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Interview: Composer Daníel Bjarnason on The Isle is Full of Noises

On Sunday, March 4, the American Youth Symphony and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus will jointly premiere Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason’s The Isle is Full of Noises at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Bjarnason’s music is, if I do say so myself, damn amazing (scroll down to the video below for proof).

AYS just sent out a newsletter with an interview with Bjarnason about the new piece. They also very kindly gave me permission to reprint it here. Enjoy!

Did you play in a youth orchestra growing up or sing in a children’s chorus?
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much experience with youth orchestras as a kid, since my main instrument was piano. However I managed to sneak into the school orchestra sometimes when they needed extra percussion. My main instrument on those occasions was the bass drum, and I consider the highlight of my percussion career playing Tchaikovsky 4 on the bass drum. Later, when I was studying conducting in Freiburg, Germany, I got to play a lot of piano and celeste in the university orchestra, which was great for me, both as conductor and as a composer. I have a great deal of experience with choir singing, and sang in a chorus both as a kid and as a teenager. There is a rich choir tradition in Iceland and many people who are not musicians sing in choirs.

Please tell us about some of your recent projects.
I recently released an album called Sólaris, which is a piece of music that I wrote with Ben Frost. We performed and recorded Sólaris with the Sinfonietta Cracovia from Krakow, Poland. It is a piece based on the original story of Stanislav Lem and the movie by Andrei Tarkovsky (some people might recognize the Hollywood remake by Soderbergh).

Is this your first premiere in the United States?
This is my first large scale premiere in the US. I believe my only other US premiere was when I played a small piano piece that I had written on John Schaefer’s radio show in New York City a couple of years ago.

What would you say about The Isle Is Full of Noises to the orchestra, to introduce them to your work, before the first read through?
I would talk about the words of Shakespeare, and tell them how when I was writing this I imagined the orchestra to be the Island on which The Tempest happens, this enchanted island that has many sounds and moods and atmospheres, from very gentle and beautiful to the most violent and raging.

What is the audience going to experience?
One of the things that I find wonderful about music is that everyone can experience it in their own way, and a piece of music can have many different meanings to many different people. I don’t want to say what is right or wrong and I don’t even believe there is such a thing. This is also the reason why I usually don’t write program notes.

Now, if you could invite anyone you like to this concert, who would you invite?
Shakespeare. And my grandfather.

What is next on your calendar? What other commissions are you working on?
I am working on a piece for the LA Phil that will be premiered in October, conducted by John Adams as part of the Green Umbrella series. Then there is a new chamber opera on the horizon, my first opera. But currently I am rehearsing La Bohème at the Icelandic Opera, which opens on March 16th.

For complete details, and to order tickets, to the March 4 concert, visit