Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd=piccolo), oboe, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (chimes off-stage/on-stage, marimba, deep snare drum, bass drum, wood blocks, crotales; box of wine glasses, txalaparta, kick drum, bass drum, large mounted cymbal, lion’s roar, muted glockenspiel, small gongs; whip, 4 tom-toms, crotales, tam-tam, wood block, water gong, 2 gongs, 32" gong, large guiro), harp, strings, and solo piano
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: February 18, 2022, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting, with Víkingur Ólafsson, soloist (world premiere)
About this Piece
- Danse Macabre
FEAST was written during the pandemic, in the midst of the strange times the world was experiencing together. But Daníel Bjarnason notes, “I was struck by how it’s not new at all—plagues and suffering have been with us always. I was thinking about how to incorporate that idea without the piece becoming about current events.”
Bjarnason has long been interested in memento mori, the tradition of the “Dance of Death,” as well as works in visual and written realms that reference death as a part of life. The title he gave the work, FEAST, is a certain reminder to fully embrace life, knowing of death: “The flip side of memento mori is to remember you are alive.”
Bjarnason came by Edgar Allen Poe’s short story The Masque of the Red Death while he was writing FEAST and was caught by two images from the story. One, of a gate closing, symbolized an attempt to shut out the world and its terrors—which never works. The other, the pendulum clock in the room and the ominous hourly tolling of the bells keeping time and its inevitable march. He incorporated this theatrical element into the work, in a moment when the musicians stop to listen to the bells.
With Poe as a loose inspiration for FEAST, Bjarnason created his own narrative, reflected in the subtitles. Bjarnason says, “I was also reminded that the idea of accepting death in order to live is central to many religions. It’s not dramatic at all and part of accepting what life is.”
FEAST is dedicated to Víkingur Ólafsson.