Cellist Sigurgeir Agnarsson performs works by Hafliði Hallgrimsson and Hugi Guðmundsson, including a premiere of a new piece, Solitaire II, by Hafliði written for Sigurgeir.
Hafliði Hallgrímsson: Solitaire op.1 (1970/1991)
1. Oration - Largo
2. Serenade - Andante
3. Nocturne - Larghetto
4. Dirge - Largo
5. Jig - Allegro
Hugi Guðmundsson: Alluvium (2015)
Hugi Guðmundsson: Veris (2020)
Halfiði Hallgrímsson: Solitaire II op. 58 (1974/2020-2021) - world premiere
1. Lamento - Largo
2. Circum - Allegro
3. Intersessio - Largo
4. Perpetuum Mobile - Allegro
Sigurgeir Agnarsson was appointed the principal cellist of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in 2017, having previously served as its assistant principal cellist from 2003. Agnarsson has enjoyed a wide and diversified career as a performer, teacher, and organizer of various music events.
Agnarsson has appeared as a soloist on numerous occasions with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. He has played as a soloist with the Chamber Orchestra of Reykjavík, the Reykjavík Wind Orchestra, and the Bochumer Symhoniker. He has appeared at various music festivals, both in Iceland and abroad. In 2014 he was nominated as the Performer of the Year at the Iceland Music Award shared with pianist Anna Guðný Guðmundsdóttir, for their complete Beethoven cyclus.
Agnarsson has taught at the Reykjavík College of Music, was the Artistic Director of the Reykholt Chamber Music Festival (2013-2020), one of Iceland's oldest and most established summer festivals, continues to teach at Menntaskóli í tónlist, a role he commenced in 2003, and is one of the founders, and a current serving board member of the Harpa International Music Academy.
About the composers
One of the most important figures in this flowering of Icelandic music is Hafliði Hallgrímsson, born in 1941 in the small town of Akureyri on the north coast of Iceland. He began playing the cello at the age of ten and studied in Reykjavik, and at the Accademia Santa Cecilia in Rome. On returning from Rome, he continued his studies in London with Derek Simpson at the Royal Academy of Music and was awarded the coveted Madame Suggia Prize in 1966. The following year he began compositional studies with Dr Alan Bush and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. On leaving the Academy, he remained in Britain, eventually making his home in Scotland after his appointment as Principal Cellist with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
Despite his success as a performer, the urge to compose became stronger and in 1983 Hallgrímsson left his post with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra to devote himself to composition full-time. His catalogue includes instrumental, chamber, and orchestral works. He achieved international recognition for the highly successful Poemi for solo violin and string orchestra which was awarded the prestigious Nordic Council Prize in 1986 following winning second prize at the 1985 International Wieniawski Competition, and the Icelandic Dagbladid Visir Cultural Prize.
Poemi turned out to be the first in a series of works for solo instrument and string orchestra; it was followed by Ríma (1993) for soprano and string orchestra, commissioned by the Olympics committee for the opening of the 1994 Winter Olympics and premiered by the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, and Herma (1994-5), a concerto for cello and string orchestra for William Conway and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. The last in the series was the viola concerto Ombra (1999), commissioned by the Icelandic Broadcasting Corporation and premiered in Scotland by Lars Anders Tomter and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Mikko Franck in October 1999.
Although he admits to some major influences, Hallgrímsson’s musical style is entirely original, showing a sensitivity to line and colour, shape and texture, not surprising from a composer who in 1969 performed one of his earliest compositions, Solitaire for solo cello, surrounded by an exhibition of his own drawings and paintings. Such involvement with the visual arts remains a key influence on Hallgrímsson´s musical style and in 1996 he was commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra to write Still Life, in conjunction with a specially commissioned painting by Craigie Aitchison. Aitchison's work is also an influence behind Hallgrimsson’s Symphony No.1 (Crucifixion) (1997), commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as part of the Maxwell Davies Millennium Programme of commissions.
At this time, a commission from the Northlands Festival in Scotland demonstrated Hallgrímsson’s growing interest in musical theatre. Mini-Stories (1997) for narrator and ensemble set translated texts by the Russian absurdist Daniil Kharms. Its deft evocation of a unique world of humour, nonsense and melancholy has been widely acclaimed by audiences and critics, and since its premiere the piece has been taken up by several ensembles.
In 2003 Hallgrímsson turned to Kharms’s texts once more in the absurdist opera Die Wält der Zwischenfälle, co-commissioned by the Lubeck Theatre and NetzZeit in Vienna. The opera was acclaimed as a great success in Germany as well in Iceland, where it received a concert performance in 2007. In that same year, Hallgrímsson finally produced a long-awaited Cello Concerto, commissioned jointly by the Oslo Philharmonic, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra for cellist Truls Mørk, who has since championed the work in a number of performances across Europe. Two years later, he produced his largest chamber work to date, Notes from a Diary (2005) for viola and piano, an intensely moving evocation of the feeling of standing outside Anne Frank’s former house in Amsterdam.
Recent years have seen an ever-increasing amount of interest in Hallgrímsson’s music, with a number of significant performances, and the release of a number of portrait CDs featuring his choral music, orchestral music, chamber works, and keyboard music. In 2008 the Iceland Symphony Orchestra announced Hallgrímsson as their composer in residence, a three-year association that encompassed performances, new commissions, and a premiere recording of his 1st Symphony.
Hugi Guðmundsson was born in 1977 in Reykjavik, Iceland. He is one of the most prominent names in Icelandic contemporary music of his generation. He studied classical guitar from an early age but his real inspiration in those years came from playing the electric guitar in bands. Although he was never interested in playing traditional rock ‘n’ roll in cover bands, it was the heaviest death metal that inspired the most. Although it may seem a long way from the music he composes now, Guðmundsson has pointed out that the freedom of form, tonality and rhythm that is so prominent in death metal is in fact much closer to contemporary classical music than traditional pop or rock. So perhaps it is not such a strange path to take after all.
While Guðmundsson completed his guitar studies, his mind was always set on composition rather than performance. He finished a BMus in Composition from Reykjavik Collage of Music in 2001 where he studied with Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson and Úlfar Ingi Haraldsson. He then moved to Denmark to study with Niels Rosing-Schow, Bent Sørensen and Hans Abrahamsen at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen completing a Masters degree in 2005. Following this, he completed a second Masters degree in electronic and computer music from the Sonology Institute in The Hague, The Netherlands, in 2007. He moved back to Denmark in 2007 with his long term girlfriend and now wife, baroque cellist and Viola da Gamba player Hanna Loftsdóttir. They have two daughters, born in 2008 and 2013.
Guðmundsson´s music ranges from solo works to orchestral pieces. He is very well known for his choral music which has become a part of the standard repertoire of many Icelandic choirs. But in recent years, bigger works have become an increasing part of his output; concertos, orchestral works and last but not least, opera. His critically acclaimed and award winning first opera, Hamlet in Absentia, was a big success and paved the way for two more operas that are now in the pipeline. Guðmundsson has written music for film and media, including music for video games, feature films, and documentaries.