For US pianist and composer Dustin O’Halloran, the coronavirus pandemic was a time to look back and take stock. It didn’t seem like the right time to compose new music, he tells Apple Music, but rather “a good moment to understand where I started, where I left off, and what I want to do next.” So, O’Halloran rerecorded pieces from three of his previous albums: Piano Solos (2004), Piano Solos Vol. 2 (2006), and Lumiere (2011). Silfur introduces listeners to newly minted, beautifully produced performances of 13 tracks from them, including new string arrangements and artist collaborations. Composed in different countries at different points in O’Halloran’s life, many of the original tracks were recorded live or “very humbly, with almost low-fi aesthetics” on an old upright piano. “I thought I could bring new meaning to some of these pieces and make a better recording of them,” he says. “Digging back into my pieces and rerecording them has made me realize how music itself captures time, but also how it changes over time.” It’s this idea of his music existing in two forms—past and present—that inspired this album’s unique title. O’Halloran recorded Silfur in Iceland, splitting sessions between the Fríkirkjan Church in Reykjavík and a concert hall in Akureyri, in the north, to ensure the acoustic qualities needed for each track. “While I was making this recording, a friend of mine brought some Icelandic silfurberg stones to give me good energy for recording,” he reveals. “Silfurberg splits light into two rays. The Vikings used it for navigation, and it was used in medical instruments in the 1800s. I thought it was a beautiful analogy for what I was doing, which was taking something and reflecting it into two perspectives: the present time that I made the recording, and the idea of looking back on my work.” Silfur is bookended by two original tracks—“Opus 56” and “Constellation No. 2”—a sign, says O’Halloran, of the musical direction in which he’ll head after this album. Read on as the pianist guides us through each track on the mesmerizing Silfur. Opus 56 “I'm always searching for different things each time I write a piece. I wrote this one at the beginning of lockdown and was looking for something that had a purity to it. A few years ago, I had a problem with my arm, which caused nerve problems in my hand. I’ve lost a bit of technical ability in my right hand, so it’s like I’m working with my limitations. There are usually a lot of colors in my music, but there’s a lot of white in this one.” Opus 28 “I wrote ‘Opus 28’ while I was living in Italy. I wrote the string arrangement not long after, but I never got a proper recording of it. I used to perform it live with strings a lot, and I actually played it with the Siggi String Quartet the first time I came to Iceland. To feature them on the album was a nice circle to complete with them.” Opus 44 “For Silfur, I played this one on a Bösendorfer grand piano, but originally recorded it for [2011 album] Lumiere on an old British piano made by Wing & Son, which had four pedals and has this woody, deep tone. This wasn’t a piece I originally thought to rerecord, but when I started to get into it, I realized that it was one that, despite its constantly changing keys, still sounded very fluid. I didn’t study piano and I didn’t go to conservatory. So, for me, it’s a question of working with what I’ve got and searching from something interesting in the piano.” Opus 18 “This is a very simple piece with a nostalgic feel for me. It always reminds me of my time in Italy, which is where I really started to focus on the piano. In the original recording, you can hear the sound of birds or a Vespa going by. I didn’t have a lot of sound isolation. This time, I recorded it in the Fríkirkjan Church in Reykjavík. I always imagined this piece having a lot of space in the recording.” Opus 17 “I’m a huge fan of Baroque and counterpoint, and this was my exploration of that. It’s influenced by Scarlatti and Bach. ‘Opus 17’ got me into film scoring, because it was used in Sofia Coppola’s film Marie Antoinette. I think, when they heard it, they probably thought it was by a dead composer!” Opus 55 “I originally recorded this in the Grunewald Church in West Berlin. Bryan Senti is an amazing composer in his own right and a fantastic violinist. We did a live session at Capitol Records for Deutsche Grammophon, and I asked him if he would perform it with me. When I write a piece for piano, I usually don’t think about adding anything more. I always imagine it just for that instrument. But Bryan was able to find a way to make the violin feel a part of the piece. He really brought it up to date and gave the piece a new life.” Opus 12 “This is from my first record, which has a lot of nostalgia in it. I thought if I was going to make Silfur, I needed to show where I started. I think my early works have quite a naive approach, but I realized that I’ll never write a piece like that again. There’s something very beautiful about the fact that I’m never going to be in that musical place again.” Fine “I find the Minimalist movement inspiring. I’ve always been a ‘less is more’ type of composer anyway. And I love repetition—I think it’s a really beautiful thing. This piece is just an exploration of minimalism and repetition.” Opus 20 “‘Opus 20’ is really open-hearted, and I wanted to create something that would move through a lot of different parts and sections and take you on a journey. But really, I just wanted to make something that was beautiful but which also expressed that feeling of beauty.” Opus 7 “This is from my first record. It’s got a bit of a dark, dramatic feel to it. Again, it’s probably not a piece that I would write today, but it reminds me of the angst of youth. I really feel I captured a moment in time in it, so I thought it would be nice to try to give it a new life.” Opus 30 “Here, I tried to adopt a more simple, left-hand approach. I love trying to use not too many notes at the same time, and this one rarely uses more than three or four notes simultaneously. It explores small color shifts and how you can shift the tonality with the left hand alone.” Opus 17 (String Quartet Version) “I was asked if I could do some string quartet versions of the pieces, but I didn’t feel most of them would work as a quartet—they felt so centered on the piano itself. But because this one has that counterpoint element, I thought it could work. The quartet is my favorite string ensemble because every player has to be spot-on. In an orchestra, things can be a little bit more blurred, but I like that every player has to really play their part and it has to be very controlled. I like that dynamic.” Opus 21 “There is definitely a bit of Chopin influence in here. I think because I never got to study the piano masterworks, I was always trying to write my own that I could play. The interesting part of recording all of these pieces is that I know that I’m now going in a different direction, but finding your own voice means touching on different aspects and styles of music. So, this piece is me just exploring a certain style.” Opus 37 “This is very meditative with a lot of subtle tones—a lot of white and pale blue colors. I wanted to record it at the Fríkirkjan Church, as I have always pictured this piece as having a lot of resonance and openness.” Constellation No. 2 “I wrote this one with [Icelandic musician] Gyða Valtýsdóttir. It was the last piece I wrote and recorded in Berlin. I lived there for 10 years and shared a studio with fellow composer Johan Johansson and then [Icelandic musician and composer] Hildur Guðnadóttir. Gyða was spending a lot of time in Berlin, and she and I had worked a lot together over the years. She has a really sweet, beautiful touch on the cello’s upper register. Nobody really plays the high notes, but all of the strings on this piece are played on a cello. This piece is really simple, but it has a strong emotional pull. Maybe it’s a sign of the direction that I’m going in.”

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