Jónsi & Alex: 15 November 2010 – White Light Festival, NYC

Though Jónsi & Alex's White Light Festival performance may have been a one-time event, the spirituality of their music is everlasting.
Jónsi & Alex

During his 2010 tour for Go, Jónsi created a grandiose performance which sounded larger than life. But his, with collaborator Alex Somers, one-off performance of selections from the Riceboy Sleepsalbum, transcribed and arranged by David Handler, stirred a captivated audience into believing they were witnessing something larger.

Part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, Jónsi & Alex were merely half of the evening’s program. Aside from Sigur Rós’s frontman, the keyboardist, Kjartan Sveinsson presented two new works, Cage a Swallow Can’t You but You Can’t Swallow a Cage and Credo. Sveinsson built Cage around The Hilliard Ensemble’s vocal performances of five sonnets by Anne Carson. Credo required more than a four member chamber ensemble, it demanded dozens more, namely, members of the Latvian National Choir and the Wordless Music Orchestra.

During the intermission, smoke machines obscured the stage but made apparent the palpable anticipation. Then finally, after the choir and orchestra had settled into place, Jónsi & Alex made their way out and slung guitars over their shoulders. And for the next forty minutes, everyone sat transfixed inside the church, hallowed grounds for such a hallowed performance.

The slow breath of the “Sleeping Giant” dispersed its seeds even as it was residing just beyond view of the nave. The arched ceiling of the Church conducted these gentle, vitalizing winds down the pews row by row. Seeds germinated during “Indian Summer” triggering a reaction from every one of my neurons and inducing numerous shivers down my spine.

During “Happiness”, mellow lights pierced through a pre-dawn mist settled above the musicians. Bursts of brass marked the breaking of the morning; Jónsi’s gossamer vocals rising like the sun crossing Father Sky. Revealing herself, Mother Nature received him in the form of chirping birds fluttering by on “Daníell in the Sea”.

Of course none of these mortal creatures could survive without the burden of a certain titan carrying the world on his shoulders; so Jónsi & Alex paid him tribute on “Atlas Song”. Finally, the confident Latvian National Choir confirmed their heavenly mandate on “Boy 1904”. Collective angelic voices enveloped the audience before gathering them upwards into a standing ovation.

I can only call myself lucky for having been able to attend, though I admittedly felt a bit let down there was no Sigur Rós song encore (“Sæglópur” perhaps?). For those unable to attend or those who want to revisit it, we are fortunate a live recording captured the transcendental evening. The White Light Festival performance may have been a one-time event, but the spirituality the music evokes is everlasting.

Photos taken by Stephanie Berger

Photos taken by Sachyn Mital