Víkingur Ólafsson

Víkingur Ólafsson. Photo © Ari Magg

Critics’ Choice: International Artist of the Year

I am extremely happy to receive this wonderful honour. Australia is more or less exactly on the other side of the planet from my home, Reykjavík, and it means a lot that people are following my work 15,000 km away. – Víkingur Ólafsson

Read our interview with Víkingur Ólafsson

From the DIY classical music scene of Iceland, to Juilliard, to the world’s biggest stages, Víkingur Ólafsson’s career has been absolutely meteoric. With multiple world premieres this year alone and a stellar pair of releases with Deutsche Grammophon, there’s good reason for Ólafsson’s continued rise.

Although I’d been impressed with Ólafsson’s piano playing before my trip to Iceland, it took a drive around the country’s Route 1, looping most of the country, for me to fall in love with his style of performance. I’d stopped off at the famous Reykjavík record store 12 Tónar in search of something to listen to on the drive – I can’t resist physical media – and decided that Ólafsson’s Bach album would do nicely.

Perhaps it was partly the sights of Iceland itself that made his playing come across so well, but I don’t think that’s the whole story. While Iceland’s attractions (puffins! lava fields! waterfalls!) certainly provided a suitable counterpoint to Ólafsson’s Bach, listening to the album again in sunny Queensland provokes just the same impression of a superior performance.

It would be easy to compare Ólafsson’s recording to those of Glenn Gould; the first thing you notice about Ólafsson’s approach to Bach is the clarity of the individual lines, just as in Gould’s recordings. However, there’s a sense of intimacy in Ólafsson’s Bach. He has said that he “wanted to get away from the tendency I have to think of Bach in colossal terms, whose epic works are these huge cathedrals of sound”. This is Bach on a smaller scale, but which transforms into something more complex.

That’s without even mentioning Ólafsson’s premieres of new music. For his fresh approach to old repertoire, and for his embrace of new repertoire, Ólafsson is the winner of the Limelight International Artist of the Year. Paul Ballam-Cross

Critics’ Choice: Runners Up

Isabelle Faust

Isabelle Faust has a broad repertoire and a remarkable discography. Whether solo or with duo partners, Alexander Melnikov and Kristian Bezuidenhout, her recordings from Bach to Bartók regularly garner five-star reviews.

Nico Muhly is one of the most talented and prolific of the rising generation of American composers. This year he has been embraced Down Under with new music for the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Omega Ensemble and Gondwana Choirs.