As we sit down in Brighton Dome’s stalls, I count the instruments on stage. One… two… three pianos, synthesisers and a drum kit. I wonder, how on earth is one man going to play all of these instruments? And then six people walk on stage. Duh.
The hour and a half that follows is a spectacle. Our leading man, the Icelandic multi-instrumentalist Olafur Arnalds, is joined by a string quartet and percussionist – plus his innovative software Stratus, which controls two self-playing, semi-generative pianos triggered by one central piano.
It’s this which brings an extra element to Arnalds’ already BAFTA-worthy recordings: while the composer’s scoring of ITV’s Broadchurch and Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams are one thing, the grand pianos accompanying Arnalds on stage are another entirely, programmed to perform sporadically with the composer’s own playing, allowing one man to imitate a trio. This reinvigorates the compositional experience, meaning the aurally luscious sounds reverberating around Brighton Dome are completely unique from the next time one of his pieces are played, as they are filled with unexpected harmonies and surprising melodies.
‘The self-playing pianos are a jolt to the creative process that forces me to try new and often surprising things. In a live setting the pianos are a integral part of the performance due to their generative nature. Each time they are played is a little different, making every performance unique.’ – Ólafur Arnalds
During the performance, we’re taken on a musical rollercoaster as Olafur seamlessly navigates through elements of ambient, classical, electronic and even elements of pop and rock, weaving through his back catalogue and bringing new life to his older music.
What results is a wholly unique experience, where the music isn’t just heard but is also felt.
Our ninety minutes end too quickly, the show finishing with not one but two encore pieces – the final, Lag Fyrir Ömmu (Song for Grandma), a poignant tribute to his late grandmother – and then a brief moment of silence before the entire hall erupts with applause.
A well-deserved standing ovation ensues, marking one hell of a first date for his European tour.
Arnalds’ 34-date European tour takes place across the next month, returning in the UK at the end of October for a two-day stint at London’s Palladium Theatre. Catch him while you still can.