Vikingur Olaf­s­son

Pi­anist, 33 Life on tour

Esquire (Singapore) - - Contents - In­ter­view by Ben Mitchell Pho­to­graph by Ari Magg

Pi­anist. Vik­ing.

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.

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