Johann Johannsson with American Contemporary Music Ensemble, Michael Vallera | Thalia Hall | Experimental | Chicago Reader
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click to enlarge Johann Johannsson

Johann Johannsson

Jónatan Grétarsson

Johann Johannsson with American Contemporary Music Ensemble, Michael Vallera 

When: Sun., Oct. 16, 8 p.m. 2016
Price: $24
Icelandic composer and keyboardist Jóhann Jóhannsson has found remarkable success in recent years by applying his meditative, pretty, and airy themes to film soundtracks for hits like Sicario and The Theory of Everything. The leap wasn’t difficult; his early work seems like it was composed for the silver screen—the minimalist proclivities providing atmosphere and pulse without distracting attention. His latest album Orphée, (Deutsche Grammophon), wasn’t created for film, though he had elements of Jean Cocteau’s 1960 film Testament of Orpheus in mind when refining the short pieces he spent years composing and retooling. In the liner notes he mentions how the title character spent time in his car listening to “numbers stations,” which transmit what’s frequently considered coded war-time intelligence. With those chanted numbers and bits of distant shortwave static, Johannsson generates otherworldly tension while dirtying up the delicate melodies voiced by cellist Hildur Gudnadóttir and a string quartet featuring members of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble—in addition to his own piano, pipe organ, and electronics. Closer “Orphic Hymn” features only the Theatre of Voices ensemble singing texts from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The pieces ascend in pitch in gentle swells, delivering a soaring spirituality on which a tender lyricism reaches for the heavens. It all could work very well in a film. Jóhannsson performs with violinists Ben Russell and Laura Lutzke, violist Caleb Burhans, and cellists Paul Wiancko and Clarice Jensen, all ACME members.
— Peter Margasak
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