Friday, January 27, 2023

Concert Review: Bjork Orkestral at Arsht Center

Backed by 32 local classical musicians under the baton of Victor Orri Árnason, Björk concluded her two-night orchestral residency Wednesday at Arsht Center. Clad in transparent black wings and golden horns that caught the gleam of the Knight Concert Hall’s overhead lights, Iceland’s queen of avant-garde music took the stage at 8:30—a much-appreciated half-hour delay to account for the madness of attending a concert at a venue with two major events happening simultaneously, a dearth of available parking, and COVID health checks. (When the Arsht Center tells you to arrive 45 minutes early, take the advice.)

Björk refrained from addressing the audience aside from between-song thank-yous (and one “gracias,” this being Miami) until the encore, when she offered, “I’ve had such a wonderful week in your city.”

It’s been a long time coming. Björk has been recording as a solo artist since 1993, and this week marked her first South Florida concerts, which accounts for both performances’ swift sell-outs. While the results were at times transfixing, occasionally even spine-tingling in the best way she can be on record, I can’t be alone in wishing her Miami debut was a more traditional, and sonically diverse, Björk show.

At the risk of sounding like a philistine, the orchestra presented a novel experience in concept but was not entirely exciting in practice. The composer’s adventuresome, electronically driven songs even felt a bit hamstrung by the conventional arrangements. This is not to criticize the accomplished string musicians who performed Björk’s music with dexterity and reverence. But with the show’s only percussion, for instance, provided by Björk’s platform shoes on the stage floor, I yearned for a more dynamic and colorful instrumental palette.

Her material from Vulnicura in particular, which dominated the first half of the set list, struggled to enrapture us as on its carefully tailored studio recordings. The first six or seven songs, with the exception of the cascading “I Have Seen It All,” came and went in a brittle blur.

The tide turned with “Hunter,” as its composer gained a spring in her step and the orchestra followed suit, the loping strings capturing the song’s inherent spookiness. “Hyperballad,” a stunner that didn’t make it onto her first Miami show, sent goosebumps shivering up my arms and spine, and “Joga” accomplished much the same, proving that whether stripped down or awash in glitchy electronica, Björk is a mesmeric storyteller.

For the encore, hardcore fans received an unexpected treat: an instrumental performance of “Overture,” from Selmasongs and Dancer in the Dark, performed live for the first time in 14 years. Afterwards, Björk emerged in a new getup, seeming to be covered in clusters of quartz crystal from head to toe. She sent off the crowd with “Pluto,” the orchestra trying its hardest to replicate the composition’s skittering, throbbing, machine-gun energy—an A for effort, but it only made me miss the furious original version more.

While many will disagree with this review, for a large segment of the audience, there was a palpable and unspent energy in the room—an unsated desire to engage with these songs in a way that the hushed format of the evening prevented. “While I was working on Vulnicura,” Björk stated on her Facebook page at the time, “it became one of the most magical thing(s) both musically and spiritually to unite the electronics and the acoustic instruments in an almost romantic way: to prove they can coexist!!” Indeed: But if the Björk Orkestral experiment is any indication, just the acoustics aren’t enough.


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John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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