American Contemporary Music Ensemble & Theatre of Voices
Drone Mass by Jóhann Jóhannsson
Jóhann Jóhannsson was an Icelandic composer most widely known for his award-winning film scores for The Theory of Everything, Arrival, and Sicario but equally adept in the concert music world. ACME toured with Jóhannsson from 2009 until his death in 2018, and can be heard on Jóhannsson’s 2016 Deutsche Grammophon album Orphée.
ACME offers Jóhannsson’s monumental Drone Mass for string quartet, electronics, and vocal ensemble, composed for ACME during the group’s 10th anniversary season in 2015.
Drone Mass is an extraordinary, mysterious accomplishment which at times bears comparison with the meditative minimalism of composers such as Arvo Pärt or Henryk Górecki. Beginning with strings and voices, but slowly integrating Jóhannsson’s electronic techniques into its landscape, the work represents what the Icelandic composer called “a distillation of a lot of influences and obsessions.”
ACME premiered Drone Mass at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Temple of Dendur and has performed it at venues including the Sacrum Profanum Festival, Duke Performances, Big Ears, and Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens, Greece.
On March 18, 2022, ACME released the world premiere recording of Drone Mass on Deutsche Grammophon, which they recorded in collaboration with Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble Theatre of Voices, conducted by Paul Hillier, also a multiple Grammy Award-winner.
Drone Mass was chosen for NPR's Favorite Music of March 2022 and was an Editor's Choice for May 2022 in Gramophone Magazine. Of the album, NPR acclaims, "The 45-minute piece unfurls like a ritual, with washes of high Renaissance choral polyphony mixed with traces of contemporary mystics like Arvo Pärt and beautifully terrifying electronic treatments implemented by the composer himself." Gramophone praised the album, saying, "Jóhannsson’s music gives the impression of having arrived in a time capsule from a distant planet that is a mirror image of our own. His own absence now adds further mystery and magic to his music’s unique sound world."
This eagerly awaited recording of Drone Mass marks the belated arrival of one of the composer’s defining works. It is also a moving and personal tribute from some of those who knew him best.
Rolling Stone declared, “Drone Mass . . . seems designed to tug at modern heartstrings. It has the glacial drama of minimalism, the familiar harmonies of church music, the keening drama of pop, the deep digital rumble of modern cinema – all in movements that feel about the length of a rock song . . . the piece made it difficult not to adhere to the unwritten, long-held orchestra rule of not applauding until the end. But after a movement where a vocal drone met a cello slide – the satisfying sound of a properly tuned guitar, an effect like a film coming into focus – the boundary was breached and torrents of applause followed.”
ACME also offers a program of his chamber music for string quintet, piano, electronics, and small percussion which features selections from his recorded catalog including his albums Englabörn, IBM 1401, Fordlandia, and Orphée.
“The performance was polished and exuberant, and it consistently drew the listener in”
– Musical America
“sense of greater force . . . pure, sustained beauty. . . majestic sonic balance”
– I Care if You Listen
"If you were hurtling through space, this would be the music of the heavens."
"One can almost smell the incense in the serpentine Byzantine melody heard at the beginning, its austere ceremonial qualities especially appropriate..."
"Drone Mass...seems designed to tug at modern heartstrings. It has the glacial drama of minimalism, the familiar harmonies of church music, the keening drama of pop, the deep digital rumble of modern cinema..."
- Rolling Stone