Ólafur Arnalds Wows The Barbican, And Has ‘One Of The Best Nights Of My Life’

Icelandic multi-instrumentalist’s star continues to rise, with an impressive orchestral show at the Barbican.

For Now I Am Winter — Ólafur Arnalds’ third proper full-length release — stands apart from the rest of his output for a variety of reasons. The composer and pianist has moved to big, bad major label Mercury Classics, employed the services of vast orchestral forces and, for the first time, readily featured vocals in his work. Thankfully, what’s quickly apparent throughout tonight’s release show is that the collectivist atmosphere engendered by much of the Erased Tapes roster hasn’t disappeared as a result.

In a rather logical move, Arnalds and his small army of supporting musicians have taken this opportunity to recreate For Now I Am Winter live in its entirety, seamlessly threading a number of its 12 tracks together with a simmering bed of atmospheric electronics, often barely leaving room for applause. But the size and significance of both event and venue doesn’t stop Arnalds from calling upon his old trick of asking the audience to sing, sampling the results to create the first note of his opening song. It’s a move that sheathes the hall in intimacy early, Arnalds’ amiably awkward onstage persona tearing down the fourth wall right from the outset. (There’s also something satisfying in the fact that such a relatable character’s music is in the ears of so many tonight — a large number will have heard the Icelandic composer’s soundtrack for ITV’s David Tennant-starring drama series Broadchurch without even knowing it.)

Following the captivating bulk of tonight’s performance, a brief, one-song encore allows just enough time for a teary-eyed Arnalds to deliver some words of thanks to the audience (among whom are the 25 year-old composer’s parents) and musicians alike. Afterwards, a post on the composer’s Facebook page humbly describes the evening as ‘one of the best nights of my life’ — it seems that it was something that both performer and tonight’s hugely receptive audience felt fortunate to be a part of.

Ólafur Arnalds returns to the capital with a performance at St John at Hackney Church on Monday, 3 June. Details here.

By Sam Cleeve

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