Björk Orkestral Concert Series
After touring her “theatrical” stage production, Cornucopia, in 2019, Björk announced a new concert series called Björk Orkestral (originally spelled Björk Orchestral) in February 2020. The original dates were scheduled for summer 2020 in France, England, Russia, Finland and Germany, and the tour was billed as acoustic, strings-only shows in celebration of Björk’s “orchestral arrangements of works so far”. Shortly after these dates were announced, however, the coronavirus pandemic put a crippling halt on live concerts and Björk had to postpone the show until summer 2021.
Measures the Icelandic government took to contain the virus proved to be one of the most effective throughout the world, and by mid-May 2020 the country had slowed the spread of the coronavirus to 2 new cases a week, effectively eradicating COVID-19 from its shores.
Recognizing the unique position Iceland was in but also the devastating global economic impact COVID-19 left in its wake, along with the world-wide Black Lives Matter protests in response to the police killing of George Floyd in the United States, Björk decided it was the right time to bring her orchestral concerts to live audiences in her home country. “There are many musicians out of work right now… Many of them live by playing concerts because they no longer earn revenue from record sales.” She credits her father’s role in Iceland unions for her desire to fight for musician’s wages. The proceeds from the concerts will go to Kvennaathvarfið, a women’s shelter dedicated to refugees in Iceland, though Björk revealed that due to the isolation experienced during lock down, Icelandic women in general are in need of Kvennaathvarfið’s services. In addition to concert ticket sales, each matinee performances will be followed by an evening of food and beverages with the proceeds also going to Kvennaathvarfið. In addition to the funds raised in Iceland, the concerts will be live streamed throughout the world to raise money for charity with donations being sent to non-profit organizations in each country the shows are streamed in.
As for the concerts themselves, Björk has wanted to hold these acoustic-only shows since publishing her first collection of sheet music in 2017. 34 Scores for Piano, Organ, Harpsichord and Celeste features acoustic arrangements created in collaboration with her longtime accompanist Jónas Sen which covers her entire discography. Björk Orkestral will see Björk reunite with over 100 Icelandic musicians, Sen included, that have contributed to her studio albums and live concerts. Initially only 3 concerts were announced, but on 13 July 2020 a 4th show was added to the schedule. Each concert will feature a different set of musicians and instruments and a unique set list.
The 17 January show will feature a 15 piece chamber orchestra made up of members of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bjarni Frimann Bjarnason. Bjarnason served as conductor during the Vulnicura Tour’s acoustic-only dates in 2016 and 2017. The night will focus primarily on Björk’s albums Homogenic and Vulnicura.
The 24 January show will feature the 50-person Hamrahlíð Choir conducted by Þorgerður Ingólfsdóttir and will feature songs primarily from Björk’s albums, Medúlla (2004), Biophilia (2011) and Utopia (2017). The Hamrahlíð Choir featured on the album Utopia and performed on the New York and EU dates of the Cornucopia tour.
The next concert, to be held on 31 January, will feature the brass section of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra in addition to the flute septet Viibra. The members of Viibra played the flutes on Björk’s 2017 album Utopia and officially formed as a group to tour with Björk throughout the Utopia and Cornucopia tours. In addition to brass and flutes, the night will see American-born harpist Katie Buckley (also featured on Utopia and its live shows) as well as Jónas Sen on piano. Material will be drawn from the albums Vespertine, Volta (2007) and Utopia.
The final concert, to be held on 7 February, will feature the strings section of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Bjarni Frimann Bjarnason, in addition to the harpist Katie Buckley. The performance will draw the bulk of its material from Björk’s albums, Post (1995) and Vespertine (2001) plus the 2000 soundtrack album Selmasongs.