Olafur Arnalds – The Forum, Bath

Thursday 27th September, 2018

I can’t even remember how long ago I booked these tickets, I just know it was AGES and that I’ve been looking forward to this gig for a long time. It was also an opportunity to take my 2 gig buddies to a gig together, Janine and Tom have been my most frequent gig companions but they hadn’t met until tonight.

I’ve never been to the Forum before and all 3 of us went “wow” as we walked in. Beautiful art deco architecture and interior with painted emblems and chandeliers. It was certainly a pretty venue. I’m guessing a former cinema, lovely big space full of faded glamour.

There was to be no support, just Olafur playing for 90 minutes. Much like a classical concert, which this was of sorts. Modern classical always seems like an oxymoron, but it is probably the only way to describe the kind of music Olafur Arnalds composes. He calls them songs, rather than pieces, and there are electronic elements, but essentially this is classical music with piano, strings and percussion.

I have been listening to Olafur’s latest album a lot while I work and have fallen in love with its calm, quiet reflectiveness. I was slightly worried that wouldn’t translate into a large concert venue, but it did. The lighting was fabulous and helped with the overall mood and tone a great deal. Shafts of light illuminating the violin and cello players to perfection. It was ethereal and ghostly, matching the mournful and sorrowful music. Later the lighting was reminiscent of trees, or poles of bamboo, working with the natural beauty of the music.

Brot and re:member, both from the new album, sounded amazing. Both light yet heavy. Filled with an aching and a longing. I may have had moist eyes. Soaring upwards, the notes reaching higher, like birds taking flight on the wing, wrestling with strong winds before finding solace in landing points unknown at journeys outset.

The musicians sharing the stage with him were all fabulous, violin, viola, cello and drums. Their playing understated and haunting. When Olafur played his “piano machine” the timbre and tone was luscious, there is something in those that resonates in the most beautiful way. I have no understanding of the electronic gadgetry involved or what the cellist and violinist were plugged into via their chairs, nor how the recording and looping worked, I just know I liked the sounds I was hearing from the stage. That time seemed to float for a while, bend into a new shape and change consciousness.

I find it staggering that Olafur was a punk before turning to composition. We have his Grandma to thank, and the final song he played was written in her honour. As the echos of the violins faded away, growing ever more quiet, slipping away into the darkness, you couldn’t help but feel the love they shared being poured into every note. Olafur seemed genuinely humbled by the response to his music and thankful that we as an audience were there on the journey with him. It was a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours on a Thursday evening.

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