From left: Jóhann Jóhannsson, Brian Johnson, Lorna Tergesen, Sif Sigurðardóttir and Atli Heimir Sveinsson
Photo: Jodi Dunlop
When the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra approached L-H to help promote the New Music Festival featuring five Icelandic composers we knew that this was a project that must involve a larger community.
We all felt enormous pride in our Icelandic composers who were reshaping the face of neo classical music, and of Birna Bjarnadóttir, chair of Icelandic Studies, whose book launch became an important part of the Icelandic Finale concert.
Together, Consul General for Iceland Atli Ásmundsson and his wife Þrúður Helgaóttir, Birna representing the Fadculty of Icelandic Studies, Tammy Axelsson representing the New Iceland Heritage Museum, Janice Arnason from the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba, and Lorna Tergesen representing the Gimli Icelandic Canadian Society and the INL, we wanted to do something special to honour the composers, as well as author and poet Guðberger Bergsson, photographer Guðni Þorbjörnson and Winnipeg composer Matthew Patton who was the catalyst who made the Icelandic New Music Festival possible.
Where should our event be held? There is almost a mystical connection between Icelanders and Gimli.
Icelanders visiting Manitoba generally make a pilgrimage to Willow Point, the place where during a terrible storm on October 21, 1875, the captain of the ship, towing a barge with the new immigrants aboard, cut it loose for fear it would capsize. The New Iceland Heritage Museum does a wonderful job of telling this story. We would take the composers to Gimli, to Willow Point and the museum.
What should the centre piece of our event be?
As the Fates would have it Matthew Patton had been working on a new score for West Icelandic film maker Guy Maddin’s Tales from the Gimli Hospital. What could be more perfect than a unique live cinematic music event based on Tales from the Gimli Hospital in Gimli?
Vi Bjarnason Hilton, Matthew Patton and I were picked up by limo at the L-H office. Our first stop was the Winnipeg Concert Hall where the rehearsal for the Icelandic Finale concert was just ending. Atli Heimir Sviensson, his lovely wife Sif Sigurðardóttir and Jóhann Jóhannsson joined us. We enjoyed a wonderful, healthy meal provided by Freya at Fresh Take Home Meals, and great comradery that always seems to occur when Icelanders meet West Icelanders.
We proceeded to Willow Point where we trudged through heavy snow to the Rock. From here we proceeded to the museum where we were greeted by Tammy who gave us a tour and showed us the wonderful film about New Iceland. Guðberger and Guðni joined us at the museum. Lorna Tergesen then took our guests on a walking tour of Gimli, including Tergesen’s Store where Sif bought souvenirs for her grandchildren.
Atli and Þrúður joined us at Amma’s along with Þrúður’s sister Friður Helgadóttir who was visiting from Iceland. Here we enjoyed pickerel with vínarterta for dessert.
From here we proceeded to Johnson Hall where the darkness was broken by dramatic black and white images from Guy Maddin’s Tales From the Gimli Hospital filling a giant screen.
The silence was broken by composer Matthew Patton’s hauntingly beautiful new score preformed by the Azure String Quartet and gorgeous recorded choral pieces, some based on Icelandic Hymns.
The presentation was electrifying. A full hall sat en-thralled by the power of the performance.
This was followed by a world premiere of a choral piece written by Kjartan Sveinsson of Sigur Rós. Kjartan’s Credo, also a choral piece, had been greeted by a standing ovation the day before at the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s Icelandia concert. Matthew had asked Kjartan if he could play the new piece for the people of Gimli. Kjartan was delighted. There is a very special bond between Icelanders and Gimli.
It was a magnificent day which ended with fog as we left Gimli. Birna’s daughter, Ása, was arriving at the Winnipeg Airport at 10:00. She would not have time to return to L-H so the group headed directly to the Airport.
The next day at the concert Birna introduced me to Ása.
“I wish you had seen your mother arriving at the airport in a ten-metre long limo, she looked like a rock star,” I told Ása.
“She is a rock star,” Ása shot back.
“I know but this was proof.”