Anders Hillborg’s Sound Atlas has won plaudits for recent European performances. Sinfonieorchester Basel and Aziz Shokhakimov give the Swiss premiere of Hillborg’s 2018 work on 19 October, as part of an extensive focus on his music, with a further performance in Germany at Burghof Lörrach on 23 October. The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra performed the Swedish premiere of the piece at the Konserthuset on 10 November, conducted by Anja Bihlmaier.
Commissioned by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, together with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra and the Göteborgs Symfoniker, the 20-minute work was premiered in London in January 2019, with Marin Alsop conducting. One of its most distinctive features is Hillborg’s use of the Glass Harmonica, which, along with string microtones, gives the work an unearthly gleam.
Sound Atlas is roughly divided into 5 sections: Crystalline, River of Glass, Vaporised Toy Pianos, Vortex and Hymn. The first two parts establish the work’s pellucid, glittering sound world, before the Toy Pianos are ’vaporised’. The music then plunges into ‘Vortex’ – a violent, whirling, convulsive soundscape. We then rise from this maelstrom to another crystalline interlude, which shatters and plunges again into the abyss. These outbursts are resolved in a solemn hymn in the strings that conclude the work. At its premiere The Financial Times (Richard Fairman) called it “music of the far expanses of the universe”.
It is easy to understand the enthusiasm of British critics [for the piece]. Sound Atlas is the best work that Hillborg has written since Sirens (2011)…itself one of the very finest works of the 21st century. But despite the crystalline, floating sound of the glass harmonica that carries the whole work forward…we remain on the earth and rooted in the human world…brilliant reverberations create breath-taking vantage points…eruptive convulsions open deep chasms…the finale's yearning rising singing in the strings is of supreme beauty.
Dagens Nyheter (Martin Nyström), 11 November 2022
…overtone-like floating sounds inspired by the glass harmonica faded in and out, gradually increasing in intensity as they pulsated, and enlivened by scattered motifs. The Sinfonieorchester Basel celebrated this singular work in music history with joyful intensity and technical precision. They offered captivating contrasts between the finely chiselled woodwind solos and powerful brass chords…the work ends with a pure hymn, already present throughout the entire work in fragmented form…a vivid musical experience of Hillborg's fantastical, spherical music…
Die Oberbadische (Willi Vogl), 24 October 2022
Other recent performances include the Swiss premiere of Hillborg’s 2020 Cello Concerto received its Swiss premiere from Nicolas Altstaedt and Sinfonieorchester Basel, conducted by Krzysztof Urbański, on 23 November. On 2 December Antony Hermus conducted the Belgian National Orchestra in the Belgian premiere of Hillborg’s 1994 Liquid Marble at BOZAR.