In two scores, Hildur Guðnadóttir creates music ‘like a ghost’ and finds hope amid anger
By Peter Macdiarmid
The Icelandic pianist Hildur Guðnadóttir’s long-awaited London debut was one of three ‘hits’ in a series of concerts marking the arrival in Britain of the Icelandic-American piano virtuoso
Hildur Guðnadóttir is an Icelandic artist with an Icelandic name. She is, however, also a New York-based American pianist. Yet she has not played much in Britain until now: with her concert at London’s Royal Opera House last night, she was the very last to be heard on the BBC Proms stage in a year when the most accomplished American singers – the sopranos and tenors such as Plácido Domingo and Plácido Domingo himself – were on the brink of retirement.
‘I was lucky enough to hear Beethoven for the first time when I was about 10 and didn’t know what to make of it,’ recalls Guðnadóttir. ‘I don’t think that piano playing was considered a career – and that is because piano players were so rare in the 19th century.’
But her career has only really begun since she burst on to the international piano scene 10 years ago as a professional pianist in Iceland’s second city of Akureyri – a city which, as one who has worked there knows, is not renowned for its pianists. ‘I was told that I would make a good pianist, but I never thought I would be one,’ she says. She started out at the age of 12; one of her first concert engagements took her to Edinburgh, where she played with another Icelandic-born composer, Bárður Bjarnadóttir, who was her teacher. He would go on to be Iceland’s first president, and her grandfather was the first president of the republic.
The year was 1920, and with the end of the first world war,