Spot on: Víkingur Ólafsson, peak performer with profundity

Víkingur Ólafsson

A unique artist although constantly compared to master pianist Glenn Gould. A musician that combines a feather-light touch with the explosivity of the Eyjafjallajökull. Víkingur Ólafsson is classical music’s biggest star of the moment.

Two and a half years after his first visit to Flagey, the Icelander is back to move Studio 4 to tears once more. Believe us, we speak from experience. Since then Víkingur Ólafsson has added two albums to his ever-eclectic, but ever-profound repertoire. One with works by Rameau and Debussy, and his most recent one – the one he will be showcasing in Brussels – focused on Mozart and his contemporaries Haydn, C.P.E. Bach, Galuppi and Cimarosa.

What sets Víkingur Ólafsson apart is how he tackles every piece of music as if it were written today. “Mozart was a very progressive composer,” he says, “who challenged the conventions of the day. It would be a shortcoming as an artist to not incorporate this forward-thinking in my own practice.”

His work with living composers like Philip Glass or Thomas Adès taught him that what’s written in the notes can never be a 100 percent accurate representation of the music they hear in their head. “So why would that be any different for scores by Bach or Wolfie?”

“And let’s not forget,” he adds, “Mozart performed his pieces for some hundred drunk aristocrats. The setting of a concert is very important and has obviously changed over three centuries. To me it would be almost absurd to treat the music as an artefact.”

On stage, this thorough historical excavation and astute 21st century lacquering translate into crystalline performances with a meticulous sound. The purity of Víkingur Ólafsson’s playing, and the weight he gives to the silence between the notes is often linked to his Icelandic heritage, and the culture of quiescence the northern European island propagates.

But after nothing but critically acclaimed albums and countless accolades, this feels like a gimmicky, overplayed storyline. Truth is, Víkingur Ólafsson is a supreme performer. One of very few who have the aura-like stage presence to unconditionally draw an audience in, and the transcendent musicality to make every concert feel like a life-changing performance.

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