Ólafur Arnalds is trapped somewhere in the worlds between modern classical composer and electronic artist, and he doesn’t really fit the profile of either. He opens the show at Koncertsalen by asking the audience to sing a note (“E flat, or D sharp, depending on what kind of person you are”) for him to record on his iPad and loop through his song, so the evening is already more interactive than most before he’s even played a note.
Accompanying him on stage is a string quartet, two French horn players, and one fellow stood in the center of the stage penned in by stacks of synths, drum pads, and on some occasions, a trombone (he’s also the only person who has to stand all evening, so he gets a bit of sympathy). Arnalds himself sits between two pianos, his synths laid out on top of a grand piano.
With this setup, it’s striking how minimalist some of Arnalds’ music is, emphasized as he plays piano with one hand and swipes at the electronics over the keyboard with restrained flourishes from the other. When he’s only playing piano, the intense concentration melts away from his face and is overtaken by a dreamlike expression. And the minimalism in turn tends to be usurped by bigger arrangements, a swelling of atonal noise.
Forty minutes into the set Arnór Dan, who appears on Arnalds’ albums For Now I Am Winter and Broadchurch, comes out for a few songs, and it changes the atmosphere of the show. Suddenly, it’s a pop concert, and not even an especially avant-garde pop concert. The mood lighting gives way to flashes from the long fluorescent beams behind the stage. And now with a singer center stage, it’s easy to forget — in that very Nordic way — whose name is actually advertised (a sentiment aided by the fact that Dan is Danish, he is speaking Danish to the audience, and he is pleased as punch that his mother is in the audience). But Dan leaves the stage and the tone shifts back to, if not a classical concert, something out of step with the mainstream holiday we’ve taken.
And finally, it is just Arnalds on stage, playing the piano that forces him to keep his back to most of the audience. His final song is a tribute to his grandmother, the woman who “made me listen to Chopin when I wanted to listen to death metal.” The backing tracks are so faint they’re almost a figment of the imagination, and as his fingers leave the keys, it is only these fading sounds that keep us all from sitting in complete, awestruck silence.