Arnhildur Valgarðsdóttir, who comes from Akureyri on the north coast of Iceland, is a freelance organist, choirmaster and pianist working in Reykavik. She studied at what was then the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now RCS) alongside a mutual friend of ours, Paul Medd, who works with me in the RSNO. We first met in Reykjavik in September 2016 and we’re really excited about performing together for the first time.
The centre-piece of our programme will be the sonata for viola and piano “Qaanaaq” by Adrian Vernon Fish, composed in 2000. Adrian describes his sonata as follows:
“The sonata was composed in late 1999 and early 2000 for Sarah-Jane Bradley and Jonathan Ayerst. The inspiration for the work is drawn from the immense vastnesses of the Qaanaaq area of Northwest Greenland, a municipality as large as Texas, yet sustaining a population of just 650.
Looking out from the hills behind the village of Qaanaaq, the vistas open up to Inglefield Sound, an enormous geological gash in the coastline. Numerous glaciers tumble down to the sea, and the location gives one a feeling of utter insignificance.”
It is a work brimming with melody, drama and a jaunty scherzo. I’m really excited about performing this piece live for the first time.
We will also play two works connected with Orkney, the previous stop on Nordic Viola’s journey. First of all, “Joy”, a piece for solo viola by Gemma McGregor and then Peter Maxwell Davies’ famous piece “Farewell to Stromness”. These are followed by “Spiegel im Spiegel” by Arvo Pärt. Whilst Pärt is a Baltic composer, his music is reminiscent for me of the space and stillness of the Far North.
Our final piece celebrates the heritage of Iceland, our host country on this stop. It is “Kvinnan Fróma” by Oliver Kentish. Oliver Kentish was born in London and studied the cello at The Royal Academy of Music where his teacher was Vivian Joseph. In 1977 he came to Iceland to play in the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. From 1978-1986 he taught at the Akureyri Music School and so he forms a nice link between my home country and Arnhildur’s home town! He now teaches at Nyja Tónlistarskólinn in Reykjavík and is also active as a choral and orchestral conductor. “Kvinnan Fróma” is based on an Icelandic folk melody and is a theme and variations by turn reflective, wistful and vivacious.