Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson began making his mark on the wider classical music world in the mid-2010s, after winning several major arts prizes in his homeland.
Ólafsson began his studies at home in Iceland, then earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Juilliard, where his primary teachers were Jerome Lowenthal and Robert McDonald. By 2017, he had premiered five piano concertos, working directly with composers such as Philip Glass, Daníel Bjarnason, and Haukur Tómasson, whose concerto he premiered during the 2016-2017 season. He has also collaborated on projects with visual artists such as Roman Signer and Lillevän, and musicians like Sayaka Shoji, Pekka Kuusisto, and Björk.
Ólafsson’s recital programs are thoughtfully assembled, linking music by theme, historical context, tonality, or a combination of elements. That kind of care and insight led him to host a TV series about classical music for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service entitled Útúrdúr (“Out-of-tune,” 2013-2014), and to him being named artistic director of Iceland’s Vinterfest, taking over in 2016 from the music festival’s founding director, Martin Fröst. Ólafsson is also founder and artistic director of the Reykjavík Midsummer Music festival.
Having by then released three albums on his own, including Schubert’s Winterreise with bass Kristinn Sigmundsson, he signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon in November 2016. His first release on the label, Philip Glass: Piano Works, appeared in January 2017. Later that same year, Ólafsson was the featured pianist on Dario Marianelli’s score for the Academy Award-nominated film Darkest Hour, about Winston Churchill. In 2018, he released the critically acclaimed album Johann Sebastian Bach, which yielded the artist a slew of awards including Gramophone’s Artist of the Year. He released the companion piece J.S. Bach: Works & Reworks in 2019. ~ Patsy Morita