The Icelandic-American cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir has come a long, long way, both figuratively and literally, since the vivid impression she made as a founding member of Ensemble ACJW (now called Ensemble Connect), the vibrant, versatile collective of young musicians that Carnegie Hall, the Juilliard School, and the Weill Music Institute established in 2007. In addition to having co-founded Carnegie Hall’s affiliate ensemble, Decoda, of which she is co-artistic dirtector, Thorsteinsdóttir now serves on the faculty of the University of Washington in Seattle, plays cello with the chamber-music group Frequency, and pursues a lively global career as an orchestral soloist.
Only a few weeks ago, in fact, Thorsteinsdóttir made her debut as a soloist with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, performing Quake, an award-winning concerto by the Icelandic composer Páll Ragnar Pálsson. That piece was co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which presented its U.S. premiere in 2017; Thorsteinsdóttir will play it again with the Seattle Symphony on March 15.
And now, this busy cellist is set to release a new solo album, Vernacular, on the consistently fascinating American record label Sono Luminus. The CD concentrates entirely on Icelandic pieces – some of which were composed expressly for Thorsteinsdóttir – by Pálsson, Þuríður Jónsdóttir, Halldór Smárason, and Hafliði Hallgrímsson.
Vernacular will arrive on March 8 – and National Sawdust Log is pleased and privileged to offer an exclusive preview chosen by Thorsteinsdóttir herself: Þuríður Jónsdóttir’s 48 Images of the Moon.
Via e-mail, Thorsteinsdóttir described the composition and her connection to it:
As a performer, much of my attention is focused outward, looking to express something to an audience, but Þuríður Jónsdóttir’s “48 Images of the Moon” turns its focus inward. Set in the middle of the Westfjords in Iceland, it is an intimate meditation, an aural snapshot of rich internal life, accompanied by surrounding nature. In this piece, the cello breathes steadily, with endless variation, an emptying of the conscious mind, a focus on our most fundamental survival mechanism and incidentally reacting to the natural sounds of the setting. To achieve this cello-breath, Þuríður uses the bow to make unpitched sounds, such as vertically scraping the string, or brushing in circular motions, so that a pitch might get caught for a second but gets swept away by the whirlwind of white noise. The team at Sono Luminus captured these sounds brilliantly, putting the listener inside my cello and giving us a glimpse into this distinctive moment of stillness.
The piece, Thorsteinsdóttir adds, includes field recordings made by Magnús Bergsson, recorded at night close to Holtstangi in Önundarfjörður, Iceland.
You can read complete details about Vernacular on the Sono Luminus website. And be sure to check Thorsteinsdóttir’s own website for details of upcoming recitals in Seattle and Chicago marking the album’s release.