starring on in awe as the organ’s musical power permeated every corner of the venue.
After a short intermission, Sigur Rós took to the stage accompanied by the LA Phil for the first half of their performance. While Sigur Rós’ music already feels like a cinematic feat, the addition of an orchestra acted as an enhancement to an already expansive sound. To accompany such a large musical presence, a series of jagged light installations and projections played along to the music with red and blue being standout colors throughout the night. After a second intermission, the band took to the stage alone, and besides a few technical errors, the music ran smoothly. A particularly memorably moment was when Jónsi sustained a note for an exorbitant amount of time — like is he going to pass out, is he actually singing anymore kind of long. It was one of the more impressive concert moments I’ve witnessed and proved that the veteran band’s still got it. The nighted ended with a literal bang, as all three members threw their instruments to the ground, knocked over mic stands, picked up stage lights (kind of got scared about that one) and walked off. It was unclear whether this was out of frustration, or the usual rockstar “gotta bang shit up” mentality, but either way, it made for a good end to a three night run.
The concert is part of the LA Phil’s Reykjavík Festival which includes the West Coast premiere of the Björk Digital VR exhibition from May 19 – June 4 (tickets still available) and Björk’s Walt Disney Concert Hall debut on May 30 (sold out).
Check out the highlights from Sigur Rós’ performance below: