Ásdís Björk Jónsdóttir Sings Icelandic Art Songs for Mother's Day

      A recital, simply to share the joy of music was given by Ásdís Jónsdóttir with Wendy Young at the piano, on Mother's Day Saturday, May 13, 2006 at First Presbyterian Church on 36th Street in Virginia Beach. Titled Icelandic Songs, we were introduced to the music of ten composers, none of which were familiar. Fortunately the program booklet gave complete text and translations, which added to our understanding of this new music. In many Icelandic songs there is a folk sensibility. The harshness of life in the far north is reflected in the text and mood of the music. This is not only true of Iceland but also of the Scandinavian countries as we learned at an Art Song of Williamsburg recital last fall (see AU Issue #48).

      We met Ásdis Jónsdóttir last summer at a reception to get acquainted with Jeffrey Ward, the new musical director of The Cantata Chorus. This pretty, slim, girlish woman with a clear, high voice of great beauty, was born in Reykjavík , the capital of Iceland, where she taught elementary/middle school for three years after graduation from the university there. While she taught she took a degree in music (2002) at the Music Shcool of Garðabær. Later that year she and her husband relocated to Tidewater where he took a job. Currently she sings with the Cantata Chorus and the Virginia Beach Symphony Chorus and studies with Emily Stauch.

      With an open heart, a good sense of humor and a sparkling energy and enthusiasm for music, pianist Wendy T. Young grew up in Hampton Roads, earned her Bachelor of Music degree cum laude in piano pedagogy and music theory from East Carolina University and has done graduate work at UNC. Since 1997 she has owned and operated the Wendy Young Piano Studio and is a freelance accompanist and pianist. We know her though her work as Executive Director of the Virginia Beach Symphony Orchestra and her singing with the Cantata Chorus.

      By coincidence, the only composer on the program that has a listing in the 1980 Grove Dictionary of Music is Atli Heimir Sveinsson (b.1938). He was to be in Washington, D.C. and a bold Wendy Young said, "Why not invite him to the recital?" He came and we were able to chat about his song cycle Jónasarlög on poetry by Jónas Hallgrimson from his book, Spring Stanzas, published in 1847.

      Sveinsson's cycle was accompanied by Jo Marie Larkin, clarinet; Lynette Andrews, violin; Sue Hoffman, string bass and piano. In the first piece, Heylóarvísa (Plover's Song), the clarinet sound wraps around the voice to end this sad piece. The plover, a hallowed harbinger of spring, returns to the nest to find that a raven has devoured her chicks. In Vorið góða, grænt og hlýtt (Spring and Fall) the sheep with lambs from spring are rounded-up in autumn (mid to late September). The shepherd reflects on the joy of spring but personally prefers autumn, or perhaps some other time rather than the present. This poem is a very, very free adaptation of Heinrich Heine's Neu Gedichte. In the The Beast (Ohræið!) a sea bird on the wing searches for food, is hunted by a hawk, flies into an open window, lands in a gracious lady's lap who rings her neck and prepares her for dinner! The accompaniment is string bass. Alsnjóa (Snow), a dirge of violin, piano and voice; Sáuð þið hana systur mína (Did You See My Sister?) was playful. The cycle ended with Vorvísa (Spring Poem) with its cheerful barn dance tune giving a happy ending to a number of lessons of life.

      The texts of the songs of the other composers covered a wide range of emotions and many natural elements of life in the far north. Her last song, Síðasti dans (Last Dance) by Karl O. Runólfsson (1900 -1970) has a waltz tune for this love song of dancing the last dance before dawn breaks on a new spring day. It felf as if the composer had captured the mystery of love in his setting.

      The singer's husband, Gunnar Kvaran, manned the video camera to record the program and one of their three daughters was in the audience and presented flowers to the musicians. Mr. Kvaran reserved the honor of giving his wife a bouquet and a kiss.

      The finishing touch in this Mother's Day recital was the encore piece, Sound the Trumpet by Henry Purcell, a duet with lyric mezzo-soprano Margrét Óðinsdóttir, who is Ásdis's mother as well as her first voice teacher. In this triumphal weaving of voices in this jaunty tune, they celebrate the glories of this beautiful spring day.

      If we are fortunate this recital will be presented again so more Tidewater listeners will have a chance to experience these wonderful songs sung by this talented and beautiful singer.

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