The Culture Music

Alt-rock crosses over to classical setting

The band Sigur Rós performing as part of a Los Angeles Philharmonic festival is just the latest instance of an alternative rock act crossing over into a classical setting.

Sigur Ros performs for the L.A. Philharmonic's Reykjavik Festival.
Photo illustration by Januz Miralles; Photo by Tomaas
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  • Yoshi Kato

From Madison Square Garden in New York City to the Roskilde Festival held west of Copenhagen, Denmark, Sigur Rós has performed in some notable settings over its 23-year career. And for three nights in mid-April, the ethereal Icelandic band will headline a decidedly different location: the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. The trio is part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Reykjavík Festival of contemporary music, a lineup that also includes composer/film scorer Jóhann Jóhannsson (“Arrival”) and an exhibit featuring music by Björk as well as a performance by the artist. Sigur Rós is set to perform selections from its songbook as well as new work April 13-15.

The festival runs intermittently April 7-June 4, and Sigur Rós reflects both the breadth and the depth of the programming aesthetic. “[They] are so connected to Iceland – the mood, the expansive sounds, the mystery, darkness,” Johanna Rees, L.A. Philharmonic’s director of presentations, wrote in an e-mail interview. “It’s seemingly melancholy but then so hopeful and so beautiful. With this festival we are examining the sounds and moods as related to the geography and community of Iceland. This band truly transports the listener to the country.”

Sigur Rós has collaborated with modern chamber groups in the past, including the four founding string players from the since-expanded Icelandic band Amiina. 

Other musicians in alternative rock bands have also been crossing over into classical settings. Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead worked with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the London Contemporary Orchestra; The National’s Bryce Dessner’s work has been commissioned by the Paris-based chamber music ensemble Ensemble Intercontemporain, among other collaborations; and Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry’s work has been commissioned by the San Francisco string ensemble Kronos Quartet, among other works.

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