By: Marjohn Sheikhi

Icelandic Ólafur Arnalds performs live in downtown Tehran

News ID: 4166744 -
TEHRAN, Dec. 09 (MNA) – Overcoming a distance of almost 6000km and five years of negotiations finally brought the Icelandic BAFTA-winning multi-instrumentalist composer Ólafur Arnalds to sold-out, jam-packed shows in Tehran.

Music connects us all. It may sound like a platitude, but it is no less true. Have any doubts? Don’t. Here is a beautiful experience I would like to share with you all:

Ólafur Arnalds live in Tehran.

Yes, I am talking about the Ólafur Arnalds, the BAFTA-winning multi-instrumentalist composer from Mosfellsbær, a suburban Icelandic town a few kilometers outside of Reykjavik. Iceland may sound like such a far-away land, a dream land for some, and Icelandic words may be at times too difficult to pronounce (try ‘Eyjafjallajökull’, the name of a volcano in Iceland), but the music hits home with Iranians in a way that leaves you wondering why. How is it that music hailing from a country so different in terms of traditions, culture, history and geography from Iran, can resonate so strongly with us, entwine with our senses like tendrils of notes, a crescendo of mournful piano, bleeding violin, and jarring ambient electronics, like it is ours, that it has come from within, and it grabs us by the heart and moves us along the dreary edges of everyday life…a ‘Lost Song’ that finds us in our lowest low or the highest high. In short, Ólafur Arnalds’ music is phenomenal.

And I’m not exaggerating. At least, not as far as the opinions of the hundreds of Iranians gathered last night at Andisheh Hall in downtown Tehran are concerned. Having Arnalds here in Iran, all the way from that Nordic island country and after all these years, was an event that no one familiar with the music scene in Iceland was willing to miss. As such, the first two shows were sold out in less than eight minutes, and the three extra shows after that were faced with a similar fate. “3000 tickets [sold] in 8 minutes,” Arnalds expressed his astonishment in a post on his Instagram story, promising the fans who did not manage to buy a ticket in time that he would “come back again and go for a bigger place.”

It took him five years of negotiations and arrangements to be finally here, Arnalds told the enraptured audience after opening his first show at 19:30 on Friday with the soulful piano, violin, and cello notes of ‘Þú Ert Jörðin’ (‘You’re Earth’), and following it up with ‘Tomorrow’s Song’.

“I used to see comments on my Instagram posts in characters that I did not recognize,” Arnalds told the audience in his soft Icelandic accent. “Later I found out that they were in Farsi, from my Iranian fans telling me to come to Iran for a gig and I thought, why not?”

We laughed, amazed and grateful that a social medium such as Instagram could bridge the gaps in ways that would not have been possible to cross during the era of no Internet. I was one of those commentators, too, asking Arnalds and his accompanying vocalist on some of his music, Arnór Dan, to come to Iran, almost two years ago. And they finally made it, although minus Dan.

Arnalds brought astounding violinist Viktor Orri Árnason, cellist Hallgrímur Jónas Jensson, and sound technician Terence Goodchild on this magical journey to Tehran. ‘I brought winter to Iran’, he joked in the caption of an Instagram post of a picture showing a snowy street in Tehran which is still going through the last days of the last Autumnal month. Some Iranians commented on the post with ‘for now we’re winter’, referencing his perhaps most popular song in Iran, ‘For Now I am Winter’, with the stirring, melancholic vocals of Arnór Dan ('So Close' is another popular song with the Iranian fans, also sung by Dan.)

Although I would have loved to hear ‘For Now I am Winter’, ‘Kjurrt’, ‘1995’ or ‘So Close’ during last night’s gig, Arnalds’ picked set was no less mesmerizing. They played 14 tracks for about an hour-long performance, which also included ‘Near Light’, and the last song Arnalds called ‘Lag fyriri Ommu’, Song for Grandma, a solo piece that brought the electrifying evening to an end and rousing, standing applause.

“I wrote it after my grandma passed away,” he said before playing the piece, to which the audience expressed their sympathies in a soft murmur. “I was into punk rock back in the day, but my grandma tried to pique my interest in classical music, mainly Chopin. So I wrote this for her.”

Arnalds indeed started his musical career as a drummer for a hardcore band, and then made the sudden transition into electronics and a dabble in classical music.

“The classical scene is kind of closed to people who haven’t been studying music all their lives,” Arnalds talked about his motivations for making such a transition. “I would like to bring my classical influence to the people who usually don’t listen to this kind of music, to open people’s minds.”

Arnalds will play three more shows on Saturday and Sunday, and leave Tehran with the promise to come back for even a bigger performance. His presence in Iran was made possible through the efforts of people at ‘Rooberoo Mansion’, a cultural hub founded in 2016 in Tehran, and dedicated to “creating a space for artists from all over the world to perform and interact with each other and to provide a working space for cross-cultural experiences to take place”.

Meaning ‘Face-to-Face’ in Persian, ‘Rooberoo’ Mansion defines its goal as bringing artists from all over the world with different cultures to interact with each other “in hopes of evolving and creating a better future.”

Arnald’s presence in Tehran was a profound fulfilment of that goal. Here’s hope for even more such magical events in Iran.


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