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Echoes of the Ages

History in the making: orchestral performance in Iceland of instruments made entirely by Hans Jóhannsson


Internationally renowned violin maker Hans Jóhannsson will be showcasing over four decades of his stringed instruments at Echoes of the Ages, in a one-of-a-kind festival 1-15 October 2023 in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Credited as a pioneer of the 'new renaissance of violin making', throughout his career Jóhannsson has created a plethora of violins, violas, cellos, and double basses as well as experimental new stringed instruments to the delight of musicians and music lovers worldwide. Having created over three hundred stringed instruments since the mid-1970s, Jóhannsson's original pieces are much coveted by musicians who appreciate his innovative approach, fusing traditional ideology with digital innovations of today to create truly beautiful sounds.

Work by Hans Jóhannsson
Work by Hans Jóhannsson

He has worked with acclaimed composers and musicians over many decades from American musician Laurie Anderson to fellow Icelander Hildur Guðnadóttir, composer of the multi award winning Joker score.

Taking place at Ásmundarsalur, an incredible art space next to the capital city's iconic cathedral, Jóhannsson will showcase dozens of musical instruments, from baroque string instruments to contemporary designs, as well as experimental instruments and sound sculptures. With a focus on the history, tradition, myths, construction, timbre and performance, this festival delves into the symbiosis of musician and instrument and how this affects the experience of the audience. Each day there will be solo and duet performances by an array of musicians as well as demonstrations of experimental instruments and engaging discussions and talks on a range of topics traversing the spectrum of conversations about how contemporary technology and age-old traditions can be blended to create the sounds of our century.

A family affair, Hans Jóhannsson's daughter, the multidisciplinary artist Elín Hansdóttir, is the artistic director of Echoes of the Ages and will bring her celebrated flair for transforming spaces to give a bold visual aspect to the festival which will culminate in a spectacular concert at Reykjavík's iconic Harpa Concert Hall where Hansdóttir's incredible Aeolian Harp visual and sound sculpture was unveiled last year. It is thought that this will be the first time since the sixteenth century that there has been a concert performance of instruments created by one maker.

All thirty-five of Jóhannsson instruments at the festival will be played at this special concert, performing Onium Ion, a new string work first performed by Jóhannsson's composer and instrument maker son, Úlfur Hansson, and Gyða Valtýsdóttir who will lead the cello and string orchestra. In addition a string quartet by María Huld Markan titled Lost Forests will be performed. The evening will culminate in a performance of Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss - known for illustrating the most exquisite characteristics and timbre of string ensembles.

Expressing his trademark humility, Jóhannsson said:

The closing concert will be an extraordinary moment for me, after whittling away at some pieces of wood. To hear the result of all that toil in a performance of over thirty-five of my instruments is truly exciting.

Conducted by Bjarni Frímann Bjarnason, the ensemble will include some of the finest string players in Iceland, as well as guests from overseas who will make the journey to take part in the festival and to honour Jóhannsson's work. Tickets to this special event Sunday Classics: Echoes of the Ages on 15 October 2023 are available from 4,400 ISK.

Hans Jóhannsson has made classical and contemporary string instruments for the past forty years, since gaining a diploma of distinction at the Newark School of Violin Making in the UK in 1980, and receiving a masters diploma from the Icelandic Arts Council in 1982.

For the first decade and a half of his career, Hans Jóhannsson worked in Luxembourg, where his instruments were well received and he was able to create important connections across Europe. After moving to Iceland in the mid-1990s, other opportunities presented themselves in the United States.

Jóhannsson has had an important influence on the classical musical scene in Iceland. Some of the finest string players in the country own his instruments, although the instruments he has made are primarily to be found abroad.

Jóhannsson creates all his instruments from his own drawings and designs, as opposed to copying or basing designs on the works of italian masters, which the majority of instrument makers today do. Having made this decision from the onset, he effectively emulates the old masters with his creations as opposed to attempting to copy them.

Belonging to a relatively small group of makers who exclusively make new instruments as opposed to repairs, restoration or commerce with older instruments, he has inspired the next generation of makers today that cater to the growing enthusiasm of musicians for high quality instruments in place of the old.

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Posted 29 September 2023 by Keith Bramich



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