Reinventing Chopin, with a music video for Game Of Thrones fans

One of its music videos features Hafthor Julius Bjornsson (above), better known as The Mountain in the Game Of Thrones television series. -- PHOTO: YOUTUBE
One of its music videos features Hafthor Julius Bjornsson (above), better known as The Mountain in the Game Of Thrones television series. -- PHOTO: YOUTUBE
For the album, The Chopin Project, Icelandic musician Olafur Arnalds (above) collaborated with German-Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott (right). -- PHOTO: UNIVERSAL MUSIC SINGAPORE
For the album, The Chopin Project, Icelandic musician Olafur Arnalds (above) collaborated with German-Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott (right). -- PHOTO: UNIVERSAL MUSIC SINGAPORE

Icelandic musician Olafur Arnalds gives a new twist to the Polish composer's best known pieces

Never let it be said that Bafta award-winning Icelandic songwriter and musician Olafur Arnalds does not have lofty dreams.

For his latest album, he seeks to reinvent classical music, specifically that of his idol, 19th-century composer and pianist Chopin.

"I've been a Chopin fan since I was a kid, but I always felt like I have been listening to the same recording all the time. I haven't heard anything new or any reinvention," the 28-year-old tells Life! in a telephone interview from his home in Iceland.

"I wanted to hear Chopin in a new way, so I ended up doing it myself."

He is best known for blending classical and avant-garde electronic music. To help realise his ideas, he collaborated with German-Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott.

The result of their partnership was the recent release of The Chopin Project, a nine-track album that contains Chopin's best known pieces including Nocturne In G Minor, Prelude In D Flat Major (Raindrop) and Piano Sonata No. 3: Largo.

Getting Ott for the project, whom he describes as an "amazing pianist", was a no-brainer.

He adds: "She has always been on the top of my list of people to work with. Her technique is great. At the same time, she can play very 'soft' and she has a fragile way of playing. Sometimes, it's really sensitive and that's something that I wanted for this project - to draw on all the emotion that I could from the playing."

The album has found favour with the classical crowd, peaking at No. 1 in the British Official Classical Charts.

Arnalds made a moody music video for one of the album's tracks, Reminiscence, based on Nocturne In C Minor, which made fans of the popular television series Game Of Thrones sit up and take notice. The video stars Icelandic actor Hafthor Julius Bjornsson, better known as The Mountain in the series.

"We wanted to put the contrast of this big, strong, manly energy against the soft energy of the music. We just thought of the biggest guy we know, which was him."

Arnalds also composed the haunting soundtrack for British television crime drama Broadchurch, for which he won a Bafta Television Craft Award last year. He has also written music for Hollywood blockbuster franchise Hunger Games as well as sci-fi drama Looper (2012).

Music lovers here know him as his two shows at the Esplanade's Mosaic music festival last year were quickly sold out.

"I remember the ship on top of the buildings," he refers to Marina Bay Sands with a laugh, when asked about his time in Singapore.

Born in Mosfellsbar, a small town in Iceland, the bachelor has always been inspired by a wide and esoteric range of music.

In his earlier days, he played drums in hardcore and metal bands and has worked with acts including German metal band Heaven Shall Burn, for whom he composed his first classical pieces.

He released his first album of neo- classical pieces, Eulogy For Evolution, in 2007 and toured with one of Iceland's most popular music exports, experimental and post-rock act Sigur Ros. Over the years, Arnalds has also been part of many music projects including Kiasmos, an experimental techno which released a self-titled album last year.

"I've always wanted to explore and experiment with new things," he says. "I like to work with pop and techno music or anything where I can learn and try something new."

dinohadi@sph.com.sg