Pianist, 33 Life on tour
Iceland is very, very, very small. We have very good pianists but there are only 330,000 people. I think I qualify as the only one who is really having an international career on the big stage.
I always cover my ears whenever an ambulance drives past me. I hate the sudden attack of that sound. I’m amazed people don’t do that more because I read a medical article about this phenomenon. Every time it happens, you lose a certain amount of hearing that never comes back.
You can dream of money and things you can buy, but as soon as you get the thing you were dreaming of, there is this instant emptiness. It is always the same story. The next day, maybe you start craving something else, another fancy object.
I felt great about turning 30. I didn’t think I would ever make it to 10. I was so obsessed with death as a child. I remember looking at my older sister on her 10th birthday when I was seven and thinking she must be so happy that she made it. This would have been 1991. So you can imagine my thrill at becoming 30. It’s amazing. I think children are a lot more existential than we realise.
Amy Winehouse is one of my favourite artists. She’s singing fairly simple melodies but the way she’s doing it is at the deepest level. I can’t get enough of her and I’m still in shock she’s not here any more.
My father is an architect and also a composer. My mother is a pianist and a piano teacher. I’m the last generation before the Internet. I was born in ’84. I’m eternally grateful for that experience, to be in Iceland with no disturbance and with your own existence and family, privacy and childhood. Priceless.
for a classical musician is a bit more bourgeois than your average rock band but I’ve been to quite a few wild parties nonetheless. I like champagne, but I can’t drink so much. The life of a pianist is not so different from the life of an athlete.
At one point, I was thinking too much about how to succeed in the music world. For a young artist, it can seem impossible; there are so many excellent musicians and the market is extremely small. I met this very wise, very famous pianist, Alfred Brendel. He said to me, “It takes 15 years to become famous overnight.” I liked that very much. It’s not obvious when you’re sowing the seeds, but in retrospect, I see he was right.
I’m interested in many things. I could say something like philosophy or history—whether it’s music history or general— but somehow saying philosophy or history just makes it sound so shallow! Apart from literature, observing life and politics, those would be the things: philosophy and history.
Mount Esja has a sentimental value for me because you can see it from so many perspectives in Reykjavík. It’s always there with you. The beautiful thing is that it seems to be far away but you can drive there in 20 minutes and hike it in two hours. It just gives you the most gorgeous views. I’m always looking for that mountain in all the other cities I’m constantly travelling to. I never find it, of course.
We are here to resist entropy, the imminent destruction of all things. It’s our duty as humans, with the lifespan of however many years, to try to find some beautiful order in the ever-increasing chaos of the universe. When I started to follow English football—this was about ’96—Newcastle had by far, to me, the most entertaining, creative team. When they had Alan Shearer, Tino Asprilla, Les Ferdinand and David Ginola. It was a golden age. Only for two years, you know, but I support them through thick and thin.
The beauty of classical music is that it adapts itself so much from one generation to the next. The way we play Bach today is extraordinarily different from 50 years ago.
There’s this constant interplay of trying to set the highest standard for yourself, but at the same time, not to become a victim of that standard.
The average Icelander is related, going back, I think, seven generations. That seems fairly close. We can trace our ancestors, basically, to the beginning. We have this database where you can type in your social security number and find out exactly who your relatives are, going back to the time when the country was first inhabited. It’s often the first thing people do when they start dating, to make sure they’re not closely related. I did that when I met my now-wife.
Onstage is where I get my best ideas, with an audience in the moment. It’s an interesting state of mind, between consciousness and subconsciousness. Also, it’s a bit like survival mode because anything can happen and what you’re trying to do at the piano at the highest level is extraordinarily challenging; we are all very human, after all. When you let go completely of your ego—there is no space for that, at least not for me—you go into this other mode that I can never approach off the stage. Not even close to it.