Okjökull Requiem was commissioned by Lucia Lin and the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music for the In Tandem project.
Okjökull (often shortened to “Ok”) is the name of a former glacier in Iceland that, due to climate change, completely melted. In August of 2019, a number of government officials and climate scientists gathered at the now barren site of the glacier to hold a funeral for it, and their message to the future was a warning. With CO2 levels in the atmosphere rising without a ceiling in sight, temperatures are predicted to continue to warm, threatening the integrity of all of Iceland’s glaciers. It is likely that, without intervention, the rest of Iceland’s glaciers will perish in the next two centuries.
This work was commissioned for Lucia Lin’s IN TANDEM project in 2020, in which she asked composers to write music to reflect on the challenges and injustices of our time. As a lover of nature and science, I chose to write this piece based on the existential threat of climate change. Unfortunately, making significant progress on solving this problem has been hampered by political interests for decades, but the emergency is real and the striking loss of monumental structures like glaciers is a tangible warning of the crisis that has been set in motion.
The music begins extremely slowly and powerfully, with massive chords in the bass register of the piano setting the stage for a mournful violin melody, as if the music is directly channeling the immensity of a glacier. Imperceptibly at first, and then extremely gradually, the music begins to increase in speed and rise in pitch, with the same series of chords repeating and new melodies and interplay arising. While this piece is not strictly a sonification, this rise in speed and sound reflects the data collected by scientists showing the drastic increase in global temperatures over the past century. At the end, the music reaches a breaking point, pounding on the highest register of the piano and screaming at the top of the violin. The once dark and mournful music is transformed through this piece into an alarm.