castle in air review

"...all sorts of clever nuances were introduced and the narrative was exciting and surprising."

Matthildur Anna Gísladóttir pianist warming up for  Castle in Air  album release concert in Harpa, Reykjavík, September 2015.

Matthildur Anna Gísladóttir pianist warming up for Castle in Air album release concert in Harpa, Reykjavík, September 2015.

Below is the translated Castle In Air review which was originally written and published by renowned Icelandic critic Jónas Sen 10th September 2015 in the Icelandic newspaper Fréttablaðið (p.47) ( 

Jónas Sen dómur.jpg

"A young man placed himself in front of the audience in Kaldalón Hall, Harpa last Sunday. This was Helgi Rafn Ingvarsson who is currently studying doctoral degree composition at the Guildhall School in London. A concert was about to commence featuring five pieces by him.

The introduction was quite unorthodox. What you read in connection with new pieces of music is often dry and academic. Intangible descriptions on development and leading motives, pitch-webs and chord clusters, fugues and other incomprehensible techniques. The layman seldom understands any of that. But Helgi presented his music into a whole different context. He created a fairy-tale, told us the story of a castle which someone entered, started up, made fly into the sky and hovered over the lands. We could see and hear all sorts of things from the castle, that's what the music was about. This picturesque scene helped make the musical works easily understood. You walked into a fairy-tale world where each and every music phrase had a meaning.

The pieces were for different instrument combinations, violin, cello, viola or piano. The cello and piano were the most prominent. Guðný Jónasdóttir played the cello but Matthildur Anna Gísladóttir the piano. The forenamed played expressively and the piano playing was lively. All the other performers had their playing under control as well. 

The performers. From top left: Kristín Þóra Pétursdóttir, Helga Þóra Björgvinsdóttir, Matthildur Anna Gísladóttir, Jonathan Larson, Guðný Jónasdóttir and Pétur Björnsson.

The performers. From top left: Kristín Þóra Pétursdóttir, Helga Þóra Björgvinsdóttir, Matthildur Anna Gísladóttir, Jonathan Larson, Guðný Jónasdóttir and Pétur Björnsson.

If this music would had been performed 20 years ago, Helgi would had been crucified. You could hear melodies and simple meters, even repetition. Such things were not easily recognized back then, which is why contemporary music was hated by the general public. The good news is, this is not the case any more. Helgi began his music career by studying vocal arts [I actually started by playing the euphonium], which could explain the melodic elements in his music. The melodies were inconspicuously catchy, not like in a pop song however. There was nothing banal about the music: all sorts of clever nuances were introduced and the narrative was exciting and surprising. 

Helgi's music carries the composer's strong personal style. The tonality was, as I have already said, quite traditional, but far from being a cliché. Helgi had a lot on his mind, and he went his own way in delivering his message. The frame echoed the past, but the inspiration was completely unique. I'm looking forward to see what Helgi will do in the future." - Jónas Sen.

-Translated from Fréttablaðið, 10.09.15, p.47.


alda in entertainment-focus

"My expectations were surpassed – from start to finish..."

IMG_9065 FB square.jpg
Alda poster 2 jpg.jpg
alda orchestra 3.jpg

Click here for the original article

"I couldn’t find much out about the ALDA ORCHESTRA in advance of the event, and then I realised it was because they had only recently formed. In April 2016, Helgi Ingvarsson and Helen Whitaker began a formal collaboration; their goals included bringing contemporary Icelandic classical music to the South East coast. The event, titled Icelandic winter, took place at the lovely Old Market Theatre, and premiered a number of pieces.

I had listened to some Icelandic artists before. Particularly, Sigur Rós with their wonderful ethereal compositions which seem to emulate another dimension and, of course, Iceland’s other famous export Bjork, so I was really looking forward to the atmospheric and experimental sounds of this exciting partnership. Also, given we are now in the depths of Winter, I could think of no better way to spend a cold December evening than listening to the musical exploration of a distant snowy setting.

I wondered how the music was going to reflect the icy island landscape. I knew that Iceland was full of dramatic scenery and the island was located just outside the Arctic Circle. It is also geographically isolated; I think this makes it a special place. It’s full of glaciers and volcanoes, and whilst the coast is populated, the central mountainous regions are not, and ice fields, and fjords dominate them. It’s a place of water then, and the ALDA (Alda means ocean wave) ORCHESTRA, with their artistic focus on themes of nature were sure to embrace this emblem of the country.

Both Ingvarsson and Whitaker are highly trained professional musicians and they had engaged a substantial number of expert performers to form the ALDA ORCHESTRA.

My expectations were surpassed – from start to finish; the music was different and haunting. There were moments that, when I closed my eyes, the noises came together with unexpected clatters, bursts followed delicate hovering moments. It was an experimental harmony. The music notes were held, lingered and instruments seemed almost in conversations with one another. The opening track, Winter fog began with operatic-style singing and the lyrics described the images of the mountains. They also inadvertently introduced us to the landscape that had obviously captured the imagination of the composer.

Earths was assembled with a powerful crescendo. I particularly loved the string sections and the double bass and the piano seemed to play off one another cleverly. There was a political motivation to this piece as it sought to comment on the misuse of natural resources in America.

There was a surprise in store following the interval. Find the squirrel was composed during workshops at local schools. In these workshops, the participants were listening to and inspired by the sounds of the coastal environment in Brighton. It worked brilliantly, at one point the cellist flipped over her instrument and worked the bow across the wood surface. It was weird, it was meditative and it felt very modern.

The sounds mimicked the racket of the natural world. They conjured images of water melting and led quickly to big sounds more evocative of icy environs. Hostile natural environments lack the clatter of industrial life; the music was suitably foreign and felt closely allied with the natural forces that make up Iceland.

There was an electronic accompaniment, which preceded most pieces, but whilst interesting to listen to, it seemed a bit of an add-on to the orchestral works, at times. The concluding piece, Vetrarþoka finished the evening with another vocal accompaniment, this time in Icelandic. It was illuminating, delicate and beautiful. I really enjoyed this evening of music

Core members: Helgi Ingvarsson, Helen Whitaker, Matthildur Gísladóttir, Adam Bushell, Joy Boole. Soprano: Rannveig Káradóttir. Electronics: Marcus Hamblett Duration: 75 minutes Date: 8th December 2016.

ALDA ORCHESTRA is a newly founded 13 player professional chamber orchestra based in Brighton. The project has been generously supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and the Rannis Music Fund."