Jóhann Jóhannsson – “Drone Mass” Met Museum World Premiere

Oscar-nominated Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson premiered his new work Drone Mas in the unique setting of the Met Museum's Temple of Dendur in March.
Jóhann Jóhannsson

Unfortunately, it is hard to find a webpage that lists all the performances coming up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York so I have missed many of them. Seeing live music at a museum is an exciting idea but seeing a performance within The Met’s Temple of Dendur is even more exciting. The Met’s April schedule listed jazz legend Charles Lloyd in the Temple of Dendur and the ‘Jazz & Colors’ series (held throughout various galleries) for example. But even in the inspiring and unique setting, you can’t presume an artist will be doing something to take advantage of the atmosphere. Interpol, Glen Hansard and others have performed there but simply drew from their regular repertoire. However, in March, Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, along with the choral ensemble Roomful of Teeth and the instrumental American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME), created something unique within the Temple.

For the 10th anniversary celebration of ACME, the group commissioned and premiered two works from Jóhannsson which were, as described by the Met, “”Chaconne”, performed by violinist Yuki Numata Resnick, and “Drone Mass”, a contemporary oratorio which fuses the sounds of string quartet, electronics, and vocals, and uses texts based on the Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians.” The delicate solo performance of Chaconne was over too quick but it paved the way for the rest of the musicians to take the stage for “Drone Mass”. The featured piece was broken into segments that varied between vocal and instrumental repetition, drone-like, which resonated within the hall. However, in a New York Times preview, they connected the aural drone sounds with the aerial drones that are often making the news. The Times wrote, “The text of his Mass is that of an ancient Egyptian Coptic hymn that consists of only free-floating vowels” with a quote from Jóhannsson, “Putting these Gnostic texts in the context of the Temple of Dendur, with the title ‘Drone Mass,’ creates some kind of poetic resonance, which I can’t quite explain, either.”. “Drone Mass” was a unique piece I hope to hear it again, though I am always eager to hear Jóhannsson’s work.

For those unfamiliar with the Icelandic composer, Jóhannsson recently won the Golden Globe (and was nominated for an Oscar) for his score for The Theory of Everything last year. This year, he will be scoring Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, marking the second collaboration for the two (the first being Villeneuve’s Prisoners). He will also be making his debut as a filmmaker with the short film End of Summer that will premiere at the Festival van Vlaanderen Kortrijk which runs through May 10th in Belgium. Last fall, Jóhannsson performed his score for the film The Miner’s Hymns as part of the Iceland Airwaves festival, and he also recorded a few songs for the web. Video of “Sálfraedingur” is below some photos from “Drone Mass”.