Thorvaldsdottir: ARCHORA | AIŌN / Ollikainen, Iceland Symphony

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Note: this double-disc release contains both a CD and a Blu-ray Audio disc. The former will play on any CD player, and the latter will play on devices with Blu-ray read capability.

Anna Þorvaldsdóttir writes: "The core inspiration behind ARCHORA centres around the notion of a primordial energy and the idea of an omnipresent parallel realm – a world both familiar and strange, static and transforming, nowhere and everywhere at the same time. The piece revolves around the extremes on the spectrum between the Primordia and its resulting afterglow – and the conflict between these elements that are nevertheless fundamentally one and the same. The halo emerges from the Primordia but they have both lost perspective and the connection to one another, experiencing themselves individually as opposing forces rather than one and the same.

"AIŌN is inspired by the abstract metaphor of being able to move freely in time, of being able to explore time as a space that you inhabit rather than experiencing it as a one-directional journey through a single dimension. Disorienting at first, you realize that time extends simultaneously in all directions and whenever you feel like it, you can access any moment. As you learn to control the journey, you find that the experience becomes different by taking different perspectives - you can see every moment at once, focus on just some of them, or go there to experience them. You are constantly zooming in and out, both in dimension and perspective. Some moments you want to visit more than others, noticing as you revisit the same moment, how your perception of it changes.

"As with my music generally, the inspiration behind ARCHORA and AIŌN is not something I am trying to describe through the music or what the music is “about”, as such. Inspiration is a way to intuitively tap into parts of the core energy, structure, atmosphere and material of the music I am writing each time. It is a fuel for the musical ideas to come into existence, a tool to approach and work with the fundamental materials, the ideas and sensations, that provide and generate the initial spark to the music - the various sources of inspiration are ultimately effective because I perceive qualities in them that I find musically captivating. I do often spend quite a bit of time finding ways to articulate some of the important elements of the musical ideas or thoughts that play certain key roles in the origin of each piece but the music itself does not emerge from a verbal place, it emerges as a stream of consciousness that flows, is felt, sensed, shaped and then crafted. So inspiration is a part of the origin story of a piece, but in the end the music stands on its own."


Thorvaldsdottir is ultimately more concerned with inner than outer forms, and – as conductor Eva Ollikainen and the ISO reveal in this thrilling release – finding an organic unity which stems from the perpetual transformation and refinement of material at often microscopic levels.

Archora (2022) and Aiōn (2018) are fundamentally abstract, unleashing primordial energies in shifting layers of sound to different yet related ends. The former explicitly aims to explore these energies alongside ‘the idea of an omnipresent parallel realm…both familiar and strange, static and transforming, nowhere and everywhere.’ Quasi-Stravinskian conflicts abound in one, tautly written movement; through subterranean drones and pulses overlaid with chord clusters and brittle, percussive slaps. Aiōn (2018) appears to pre-echo this material in longer and more overtly symphonic guise[.]

In effect, both works demonstrate the inseparability of time and space – and their key lies finally in Thorvaldsdottir’s extraordinarily subtle, constantly shifting details of foreground and background.

-- BBC Music Magazine ()

Both pieces confirm the impression that Thorvaldsdottir is incapable of writing music that doesn’t immediately transfix an open-eared listener. The Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Eva Ollikainen, its chief conductor, offer glowing performances that have been beautifully captured by Sono Luminus.

-- New York Times

This music is quite compelling when played as cleanly as it is here by what might be called the home team, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra…This is a good introduction to the work of this increasingly popular orchestral composer.


The Iceland Symphony Orchestra, led by Eva Ollikainen in Archora/Aion and Daníel Bjarnason in Atmospheriques heroically delivers performances of a group of totally exposed works in which each section of the orchestra is asked to play immensely complex music. The engineering of both albums is impeccable, the liner notes clear and concise. The results are nothing short of impressive.

-- All About the Arts

Eva Ollikainen [conducts on this] Thorvaldsdottir album, which pairs ARCHORA (2022) with the three-part AION (2018). Both composer and conductor have significant ties to the ISO: whereas she holds the title of Composer-in-Residence, he's the orchestra's Chief Conductor and Artistic Director, positions he assumed in 2020. According to the composer, the inspiration behind ARCHORA, which the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and Ollikainen premiered in August 2022 at the BBC Proms, comes from the idea of primordial energy as well as “the idea of an omnipresent parallel realm—a world both familiar and strange, static and transforming, nowhere and everywhere at the same time.”

Certainly that primordial character is felt during the ISO's twenty-one-minute rendering, which blossoms from its opening moments into a dense, enigmatic mass whose orchestral tendrils intricately entwine. Again, melody is more hinted at than explicitly stated, with fragments from different instruments coalescing into a whole ever threatening to combust. Glissandos sometimes punctuate the opaque clusters of strings, woodwinds, and horns that make up the ever-morphing mass. Despite the music's heaviness, mobility is very much present as the material moves fluidly through contrasting episodes of volume and mood, its unfolding rather akin to the unregulated flow of impressions coursing through consciousness.

As powerful as ARCHORA is, it's dwarfed, at least in terms of duration, by AION, whose three movements total forty-one minutes. Here, time—so critical a dimension of Thorvaldsdottir's music—expands and contracts as the music splinters, its movements less predicated on the conventional idea of one-directional development and more on the abstract concept of a centre that's collapsed and catapulting its parts into space. Epic rumblings and agitated, even violent activity surface during “Morphosis”; with ascending and descending flute patterns accenting string drones, the opening of “Transcension” suggests it'll be peaceful, but disturbance eventually emerges in the form of aggressive string plucks and thunderous drums. Harrowing at times too is “Entropia,” which works its way through disorienting passages of cyclonic swirl, percussive clatter, and blustery horns before exiting in a controlled blaze. Words like oceanic and engulfing help characterize the work's portentous soundworld, as well as Thorvaldsdottir's work in general.

-- Textura

Product Description:

  • Release Date: May 26, 2023

  • Catalog Number: DSL-92268

  • UPC: 053479226808

  • Label: Sono Luminus

  • Number of Discs: 2

  • Period: Contemporary

  • Composer: Anna Thorvaldsdóttir

  • Conductor: Eva Ollikainen

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Iceland Symphony Orchestra



    Composer: Anna Þorvaldsdóttir

    Ensemble: Iceland Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Eva Ollikainen

  2. AIŌN

    Composer: Anna Þorvaldsdóttir

    Ensemble: Iceland Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Eva Ollikainen