South of the Circle

South of the Circle

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Artist: Siggi String Quartet

Composers: Daníel Bjarnason, Mamiko Dís Ragnarsdóttir, Una Sveinbjarnardóttir, Valgeir Sigurðsson, Haukur Tómasson

Format: 1 CD

DSL-92232

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Siggi String Quartet was founded in 2012 during the Young Scandinavian Composers festival in Reykjavik. The quartet has actively collaborated with current composers and commissioned and premiered numerous works by various composers. The quartet’s repertoire extends from the Renaissance through the Classical masters and Siggi String Quartet four members have great passion for 20th and 21st century repertoire.

Siggi violinist Una Sveinbjarnardóttir says, “Experimenting with sound and texture, improvisation and live electronics is an important part of our work. It does deepen our understanding of the standard repertoire indirectly, and it goes both ways. Playing a late Beethoven quartet parallel to working on Haukur Tómasson's Serimonia makes us aim for rhythmical super- precision and working on Mamiko Dís Ragnarsdóttir's Fair Flowers after performing the same Beethoven pushed us into the long long phrases. I imagined endless moss, grey and green and the tiny wild Icelandic flowers in bright violet and yellow. My piece Opacity is more free, the structure is simple and an improvised feeling reigns. It is a kind of in-the-moment play, also with timings and texture.”

Daníel Bjarnason wrote Stillshot in 2015. The piece is dreamy and nostalgic and in form resembles a chaconne, where the same chord progression repeats itself throughout. In the middle of the piece there is a retreat from the harmonic structure before it resumes the form until the end. 

The composer describes the piece as depicting fragmented memories of a noblewoman. The recollections appear abruptly and vanish quickly, some of them distant but others more focused and clear. The title of the piece refers to the early days of photography when people would have to stay still for considerable time so the camera would produce a clear picture. Daníel Bjarnason’s music has been described as “coming eerily close to defining classical music’s undefinable brave new world” (Time Out New York)

Opacity is an experiment where I wrote long, movement-long solos for each instrument of the Quartet. Solos in the String Quartet repertoire are traditionally short and travel between the voices quite frequently. Here I try to expand the idea of the individual solo and the result is Opacity, four columns representing each instruments of the String Quartet.”

First movement More belongs to the second violin. Next movement Opacity is a cello solo, the third Elegia a viola lament and the last movement Less is partly improvised by the first violin and craves reaction from the other three instruments in time and timelessness.

/ə(ʊ)ˈpasɪti/ noun:  opacity.

Nebraska Quartet’ was commissioned by The Chiara String Quartet and premiered at Merkin Concert Hall in New York City, January 2011. The piece also marked the first formal occasion where I was being asked to write a piece of concert music. Chiara was in residency at the University of Nebraska at the time, so I immediately had the idea to base the new piece on my imagined impressions of these faraway landscapes. Two pieces that I had written just prior as a part of my score for the film ‘Draumalandið’ (Dreamland) ‘Past Tundra’ and  ‘Nowhere Land’ were arranged for the Chiara Quartet for the same concert. Both of whom deal explicitly with Iceland, and therefore I wanted the new piece to deal with my impressions of Nebraska. I began to draw parallels between geological and geographical properties of Iceland and Nebraska. And notwithstanding obvious contrasts, these sparsely populated, erosive lands share a sense of isolation and timelessness, and vast open spaces. ‘Nebraska Quartet’ is in four movements: i. Flat Water, ii. Landlocked, iii. Erosion, iv. Plainsong.

For more information on Siggi String Quartet visit siggistringquartet.com.


Track List

Daníel Bjarnason
1. Stillshot (2015)     9:52

Una Sveinbjarnardóttir
Opacity (2014)
2. More     2:38
3. Opacity     4:37
4. Elegia     3:16
5. Less     4:52

Valgeir Sigurðsson
Nebraska (2011)
6. Flat Water     3:12
7. Landlocked     2:46
8. Erosion     1:36
9. Plainsong     3:14

Mamiko Dís Ragnarsdóttir
10. Fair Flowers (2018)     14:46

Haukur Tómasson
11. Serimonia (2014)     9:06


Total time: 59:55
Release date: May 24, 2019
UPC: 053479223227


Quotes & Reviews

For those who have not yet had the chance to delve deep into the repertoire of living Icelandic composers, South of the Circle goes far past a basic introduction, presenting an impressive range of sounds, techniques, and imagery. It will be exciting to see how this relatively young quartet will continue to combine its Icelandic roots with its passion for interpreting new and standard repertoire.

Hannah Rosa Schiller, I Care If You Listen

Bold and uncompromising, South of the Circle reflects two things in particular: the Siggi String Quartet's passion for contemporary classical material…and Sono Luminus's ongoing support for Icelandic artists…

Regardless of the differences in style and techniques exemplified by the five pieces, the quartet's performances are impeccable, the group's technical command and sensitivity to texture evident throughout the recording.

Ron Schepper, Textura

The five recent works by Icelandic composers included here run the gamut from busy process-based constructions to blissed-out minimalist soundscapes, and all of them get vibrant, urgently expressive performances by the ensemble.

Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

The Siggi String Quartet excel on this album in the meticulous way they realize each work with close attention to sonority and space. Their excellence of detail within broadly sweeping readings make for us music that nearly startles after one takes the time to immerse oneself in the music. Extended techniques and subtle sound blends make a world you find the earful self entering more and more thoroughly with each listen. Like the best of New Music performances it enters a sort of ineffable place where the sounds speak in ways words cannot.

I defer to this music with deep respect and appreciation. Highly recommended.

Grego Edwards, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

…the album should be of considerable interest to fans of Icelandic music in general. Recommended.

James Manheim, AllMusic

Iceland’s Siggi String Quartet makes a strong debut with South of the Circle, presenting works by some of the nation’s finest modern composers along with a striking composition from one of their own.  Daniel Bjarnason and Valgeir Sigurðsson provide the entry points, but by the end, there are new names to celebrate and learn.

South of the Circle is a joyous expression of modern Icelandic chamber music: one of the world’s smallest nations with one of the world’s biggest sounds.

Richard Allen, A Closer Listen

The Siggi Quartet, like many modern groups today, also plays with extremely bright sonorities and taut phrasing, which add to the disturbing feeling in this work, which becomes suddenly loud in places you don’t expect it to, with sharp shards of sound produced by the upper strings.

Lynn René Bayley, The Art Music Lounge

Experts at finding the dark film noir side of the music, you might not play this at a family reunion picnic but when you are in the mood for some deep, serious listening done right, this crew of up and comers will show why they can sound so accomplished while still having quite the road ahead of them—probably loaded with more surprises.

Chris Spector, Midwest Record

When I expressed surprise at how good this debut album was, my son said, “What, you thought it wouldn't be?” and I realized that I should never have doubted a record featuring Icelandic compositions and released by Sono Luminus, who have brought wonders like Nordic Affect's Raindamage and Daniel Bjarnson's Recurrence to my ears.

Jeremy Shatan, AnEarful