Hailing from the peripheries of Iceland, now Brooklyn / Reykjavík based composer Bergrún Snæbjörnsdóttir follows inner logics when approaching composition, often integrating sound and visual phenomena into an indivisible whole.
Her work has been performed widely by groups such as the Oslo Philharmonic (NO), Iceland Symphony Orchestra (IS), International Contemporary Ensemble ICE (US), Decibel (AUS), Scenatet (DK), Avanti! Chamber Orchestra (FI) and Nordic Affect (IS) and featured in festivals like Nordic Music Days (IS, SE) Tectonics Festival (IS, NO, UK), SPOR (DK) Cycle Music and Art Festival (IS), Ultima Festival (NO), Dark Music Days (IS), Sigur Rós’s Norður og Niður Festival (IS), Klang Festival (DK), ISCM’s World New Music Days and more. Bergrún was also the composer in residence at Skálholt Summer Concerts 2018.
As a performer she has a diverse background, having in the past toured extensively and recorded with acts like Sigur Rós and Björk, as well as being a performer of experimental music. Also a member of composers' collective S.L.Á.T.U.R. (Artistically Obtrusive Composers Around Reykjavík).
She holds a master's degree (2017) in composition from Mills College where she studied with Fred Frith, Zeena Parkins, Pauline Oliveros, Roscoe Mitchell, James Fei and John Bischoff, as well as as well having completed a bachelor’s degree in new media composition (2014) and B.mus in horn (2011) from the Iceland Academy of the Arts.
contact at bergrunsna ( at ) gmail.com
On the second day, the first piece I saw was called “Areolae Undant” by Icelandic composer and performer Bergrún Snæbjörnsdóttir. Six instrumentalists were positioned in a circle in Silfurberg, with Bergrún standing in the center. The piece was somewhat centered around the interactive lights, which were beautiful. The audience were sitting around the circle, which made it seem like some kind of ritual.
on "Areolae Undant" at Norður og Niður Festival, December 2017
Michael Rebhahn for Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, vol. 6/2016.
"...while at the same time jarring and poetic composition Drive Theory of Bergrún Snæbjörnsdóttir..."
on "Drive Theory" premiered by Scenatet, Curious Chamber Players and Ensemble Adapter at NMD, October 1st 2016
Robert Barry for The Wire
“A circle of light appears in the middle of the floor with a single white dot spinning in perpetual orbit. A woodwind quartet stands around it. As the dot passes them by they play a note - long if the dot spins slowly, short if it rushes past at speed. It is simplicity itself. But then a second ring is added with its own dot, asynchronous with the first. And then a third ring. Add to that the position of the audience, surrounding the four winds, with a further outer ring of brass around the audience, intoning long, langorous chords, and you get a work capable of bewitching effects, even as its means remain perfectly transparent.”
-If those four works cumulatively adjusted the ears, others at Only Connect suggested we call upon our eyes to listen more attentively. Bergrún Snæbjörnsdóttir’s Esoteric Mass projects its score of dots and circles onto the floor of a blacked-out space. Wind instruments from the Oslo Philharmonic played according to the movements of dots around concentric circles, seemingly emitting a note each time the dot passed the same point on the circle (extra circles appeared and sometimes the circles themselves were momentarily stretched or flattened, each ‘phasing’ the discourse). But whether or not we could see the notation, and it was a refreshing experience to do so, the methodology gave Snæbjörnsdóttir’s piece its own biology – its own heartbeat. As an overarching concept – letting your audience in on all those score-bound secrets – it has potential. But the byproduct is pretty good music.
on "Esoteric Mass" performed by the Oslo Philharmonic at Tectonics/Only Connect Festival, May 22nd 2016
Bergrún Snaebjörnsdóttir’s Instrinsic Rift (2016) was presented in an almost candle-light setting, which was very complimentary of the settled and transparent sustains from the two instruments. The electronic part was extremely shy, barely present, which was a tasteful solution giving ample room for the performers to dwell in carefully mixing their sound-colours. Only at the end did it create a slight swell, a slight wedge in between the two.
on "Intrinsic Rift" performed by Shasta Ellenbogen and Yngvild Vivja Skaarud at Dark Music Days, January 2016
"...its subtlety, and yet its careful use of theatrical language, was its great success."
on "2 víti" performed by Decibel at PICA performance space September 2015
"Grísalappalísa diversified their sound on their second album, as heard on "Flýja" ("Escape"), a dark ballad that's equal parts Lou Reed, Serge Gainsbourg and Bob Dylan. The string arrangement is exceptional, too." -Davíð Roach
on string arrangements on the album Rökrétt Framhald by Grísalappalísa
-The performances from Icelandic composers were a mixed bag. On the plus side, Bergrún Snæbjörnsdóttir's “Esoteric Mass For Winds” in Norðurljós was far and away the best thing I’ve heard yet from the S.L.A.T.U.R music collective. A group of woodwind instruments stood around a projection of moving dots around circles (similar to the models of electrons in an atom), playing notes determined by the speed the dot passed each musician. It was a concept so simple a child could grasp it, but the end result was playful, melodic and imaginative.
"Þar var næst á dagskrá Esoteric Mass eftir Bergrúnu Snæbjörnsdóttur. Tónlistin hennar byggðist á því að blásturshljóðfæraleikarar röðuðu sér í hring og spiluðu eftir mynstri sem var á sífelldri hreyfingu. Mynstrinu var varpað á gólfið. Fyrst heyrði maður aðallega endurtekna tóna, varfærnislega spilaða. En svo óx verkið upp í hápunkt sem var skemmtilega ærslafenginn og kaótískur. Hann samsvaraði sér prýðilega við hógvært upphafið og endinn. Þetta voru flottar andstæður." - Jónas Sen
"Next on the agenda was Esoteric Mass by Bergrún Snæbjörnsdóttir. Her music was built on the concept of wind performers gathered around in a circle formation, performing by a pattern which was in constant motion. This pattern was projected on the floor. First one could hear mostly repeated tones, carefully produced. But then the piece grew into a climax which was animated, high-spirited and chaotic. It corresponded very well with the humble beginnings and end. The contrast was great."
on "Esoteric Mass" premiered by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra at Tectonics Festival, April 11th 2014