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About this Piece

Composed: 1977    
Length: c. 15 minutes

Páll Ragnar Pálsson began his musical career playing guitar in the rock band Maus. After it broke up in 2004, he began studying electronic music and composition, graduating from the Iceland Academy of Arts in 2007 and completing a PhD at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theater in 2014. He has written works for the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra and was composer-in-residence at the Skálholt Summer Concerts in 2014, where his Song of Songs was premiered. His piece for violin and orchestra, Nostalgia, was premiered at the Dark Music Days in 2013 and named Composition of the Year at the 2014 Iceland Music Awards.

Composed in Reykjavík last year, Quake was co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Norddeutscher Rundfunk, and is dedicated to cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir. He prefaces it in the score with a quotation from Auður Jónsdóttir’s novel The Big Quake: “For a thousand years, tension amassed in the lava, only to break apart in the blink of an eye during a great quake when the rock under my feet ruptured and fossils and silvery crystals broke through the surface, events long past entombed in age-old laws of minerals before unknown geysers erupted and everything that had been became something new – the landscape would never be the same. I stare into the abyss, into the chasm in my own life, and hear it shattering all around me.”

The violence of the shattering shaking and the silver shards breaking through is quite audible in Pálsson’s evocative orchestration, which frequently requires the instruments to be played in unconventional, pitchless ways emphasizing wind and air. Those natural energies are latent in the orchestral introduction, and the soloist – both ruminative and explosively agitated – seems to express the alienated personal echo of that recreative destruction.