Anyone familiar with the music of Anders Hillborg will no doubt remember one of his trademark textures: gleaming, unearthly string harmonies lit from within by glass harmonica. In the past this beguiling effect has been created with just a few individual glasses, but his latest orchestral piece Sound Atlas, employs all three octaves of this extraordinary instrument to great effect. Commissioned by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, together with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra and the Göteborgs Symfoniker, the 21-min work was premiered in London on 16 January 2019, with Marin Alsop conducting.
Hillborg writes that:
‘Sound Atlas is roughly divided into 5 sections: Crystalline, River of Glass, Vaporised Toy Pianos, Vortex and Hymn. Glass Harmonica and string microtones both play significant roles in the work, contributing to the crystalline quality that is at the centre of its soundworld. After the Toy Pianos have ’vaporised’, this crystalline character fades and the music is plunged into ‘Vortex’ – a soundscape of violent, whirling, convulsive masses of sound. The music ascends from the whirlpool up to a brief crystalline moment, then plunges yet again into the abyss, finally resolving into the solemn string hymn which concludes the piece.’
This is the second recent Hillborg commission from the LPO: Mantra – Elegy, was premiered by Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra in April 2018, with the US premiere at the Aspen Festival following in July.
‘Music of the far expanses of the universe, haunted by the otherworldly sound of the glass harmonica. If Stanley Kubrick came back to remake 2001 and needed a soundtrack, Hillborg would be his man.’
The Financial Times (Richard Fairman), 17 January 2019
‘If I didn’t fall head over heels for everything on offer, I did have a soft spot for the magical Sound Atlas… The Swedish composer has an ear for alluring soundscapes. Here, we sank into a disorientating vortex before rising again. The glass harmonica created an otherworldly halo to the orchestral palette; bright, soft-edged and unexpected as the sun’s corona.’
The Times (Rebecca Franks), 18 January 2019
‘The eerie whine of the glass harmonica permeated Hillborg’s Sound Atlas, its chill tones suggesting scenes as much visual as musical: a snowy landscape, a leaden sky over an equally leaden sea, an abandoned church still resounding with ancient music.’
The Evening Standard (Nick Kimberley), 17 January 2019
‘An expansive, five-part movement, predominantly slow and coloured by a glass harmonica, its string textures suggesting Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia with a helping of microtones.’
The Guardian (Andrew Clements), 17 January 2019