Sigur Rós with LA Phil

Sigur Rós with LA Phil

Hiro and I have been looking forward to this show since last December, when we snagged tickets at the moment they went on sale (and even then only got the last few seats).  We scheduled our family vacation around it... we listened to Sigur Ros in the run-up to the show... and on the day-of, we rode Alphonse all the way to Disney Hall.  We were ready!

Incredibly, it lived up to all the anticipation.  The concert was fantastic.

The choral group Schola Cantorum Reykjavík opened the show and had me twitching with excitement after many of the pieces.  The beautiful voices and harmonies were saved from sappy-ness by the interesting, minor melodies.  Our favorite was Heyr þú oss himnum á by Anna Þorvaldsdóttir (pronounced Thorvaldsdottir).

(Heyr þú oss himnum á)

Next was a symphonic work called Aeriality, also by Anna Þorvaldsdóttir (who was in the audience).  The first 9 minutes feel pleasurably aimless and exploratory, then a glimpse of resolution, followed by more searching.  Hiro and I both loved it.  It felt perfect following Schola Cantorum Reykjavík.


Next was the U.S. premier of Piano Concerto #2 by Haukur Tómasson which, I'm embarassed to say, I didn't much like.  Perhaps I would have been more prepared for the dischordant melodies at a different time in the show, but I was bored, and then felt guilty for being bored.

But then... this!

(The whole concert is on Youtube thanks to LA Phil!!!)

Just listen to the first song in the video above.  Wow!  The builds are so smooth and the tones are so rich.  The sound was amazing in Disney Hall.  I was on the verge of tears the whole song.


I enjoyed all the pieces with LA Phil, but being accustomed to watching bands perform, I wanted more individual instrument features and more opportunities for individuals to shine.  I recognize this is somewhat counter the idea of an orchestra, but for me, the rich mix is made all the more striking when individuals and small groups are given moments to stand out.

After an intermission, Sigur Ros played a set of pieces by themselves.  This was the only aspect of the show that didn't make sense to me.  By the fifth or sixth song I was tired of the sweet/sad emotion of Sigur Ros' music and the limited tonal range of the three players.  While I never got tired of Jonsi's voice, at times I wished the drummer had more range, to be able to take the piece to another level.  I wanted plucked guitar to contrast the bowing.  Basically, I wanted mood changes.  Why not mix everything from the evening into a more wholistic set?  I would love to hear a few pieces by Sigur Ros, then with LA Phil, then take a break for a choral work, then just LA Phil... Using all the elements would allow for more dramatic emotional swings, and in my opinion, an even better concert.

That having been said, the little blemishes just made the challenge of the project all the more apparent.  How many performers were there?  100?!  And how many of them came from Iceland?  How many mics were required, and how long did it take to design and set up that ridiculous stage?  We feel so lucky to have seen the concert.  Thank you to all the performers and workers behind the scenes who made it happen!

Notes for sound crew

  • There were only a few moments of feedback, and that's a remarkable thing.  You audio engineers had a massive challenge in this show; micing dozens of instruments, the drumset a few feet from violins, a mix of acoustic, amplified, and recorded sources, and audience on all sides.  Stress! 
  • We sat behind the stage and I appreciated being on the backside of the big speakers, though the bass overpowered the vocals in a few instances from this standpoint.  Otherwise, the lush reverb of Sigur Ros and overall sound was great here.
  • The volume toward the end of the Sigur Ros set was too much for me (but I had earplugs so if that's what others want, it's all good!).
  • Was that pop in the 5th piece someone in Sigur Ros unplugging a live line?

Notes for lighting crew

  • I loved how you half-lit the audience through the first acts and gradually moved to total darkness for Sigur Ros.
  • I like the "light bars" and loved how you arranged them to mimic the Hall's organ.  I think the slower, etherial effects and solid colors are more effective than flashing.
  • The same goes for the projection mapping.  The video and fast-changing visuals on the ceiling and over the organ felt distracting.  Perhaps like Sigur Ros' music the lighting could attempt to use simple elements like extremely long builds and harmonic repetition with variations.  A single "mega-bulb" hanging over the stage that gradually gets fiery bright would match the epic build of the final piece.

Notes for Schola Cantorum Reykjavík

  • I loved everything but the walk-on.  Having the conductor "conduct" the entrance made it feel too staged and the shuffling and stepping onto risers feels silly.  If the conductor entered with the performers, or even last, it would feel natural... like, "this is how we do it in Reykjavik".
  • The stomping in the fourth piece doesn't work too well.  Perhaps stomp dynamics or more varied relationship to the bars would make it feel more rich.

Notes for LA Phil / Anna Þorvaldsdóttir

  • Again, Aeriality was amazing!  Searching for something to suggest... The skin-rubbing tones felt underdeveloped, with the entry and exits too sharp and overall too simple.  The ridiculously long silence after the piece was so enjoyable.  Thank you Mr. Salonen!

Notes for LA Phil / Sigur Ros

  • The recorded audio crackle on the second piece doesn't work for me in a live setting.
  • The tympany in track 4 sounds too "plasticy" to me... perhaps a fabric cover or natural-skin drum here would help.  The horn break at the end came exactly when my ears wanted that kind of break.
  • Jonsi's long note in the 8th piece was amazing but felt a little too showy, like "ta-da!"  Would it be possible to have orchestral instruments join the note once we know what's going on, and softly fade out before Jonsi ends?  That would keep the mood musical instead of performative.

Notes for self

  • Right now you're working to be a compelling "feature performer", with choreography and rhythms that impress.  This risks feeling like a juggling act.  Find the musical moments (including choreography) and make sure what you're performing is toward this end, and not to be "impressive".