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EXCLUSIVE: Ólafur Arnalds on 'The Chopin Project' with Alice Sara Ott, "Reminiscence" Video and Why He's Not Reading This

By Ian Holubiak i.holubiak@classicalite.com on Apr 29, 2015 09:43 PM EDT

Iceland's BAFTA-winning producer Ólafur Arnalds has always appreciated the intricacies and depth of Frédéric Chopin, even when he was pounding out blast beats from behind his throne in metalcore outfit Fighting Shit. But the stolid tradition of "classical recording," not surprisingly, that seemed especially flat for the Broadchurch composer. An iconoclast, perhaps, Arnalds (not to be confused with his singer-songwriter cousin, Ólöf Arnalds) wanted to put a finer point on Chopin's music here in his own digi-age.

Of course, that's not to say this Mr. Arnalds has denied that certain Polish composer's alluring je ne sais quoi. But with an entire century and more of technological expansion from which to pull, the former's found a beguilingly unique way to hear the latter.

To wit, in collaboration with German-Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott, Arnalds has wrought The Chopin Project, released in March via Mercury and Universal Music Classics.

We were able to get him to take our phone call from the road, where he spoke about Chopin, microphone placement, working with Ms. Ott, why waltzes are manly and the glorious music video for the new single, "Reminiscence."

Classicalite: First off, I know you don't like the word 'reinventing,' so, what would you say you're doing to Chopin with this disc?

Ólafur Arnalds: I didn't want to 'reinvent' Chopin, but I wanted to hear him in a different way. I'm not trying to change the course of history or anything. I'm a big fan of his music, myself. However, I wanted to hear Chopin recorded today--with modern producers.

C-LITE: You've also duly noted that non-classical recording technology has been used as part of the composition and performance process, but that same tech hasn't really been used to record classical music, per se. Care to elaborate? What was your approach here?

OA: Originally, when I began to think of this idea, I thought how there are always specific rules when recording: like where you place the microphones in a room, such as recording in a big concert hall. But, now, when you put something down on tape, it's recorded differently. And that's what I wanted to capture: the microphones being placed next to the performer, to hear the breathing, to become a part of the composition.

C-LITE: It's certainly a more organic, in-situ take. As for your latest video, "Reminiscence," well, walk us through the visuals.

OA: Oh, it's beautiful. I love it! When I work with Magnús [Leifsson], he always comes up with the craziest ideas, despite my skepticism. This dance that they do in the video, though, is kind of iconic--like a waltz. And this whole idea of a 'waltz, regardless of how 'manly' it may be, is still a waltz.

C-LITE: Speaking of Chopin, recording and waltzes, pianist Alice Sara Ott has committed all of them to disc.

OA: Yes, she's amazing. And working with her was a major privilege. To be honest, she's one of the greatest pianists in the world today. I'm very grateful she accepted my offer.

C-LITE: Finally, you've been getting a lot of great press as of late. Be it The Chopin Project or your Broadchurch cues, the praise has been pretty much unanimous. Do you read reviews, especially older ones? Like this one from Rolling Stone on For Now I Am Winter?

OA: No, I haven't read it. I don't really read magazines...particularly ones about myself!

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TagsEXCLUSIVE, Classicalite Q&A, Olafur Arnalds, The Chopin Project, Alice Sara Ott, Reminiscence

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