By Greg Carannante
City & Shore Magazine
Watching a Björk performance is like regaining consciousness in an alternate universe where music is visual, where melody is a magic trick, rhythm mingles with chaos and avatars of celestial euphony and industrial dissonance duke it out in a musical battle royale. Her clarion voice yearns with almost every note, projecting enigmatic lyrics to the back of the house like soliloquies in a glorious, one-woman psychodrama.
Watching a Björk performance, however, is something South Florida audiences have never had the experience of — until this month. Perhaps to compensate, the Icelandic ice queen has scheduled an extended stay in balmy Miami — can you blame her? — for her first-ever concerts here on Feb. 13 and 16 at the Adrienne Arsht Center. And she’s bringing it big-time with “Björk Orchestral,” billed as an intimate career retrospective of original arrangements backed with a 32-piece local orchestra (as intimate, I guess, as a 32-piece orchestra concert can be).
Minus the electronics, cradled acoustically in strings, Björk’s songs flow more gracefully. Her vocals are more front and center, soaring and cascading over lovelier, ethereal strains that ebb, swell and crash like waves. Buoyed by the orchestra, conducted by fellow Icelander Bjarni Frímann Bjarnason, the Miami dates promise evenings of such acoustic resonance.
Her most recent album, though, 2017’s Utopia, is anything but acoustic. A bombastic collaboration with Venezuelan electronic music producer Arca, it was that album that she spun during her only other Miami appearance — strictly as a DJ, though — during Miami Art Week upon the record’s release.
The album earned Björk her eighth consecutive Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Album. It’s also the nucleus of “Cornucopia,” her first immersive theatrical tour that began with an eight-night New York residency in 2019 and recently revived in LA and San Francisco. The tour, whose sets resemble fungi, features a 50-voice choir, a seven-piece flute band, a harp and several bespoke instruments. A video speech by climate activist Greta Thunberg precedes the encore.
The Miami shows, however, will more closely resemble four live-streamed November concerts performed in Reykjavík that featured Björk’s arrangements interpreted by members of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra with the flute septet and choir.
The 56-year-old avant-gardist broke through with the ’80s group the Sugarcubes, turned solo with 1993’s Debut album and has since released eight more studio albums. In an arc that consistently confounds artistic boundaries, Björk has transcended music into film, fashion, art and technology. For example: winning Best Actress at Cannes for 2000’s Dancer in the Dark; making a scene in her infamous Swan Dress at the following year’s Oscars; creating a London exhibition of digital and video works called “Björk Digital”; and releasing 2014’s Biophilia App version of her 2011 album and 2019’s Vulnicura VR, a virtual reality version of her 2015 studio album.
To put it into perspective, long before there was Lady Gaga, there was Björk.
“Björk Orchestral’ will be performed at 8 p.m. Feb. 13 and 16 at the Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall. Tickets range from $55-$275. For more information please visit arshtcenter.org or bjork.com
Photo: Björk, photographed by Santiago Felipe