Program Notes


BORN: July 11, 1977. Reykjavik (Borgarnes), ICL. She currently resides in Surrey, UK

COMPOSED: 2017. Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Society with the generous support of the Marie-Josée Kravis Prize for New Music

WORLD PREMIERE: April 4, 2018. Esa-Pekka Salonen led the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center, New York

SFS PERFORMANCES: FIRST AND ONLY—These are the West Coast premiere performances

INSTRUMENTATION: 2 flutes plus piccolo and alto flute, 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets,  bass clarinet, 4 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tenor and bass tubas, 3 large tam-tams, 3 large bass drums, 2 large bossed gongs (gongs knobbed in the center), 2 cymbals, 2 tom-toms, and strings

DURATION: About 14 mins

THE BACKSTORY  Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir attempts to capture the slow unfolding of detail within wholeness. Her music is written for diverse ensembles, from symphony orchestras to studio electronics, but is always colored by the sense that listening is above all else, and suggests that listening, in its quiet way, is more powerful than insisting or imposing. The beauty and distinction of Thorvaldsdottir is her allowance for sound to form itself. She frequently works with large sonic structures that tend to reveal the presence of a vast variety of sustained sound materials, reflecting her sense of imaginative listening to landscapes and nature. Her music portrays a flowing world of sounds with an enigmatic lyrical atmosphere.

She is the recipient of the prestigious Nordic Council Music Prize 2012 for Dreaming, the New York Philharmonic’s Kravis Emerging Composer Award in 2015, and Lincoln Center’s 2018 Emerging Artist Award and 2018 Martin E. Segal Award.

Among the orchestras and ensembles that have performed Thorvaldsdottir’s work are the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, London's Philharmonia Orchestra, Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Yarn/Wire, The Crossing, Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Vienna Radio Symphony, Oslo Philharmonic, and Either/Or Ensemble.

Thorvaldsdottir’s debut portrait album, Rhízōma (Innova Recordings), was released in 2011. Aerial (Deutsche Grammophon) and In the Light of Air (Sono Luminus) soon followed. AEQUA (Sono Luminus) features a selection of recent chamber pieces performed by the International Contemporary Ensemble, and was released in November 2018. 

In April 2018, Esa-Pekka Salonen led the New York Philharmonic in the premiere of Thorvaldsdottir's work METACOSMOS, which was commissioned by the orchestra. The work receives its West Coast premiere at these performances, and will be given its European premiere with the Berlin Philharmonic later this month. Thorvaldsdottir is currently Composer-in-Residence with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra.

THE MUSIC METACOSMOS unfolds as a single movement. The composer offers these comments: This piece is constructed around the natural balance between beauty and chaos—how elements can come together in (seemingly) utter chaos to create a unified, structured whole. The idea and inspiration behind the piece is the speculative metaphor of falling into a black hole—the unknown—with endless constellations and layers of opposing forces connecting and communicating with each other, expanding and contracting, projecting a struggle for power as the different sources pull on you and you realize that you are being drawn into a force that is beyond your control.

Jeanette Yu


More About the Music

Recordings: While there are currently no recordings of METACOSMOS available, several of Thorvaldsdottir’s works can be found on Aerial (Deutsche Grammophon) and In the Light of Air, featuring International Contemporary Ensemble (Sono Luminus)

Online: Learn more about the composer at

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