Ólafsson became known to millions in the UK when he broadcast live for BBC Radio 4’s Front Row over three months during the pandemic lockdown, playing in empty Harpa Hall, Reykevik, the capital of his Icelandic homeland. In those broadcasts he spoke eloquently about music and composers in much the same way he talks to an audience in a concert hall.
He has an uncanny ability to approach music afresh, making inspirational connections between diverse composers, such as Philip Glass and JS Bach, or pairing Debussy and Rameau. His exploration entitled Mozart and his Contemporaries won him several awards, including BBC Music Magazine’s Album of the Year in 2019.
He says he likes to think compositionally about everything he plays and try to understand the composer’s journey from having nothing on the page to a finished piece of music. He believes that so many things reveal themselves that way and maintains his musical collages take on the quality of a composition all of their own.
Vikingur Ólafsson excites audiences worldwide, and now he's in London. Photo: Ari Magg
His own musical upbringing began in the womb, he says. His pianist mother was five months pregnant with him when she played for her final exams in Berlin. When his parents moved back to Iceland they bought a new Steinway B piano, rather than a flat, renting a small basement apartment with a living room that just had enough room for the vast instrument.
He learnt quickly, outpacing his contemporaries in Iceland and landing a place at the Julliard in New York. Since then, he hasn't looked back.
The first five concerts of Olafsson's residency include the opening concert of the Philharmonia Orchestra's 2022/23 season at the Southbank (22 Sept, 7:30PM), Santtu-Matias Rouvali conducting. Ólafsson is the soloist in American modernist John Adams's Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? for piano & orchestra. The title of the 2019 work is taken from a saying attributed to Martin Luther. The programme opens with Anna Clyne's Masquerade, and ends with Mahler's mighty Symphony No.5.
Two days later, the pianist returns for an evening of music by another American, Philip Glass, whose driving rhythms and quietly moving melodies make compelling listening (Purcell Room, 24 Sept, 5PM and 9:30PM). Also on the programme, the world premiere of young British composer Edmund Finnis's Mirror Images.
Edward Gardner conducts the LPO on 28 Jan, when Ólafsson premieres Mark Simpson's Piano Concerto. Photo: Benjamin Ealovega
In October, Ólafsson is the guest soloist when the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal under Rafael Payare appears at the Royal Festival Hall. The piano work is Ravel's atmospheric Piano Concerto in G, and the programme ends with Shostakovich's Symphony No10 in E minor (28 Oct, 7:30PM).
Ólafsson appears as accompanist when the great German baritone Matthias Goerne gives a recital of songs by Schubert, Schumann and Brahms (9 Dec, 7PM).
Then, in the new year, he joins the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Edward Gardner for the world premiere of modern British composer Mark Simpson's Piano Concerto. Elgar's powerful Symphony No 2 completes the programme (28 Jan, 7:30PM).
This very exciting player is both inspirational for the young pianist in any family, and a thrilling interpreter of new and familiar works for regular concert-goers. Go and hear for yourself.
|What||Víkingur Ólafsson: a world-class pianist at home in London|
|Where||Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
22 Sep 22 – 28 Jan 23, Five concerts, start times vary
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|