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“For This Pianist, Every Album Is an Essay” - The New York Times


07 JULY 2021 (TORONTO, ON) - After the global successes of Philip Glass · Piano Works, Johann Sebastian Bach, Debussy · Rameau and Debussy · Rameau Reflections (227.5 million career streams to date and over 320K albums sold), multi-award-winning pianist Víkingur Ólafsson now turns his attention to the music of MOZART. Ólafsson presents some of his favourite Mozart keyboard works in the company of pieces by a selection of the composer’s leading contemporaries. Juxtaposing works by Mozart, Haydn and C.P.E. Bach with rarely-recorded Galuppi and Cimarosa, Mozart & Contemporaries dispels the image of Mozart as the angelic and prodigious idiot savant, instead presenting a mature composer through music primarily dating from the 1780s: a resourceful, hard-working adult who had come to know adversity. All is artfully brought together by Ólafsson’s signature thought-provoking programming.


Ólafsson comments: “I find this decade of Mozart’s life and art endlessly fascinating. Mozart was not just a composer, and I feel that when he was writing for himself as a virtuoso pianist he indulged more than ever in the sublime playfulness that lay at the core of his originality and inventiveness. This is the period when Mozart was not just perfecting the Classical tradition but subtly subverting it … the shadows are darker, the nuances and ambiguities more profound.”


“Víkingur Ólafsson is revitalising classical music” - The Economist


Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788); Joseph Haydn (1732–1809); Baldassare Galuppi (1706–1785); and Domenico Cimarosa (1749–1801): “Perhaps all four provide a chance to calibrate the contemporary ear towards the prevailing ideas, styles and tastes of the times”, comments Ólafsson. “It is my hope that this particular context, a mix of the celebrated and the obscure, can slightly alter our psychological attunement, removing some of the baggage we all bring with us to Mozart’s music. This is in any case what I set out to do for myself: to approach even the best-known works of Mozart with the same freedom and childlike enthusiasm I felt upon discovering the rare and staggeringly lyrical works from the likes of Galuppi and Cimarosa.”


Mozart: a bird of a different feather

Mozart & Contemporaries provides a fascinating snapshot of a decade when changes were brewing, composers were experimenting, and Mozart was writing such visionary pieces as the Sonata in C minor K457. The album – the pianist’s fourth for Deutsche Grammophon – also includes Ólafsson’s own transcriptions: haunting arrangements of two sonatas by Cimarosa, plus a masterful solo piano transcription of the great Adagio in E flat major from Mozart’s String Quintet K516. To conclude the album, Mozart’s Adagio in B minor K540 quietly transitions into Franz Liszt’s transcription of the motet Ave verum corpus, composed in Mozart’s final year. The vocal lines’ ascension to the piano’s higher registers is viewed by Ólafsson as representing a final sense of death and transfiguration.


“I feel like, when I play Mozart, that I get to know myself as a musician.
I get to know sides that I didn’t before. He seems to reflect your innermost core in music.”

- Víkingur Ólafsson


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Víkingur Ólafsson made an unforgettable impact with the release of his first three albums – Philip Glass · Piano Works (2017), Johann Sebastian Bach (2018) and Debussy · Rameau (2020) – on Deutsche Grammophon, for whom he is an exclusive recording artist. The Debussy · Rameau project, which prompted the Daily Telegraph to call him “the new superstar of classical piano”, has amassed almost 100K album sales and surpassed 75 million streams, bringing the total number of streams of Ólafsson’s music to more than 227.5 million.


Ólafsson’s multiple awards include the Opus Klassik Solo Recording Instrumental (piano) for two consecutive years (2019, 2020), Album of the Year at the BBC Music Magazine Awards 2019 and Gramophone magazine’s 2019 Artist of the Year. The New York Times meanwhile dubbed him “Iceland’s Glenn Gould”.


In 2020 alone, he broadcast an eight-part series on Icelandic radio; presented his own primetime television series in Iceland called Music Bites; and created his own three-part series on BBC Radio 3, Transcribe, Transform. Ólafsson was also artist in residence for three months during lockdown on BBC Radio 4’s flagship arts programme, Front Row, broadcasting live, weekly performances from an empty Harpa concert hall in Reykjavík, reaching millions of listeners around the world. 


Víkingur Ólafsson makes his BBC Proms debut on 14 August and will perform Mozart & Contemporaries at the International Piano Series at London’s Southbank Centre on 2 October 2021.