Low sun in Iceland

The determination of a Viking: DMA student Rachelle Elliott

29 November 2018
Research explores Nordic choral conducting methodologies
Conductor and Doctor of Musical Arts student Rachelle Elliott has spent the past two years researching the history and characteristics of Icelandic choral composition.
Rachelle Elliott with the founder of the Icelandic Music Museum

Rachelle Elliott with the founder of the Icelandic Music Museum.


“I am fascinated with the sound palette of Icelandic choral music and want to share it with Australian audiences”, explains Rachelle.

Over two field trips to Iceland in 2017 and 2018, she has developed a deep understanding of Iceland’s choral landscape, including key composers, conductors, and choirs.

“I had the privilege of working with some of my Icelandic music idols, especially Þorgeður Ingólfsdottir,” she said.

During her second trip to Reykjavik, Rachelle also had some memorable experiences of the Icelandic climate. She was walking to the library one day when the weather suddenly turned.

I was battling a fierce wind in sub-zero temperature dragging my water-proof trolley bag over frozen ice and snow, starting to wonder, what am I doing?

“I was beginning to know what it was like to be an Icelander. You have a choice: survive or perish. Icelanders have been braving these dramatic climate conditions since settlement in the ninth century. They have a strength individually, as communities and as a nation that is borne out of environmental suffering.”

“With that flash of thought I took a deep breath, braced myself and, channelling the courage and determination of a Viking, continued on to the library.”

Rachelle decided to undertake a DMA because it was important for her to be able to undertake artistic research and performance, alongside her written research.

As a conductor, the calibre of the education offered in the conducting program was the most important part of my decision to apply at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

So far, Rachelle has premiered 14 Icelandic works at the Con and has her final recital, titled The Jewels of Iceland, on 30 November, 2018.

“The recital is staged with some theatrical components to help frame the music for the audience, most of whom will not have heard Icelandic choral music previously”, explains Rachelle .

“It showcases both unaccompanied and accompanied choral works sung by a mixed voice ensemble and soloists. Instruments scored include violin, viola, cello and percussion.”

Rachelle has one more trip to Iceland planned before handing in her thesis next year. Post-study,  she intends to continue her conducting research and apply for suitable fellowships. At some point Rachelle hope to present an Icelandic Opera, however in the meantime, she will use every opportunity to continue sharing her knowledge and passion for conducting and Icelandic choral repertoire.

The Jewels of Iceland
Friday 30 November 7.30pm
Registration essential

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