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Anna Thorvaldsdottir

Publisher: Chester Music

Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Society with the generous support of The Marie-Josée Kravis Prize for New Music.
Work Notes
Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Society with the generous support of The Marie-Josée Kravis Prize for New Music. The first performance was given on 4th April 2018 at the Lincoln Center, New York City by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Chester Music Ltd
Year Composed
14 Minutes
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Programme Note
Anna Thorvaldsdottir METACOSMOS (2017)
Metacosmos is constructed around the natural balance between beauty and chaos – how elements can come together in (seemingly) utter chaos to create a unified, structured whole. The idea and inspiration behind the piece, which is connected as much to the human experience as to the universe, is the speculative metaphor of falling into a black hole – the unknown – with endless constellations and layers of opposing forces connecting and communicating with each other, expanding and contracting, projecting a struggle for power as the different sources pull on you and you realize that you are being drawn into a force that is beyond your control.

As with my music generally, the inspiration behind METACOSMOS is not something I am trying to describe through the piece - to me, the qualities of the music are first and foremost musical. When I am inspired by a particular element or quality, it is because I perceive it as musically interesting, and the qualities I tend to be inspired by are often structural, like proportion and flow, as well as relationships of balance between details within a larger structure, and how to move in perspective between the two — the details and the unity of the whole.

Programme note © 2017 Anna Thorvaldsdottir

Preview the score

  • Ensemble
    Iceland Symphony Orchestra
    Daniel Bjarnason
    Sono Luminus:
  • 22 FEB 2020
    Symphonic Poem – Choreography by Remus Şucheană
    Duisburg, Germany
    Duisburger Philharmoniker
    Martin Braun, conductor

    Other Dates:
    10,12,19,25 January; 2,16 February - Duisburg, Germany
  • 05 MAR 2020
    Symphony Hall, Boston, MA
    Boston Symphony Orchestra
    Hannu Lintu, conductor

    Other Dates:
    6,7 March - Symphony Hall, Boston, MA
  • 16 APR 2020
    Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, CA
    Los Angeles Philharmonic
    Nicola Benedetti; Karina Canellakis, conductor

    Other Dates:
    17,18 April - Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, CA
  • 24 APR 2020
    Singletary Center Concert Hall, Lexington, KY
    University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra
    John Nardolillo, conductor
  • 28 JAN 2021
    METACOSMOS Country Premiere
    DR Koncerthuset / Copenhagen / Denmark
    Danish National Symphony Orchestra
    Alice Sara Ott, piano; Kerem Hasan, conductor

    Other Dates:
    29 January - DR Koncerthuset / Copenhagen / Denmark
  • 19 MAR 2021
    Music Hall / Cincinnati, OH / USA
    Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
    Hannu Lintu, conductor

    Other Dates:
    20 March - Music Hall / Cincinnati, OH / USA

A work of paradoxes, it seeks to create order and beauty out of chaos. Its opening phrases heave upwards over a low percussive rumble, before brass chords eventually anchor the music in rhythmic inexorability. At its centre is a broad cello melody of astonishing directness, but its contours and harmonies are repeatedly pulled out of shape by a dissonant countermelody on the upper strings.
Tim Ashley, The Guardian,24/07/2019
In its relatively brief span, Metacosmos reaches far, exploring the balance between beauty and chaos, and the metaphorical force of falling into a black hole. With strange, unearthly sounds such as bowed gong edges, drum scrapings and sounds of breath, there is a sense of mystery and danger, and whenever fragments of a more harmonious melody are heard, they are on shaky ground, the strings in particular sliding and slipping away beneath any consonant harmony.... This is a remarkable piece, showing such command of large orchestral forces, and the final slide upwards, leaving a single violin hanging in the air, was unsettlingly moving.
Nick Boston, Bachtrack,24/07/2019
Thorvaldsdottir’s command of a large orchestra is hugely impressive, and she conjures up myriad special effects, captured in all their variety and delicacy by Gilbert and the orchestra. The opening soundscapes are bare and desolate, low pulsating drones punctuated by the occasional percussive thuds, as well as sundry sighs, groans and sul ponticellowhisperings. ... [T]he score quickly established itself as a thing of imaginatively varied textures and rhythms: the former often headily beautiful, the latter occasional brutal. ... [Metacosmos] offered moments of disarming beauty towards its close as we heard snatches of warmly melodic material, ideas beyond our reach dimly recollected in the fading of the light, before everything floated off into nothingness.
Hugo Shirley, Bachtrack,26/01/2019
With each work, Salonen seemed intent on exploring the sonic possibilities in this hall, and the orchestra responded with alert, fully engaged performances. That was certainly true in the strikingly gorgeous opening performance of “METACOSMOS,” which marked the West Coast premiere of Thorvaldsdottir’s brilliantly sculpted score (last year, Salonen conducted the New York Philharmonic in the work’s world premiere.). The Icelandic composer, who has described the work as an attempt to evoke “the natural balance between beauty and chaos,” establishes an elemental feel in the opening measures, as low strings and percussion create a primal, almost subterranean sound. Brass, strings, and woodwinds join in, reinforcing the music’s rhythmic structure. The effect suggests deep respirations. Violins contribute a wistful melody, and a kind of earthy dance ensues; as the textures thicken, something massive seems to be born. Salonen conducted with a precise, tightly coiled rhythmic pulse, and the results were nothing short of gripping. As one listener observed, we can only hope for more of Thorvaldsdottir’s music in the seasons to come.
Georgia Rowe, Mercury News,19/01/2019
Metacosmos, a gorgeous and engrossing tone poem by the 41-year-old Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, proved to be one of those creations whose philosophical aspects are helpful but not essential to understanding. Over some 15 minutes of delicate, gauzy orchestral landscape punctuated by brusque rhythmic interpolations, Thorvaldsdottir creates a series of vivid scenes – each one phasing into the next as if in some kind of phantasmagoria. There is something ideological at work here, no doubt, but often it’s enough just to marvel at the care and inventiveness of Thorvaldsdottir’s fertile imagination — the long-breathed patience with which the piece’s opening minutes establish a sense of scale, the fervor of the clomping dance at the piece’s midpoint, and especially the shamelessly beautiful minor-key rhapsody that draws a listener in not once but twice, as if to say, “You thought I was kidding, but no, I mean this sincerely. This is not a piece which places much emphasis on incident; the point is not to tell a story (Sibelius handled that part of the evening) but to chart an expressive journey from the rumbling low bass note that begins the proceedings to the ethereal high note from a solo violin that marks its close. Salonen conducted the world premiere of “Metacosmos” with the New York Philharmonic in April, and the performance — rapturous and elegantly wrought — was clearly meant to signal his artistic priorities. Also sprach Zarathustra, Richard Strauss’ broad and overambitious tone poem on philosophical themes, made a perfect companion piece to the Thorvaldsdottir. In fact, the melodic and formal echoes – the subterranean opening, the evanescent close, even the recurrence of some central motifs – made it seem a compulsory pairing.
Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle,19/01/2019
Written for a large orchestra and taking full advantage of various timbral colorings, Metacosmos is an eerie, atmospheric piece, from its Rheingold-evoking initial pianissimo to a finale that might be considered serene if it wasn’t for all the equivocal harmonies one can perceive. Cues in this musical tapestry, superbly laid out by Salonen, are almost seamlessly passed from one group of instruments to another. Growing tensions between strings, winds and percussion take the listener on a voyage imbued with amazement but also angst…. In Metacosmos, Thorvaldsdóttir proves again to be an artist of deep originality.
Edward Sava-Segal, Bachtrack,06/04/2018
Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Metacosmos made a powerful impression in its debut performance, evoking an enormous vista of space and time in a 12-minute span with broad, artfully blended strokes of orchestral color.
David Wright, New York Classical Review,05/04/2018
[Salonen] conducted the radiant premiere of a richly atmospheric piece by the Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir. ... I was captivated by the intricacy of the sounds and colors. Ms. Thorvaldsdottir did indeed take us on a dark journey, episodic yet clear. ... During a few wistful moments, short melodic phrases in a natural minor scale sigh atop mellow harmonies. These seemingly conventional passages actually came across as reflective stops on the promised odyssey through chaos and beauty. ... At Geffen Hall, "Metacosmos” was the highlight.
Anthony Tommasini, New York Times,05/04/2018
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