Smith Quartet/Axelsson, Kevin Volan Day at Wigmore Hall

I mean no disrespect to other percussionists when I say that Axelsson is the most extraordinary drummer I have seen, or to other composers when I say that She who Sleeps with a Small Blanket (1985) and Asanga (1998) are the most extraordinary works: ferocious, lyrical and human.

Anna Picard, Sunday, 8 November 2009, Independent on Sunday

“One of the virtues of the Huddersfield contemporary music festival has always been its ability to attract performers and ensembles who otherwise appear rarely in Britain. It’s hard to understand why, for instance, we have heard so little of the Swedish percussionist Jonny Axelsson, whose lunchtime recital devoted to kevin Volans’ three solo-percussion pieces was a real triumph of stamina as well as virtuosity and concentration. There is nothing flamboyant or fussy about Axelsson, he just goes about his tasks with dazzling musicianship.

His recital was also a showcase of Volans’ imagination, his ability to draw an almost infinite array of patterns and effects from a relatively limited range of unpitched instruments (with a cameo appearance by tuned percussion, a marimba, in one of the pieces). The 1985 She who sleeps with a small blanket is already a bit of a classic. The brief and violent Asanga (1997), however, and the expansive and wonderfully intricate Akrodha (1998) are not so well known, but clearly should be.

Huddersfield festival, rating: 5 / 5, Andrew Clements, The Guardian
Wednesday November 24, 2004


“Jonny Axelsson’s “Percussione Con Forza” is one of the best CDs of new music I’ve heard in a long time, as well as being a showcase for an excellent musician. While the tradition of classical percussion is now well established it all too often produces bland, metronomic players with a jarringly incremental dynamic range, no sense of phrasing and little, if any, insight into the characteristics of their instruments. By contrast, Axelsson’s playing is fluid, organic and highly textured – in short, simply superbly musical.”

Roger Thomas, The International Record review, December 2000


Båstad Kammarmusikfestival, Apelrydsalen

…kvällskonserten i Apelrydsalen, som dominerades av två av världens i dag mest framstående musiker på sina respektive instrument: den svenske slagverkaren Jonny Axelsson och den norske dragspelaren, tillika Maja Ratkjes make, Frode Haltli. En konsert som började med att i emigrantisk andabygga bryggor mellan svensk, norsk och irländsk folkmusik för att sedan hamna hos Kevin Volans ursinniga rymiska fantasier över att sova ensam i den kyliga sydafrikanska natten.

Av Martin Nyström, Dagens Nyheter, tisdag 3 juli 2012


December 27, 2009, Opera in 2009: Bars and parks outdo the big house shows

“The Smith Quartet and percussionist Jonny Axelsson impressed at the Wigmore Hall’s Kevin Volans Day”

Kevin Volans Day,Wigmore Hall, London, rating: 4 / 5
Andrew Clements, The Guardian
Monday 2 November 2009

”Axelsson surveyed Volans’s three works for solo percussion, making light of their myriad rhythmic complexities, and the Smiths offered three of his 10 string quartets – including the work that established the composer internationally, White Man Sleeps.”

From The Sunday Times, November 8, 2009, Fantastic four
Paul Driver salutes Britain’s contemporary champions and hails a modern master

”…A 1985 diptych for percussionist, She Who Sleeps with a Small Blanket (correction: the title is Akrodha composed in 1998), was brilliantly dispatched by Jonny Axelsson, but its metal half was much less arresting than the drumming eruptions later.”

Telegraph, Kevin Volans Portrait at Wigmore Hall, review
Rating: * * * *, By Ivan Hewett, Published: 02 Nov 2009
”…And in the end, it was the pieces that retained a human presence that gave the most pleasure: pieces such as the riveting percussion solo Asanga, played by Jonny Axelsson with a kind of calm fury…”

Musiktexte, Zeitschrift für neue musik

Jonny Axelssons atemberaubende Interpretationen der Schlagzeugstücke “Asanga”, “Akrodha” und “She who sleeps with a small blanket” auf Axelssons eigenem Label…

Bob Gilmore, Mai 2011

War es Walter Zimmermann, der im Zusammenhang mit seinem Klavierzyklus “Beginner’s Mind” den Ausdruck ‘Tobemusik’ in die Sprache der neuen musik eingeführt hat, dann müsste der Ausdruck im Beriech des Schlagzeugs den eigentlichen Ort seiner Bestimmung finden. In “Akrodha” hat Volans ihn gefunden. Akrodha heißt Furchtlosigkeit. Die Interpretation dieses Schlagzeugstückes durch Jonny Axelsson kommt dem Ideal furchtlosen Tobens und Tosens wunderbar und beängstigend nahe. Axelsson muss, wenn wir richtig gelesen haben, bevor er spielt wie ein Dieselfahrzeug “vorwärmen”. Und was dann geschah, als er Volans das Stück in Schweden vortrug, glich, so der Komponist, einer wildgewordenen Schar von Drummern in irgendeinem Nebenzimmer. “Ich hatte, wie sich herausstellte, ein unsäglich schweres Stück geschrieben, und Jonny hatte ohne Murren und bis aufs letzte I-Tüpfelchen meine Anweisungen befolgt.”

Volans Oeuvre für Perkussion ist den Zielinterpreten und Widmungsträgern spielphysiognomisch geradezu auf den Leib geschrieben. Bestaunen wir Jonny Axelsson, überpitzt formuliert, als superflinken, supervirtuosen Kraftmenschen….

Manfred Karallus, Mai 2011

Jonny Axelsson ‘plays Volans and Sharman’ ( Jonny Axelsson p r 2008)


Jonny Axelsson non è un percussionista qualunque. Da solo riesce a farci sentire un’intera orchestra di percussioni.A beneficiarne sono tanto gli ascoltatori, quanto i compositori che affidano i loro brani alle sue sapienti mani. Tra questi c’è niente di meno che Kevin Volans, compositore sudafricano tra i più originali, nonché celebrati, del nostro tempo. I tre brani incisi in questo cd, prodotto dall’etichetta dello stesso Axelsson, ci rivelano il lato più strutturalista e astratto di Volans. Soprattutto nei due brani degli anni Novanta, Asanga e Akrodha, egli non fa alcuna concessione di tipo melodico. Si tratta di brani rigorosi, dal profilo netto e nitido, e dalla marcata preponderanza dell’elemento ritmico. Quest’ultimo si fa sentire anche nell’altro brano di Volans qui eseguito, She who sleeps in a small blanket, ma in maniera più fluida e dialogante. Quando poi, verso la fine del brano, l’atmosfera da serrata si fa teneramente evocativa per effetto dell’improvvisa comparsa di fragili passaggi melodici eseguiti al vibrafono, sembra davvero di riascoltare il Volans dei primi quartetti d’archi, quelli che l’hanno consacrato a livello internazionale per la sua capacità, tra le altre, di sorprendere continuamente l’ascoltatore per via della giustapposizione di elementi all’apparenza eterogenei, ma che rivelano in realtà un senso e una coesione interna e profonda. Completa il cd Apollo’s Touch di Rodney Sharman. Questo brano, la cui staticità apparente e lievemente malinconica ricorda da vicino la poetica del compositore americano David Lang, ci dà modo diapprezzare un’altra delle qualità di Axelsson, vale a dire la sua abilità nel lavorare sulle nuances, sulle sfumature, sul colore strumentale. Nel complesso, si tratta di un cd stimolante e piacevole, al quale speriamo ne seguano degli altri per la neonata etichetta di Jonny Axelsson

Aggiunto: November 10th 2009 Recensore: Filippo Focosi

Voto: ****

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the percussionist Jonny Axelsson could play Iannis Xenakis “Psappha” in his sleep. It’s the second time I’ve heard him do it only this year. But it still is, as usual, a brilliant one-man show. His 180 degrees turn in order to change instruments for the upcoming peak of the piece, feels exactly as choreographed as ever a dancer’s move…”

Sara Norling, Dagens Nyheter, December 5th, 2004

“Jonny whips up a cannonade of drum sounds, giving free rein to the equilibrist. His playing skills become almost unintelligible. What is music, really?”

Sven Melin, Arbetarbladet (Gävle), April 30th, 2004

“The percussionist Jonny Axelsson played “Psappha” by Xenakis, a guru in the world of contemporary music. So I know that I’m blasphemous when I think: “who is in fact the genius, Xenakis or Axelsson?” But in this moment my answer is anyway Axelsson. If he didn’t have the musician’s conviction and a “swing” of his own it could, hypothetically, become tremendously stiff.”

Ylva Nyberg, Dagens Nyheter, February 13th, 2005

Comments by composers:

Karlheinz Stockhausen wrote following commentaries to the CD recording of Zyklus:

Good shaping of the groups; good opposition of sound and (long enough) silence, several glissandi are much faster than the space notation indicates; they could be more detailed. The snare drum is too low in pitch, I hear it brighter. Chain sections of explosive sounds are excellent; good force with round envelopes; very good low tom-tom resonance; rimshots: fine; the version is extremely well chosen and formed. The end:??? Please send me 4 more copies with a bill: THANK YOU.

Friendly greetings from Karlheinz Stockhausen

György Ligeti wrote following commentaries after having listened to the CD with music by K-h Stockhausen:

I listened with MORE THAN MUCH PLEASURE the Stockhausen recording. Both Mr. Ullén and Mr. Axelsson are MARVELLOUS. I’m happy that Mr. Ullén and Mr. Axelsson are so great artists.

György Ligeti

Kevin Volans wrote following commentaries to his work Akrodha:

I have worked with Jonny Axelsson over a number of years. I wrote Akrodha for him 1998. As often the case with percussion music, the piece was written blind: the first draft is little more than a proposal to the percussionist, who lets the composer know what is impossible and what isn’t. Despite working with with percussion for many years, I have always underestimated both the players abilities and the demands I make upon them. What would appear as a fairly moderate piece for keyboard is amplified a hundredfold in difficulty and effect when translated into drum music. When I first arrived in Sweden to work with Jonny he asked me to wait while he warmed up. I doubled up with mirth, delighted and some embarrassment when I heard what sounded like a whole tribe of drummers going wild in the next room. I had, it turned out, written an unspeakably difficult piece, and Jonny, without a murmur, had followed my demands to the letter.

Kevin Volans

Commentaries from Johannes Fritsch:

For many years I have known Jonny Axelsson whose talents as a percussionist are quite extraordinary. He combines a highly developed technique with a rare musicality that truly allows the timbres as well as the harmonic and dynamic subtleties of the music to blossom. I have never heard so many timbres in a large drum, so many gradations of color in a cymbal and so many clearly differentiated dynamic nuances in a marimba tone. Jonny Axelsson is a magician of timbre, whose sensibility and emotional richness captures the audience who truly listens to his playing, opening as if by magic the ears of the listener so that the music penetrates the innermost reaches of the soul. All the music does not deserve to be performed in such precise and differentiated way, however. J A shows through his choice of repertoire both taste and a sure critical sense. The works he choose to perform are among the few works that will survive. I am pleased that my collaboration with Jonny Axelsson has resulted in outstanding performances of my compositions for percussion. His respectful and rigorous interpretations coupled with his amiable personality will inspire me to dedicate additional percussion compositions to him.

Johannes Fritsch, Professor of composition at the Coservatory of Music in Cologne