Léonie Sonning Talent Prize 2021
In 2019 Steiney won an audition for a place in the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. In a way she had now gone full circle. Because many years earlier, when she was five, she had watched the same orchestra perform Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, which is still always played at the popular children’s concerts in Reykjavik. “Apparently somebody played the Swan extremely beautifully that day, because afterwards I told my mother that I wanted to play the cello,” Steiney says about the way the whole thing started. Today Steiney plays the Swan herself and hopes that she will inspire other children to take up an instrument.
Steiney’s life has been full of music since the day she was born. She was born with a heart condition that required major surgery, and in the most critical phase her mother processed the traumatic experience by singing to Steiney around the clock. She was an active choir singer and knew lots of traditional songs in different languages and sang the entire repertoire to Steiney during that difficult time. It was probably because of this that Steiney is said to have sung before she could talk. And not just singing noises like you know them from small children, but complete pieces of text, which of course she did not know the meaning of.
A crucial decision
Steiney actually wanted to become a teacher when she grew up. However, when she was 12 she made a decision on her way home from a cello lesson. She wanted to dedicate her life to the cello and asked her parents to give her their full support. Thankfully they were happy to do so, and for her confirmation she got the cello she is still playing today.
After having made her crucial decision she also got a new teacher, the world famous (in Iceland) cello player Gunnar Kvaran, who helped her find the right instrument – a cello from 1922, built in Dresden and tracked down in Copenhagen. It had not been played in a long time, but Steiney gave it new life, and they have developed together over time.
Steiney flew through upper secondary school, because she wanted to see the world and become the best cello player possible. After a stay in the US she started studying in Trossingen, Germany, with a French professor and graduated from there with distinction in 2019. Her goal was a place in an orchestra, which she achieved already that same year, when she was hired by the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. She has gone full circle, but a new chapter has already started.
As a member of a large orchestra it is natural to seek out like-minded people, which Steiney quickly found in the Danish violinist Vera Panitch. She suggested that they start a duo, and they quickly established that they were a really good match despite – or maybe even because of – their different backgrounds. Vera has a background in a Russian/Danish tradition, and with Steiney’s Icelandic roots and German/French influence something unique is created.
And thanks to corona restrictions and lockdowns they have had plenty of time to practise together and create their very own identity as chamber musicians. Indeed, they have done so well that already in November 2020 they could take part in DR P2’s chamber music competition and leave with a well-deserved third place.
The name of their duo comes from the Icelandic sagas, and their goal is to have something Nordic on the repertoire, e.g. Arne Nordheim, Per Nørgaard or Kaija Saariaho. In time they would also like to record new Nordic works.
Steiney Sigurðardóttir in brief
Born in Reykjavik in 1996 where she also grew up. The oldest of four siblings.
Started playing the cello at the age of 5 at Tónlistarskólinn and later the lcelandic Academy of the Arts with Sigurgeir Agnarsson and Gunnar Kvaran.
Started her bachelor’s degree with professor Francis Gouton at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik Trossingen in Germany.
Won the position as alternating cello player in the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra in 2019. Part of different chamber ensembles, including Duo Edda, which she founded together with violinist Vera Panitch in 2020.
The scholarship from the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation
Steiney will spend the money from the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation on study trips to Germany and Norway and with Duo Edda to England and Germany. She also wants to attend master classes in Germany.