In addition to taking day trips into the phenomenal countryside on my visit to Iceland in January, I was lucky enough to catch a classical concert at Harpa, Reykjavik’s new concert hall, open since May of 2011. The Iceland Symphony Orchestra presented a program of Brahms, Schubert and Enescu (him someone I’ve never heard of). A lovely evening.
Harpa is ultra-modern in design, with a honeycomb exterior that sits quietly during the day but turns into a multi-colored light show after dark. The colors trip across the entire facade in horizontal bands that reminded me of a rainbow or maybe of the nighttime aurora I was still hoping to see.
The designer of the building exterior is Ólafur Elíasson, a name I recognized from an art installation several years ago at London’s Tate Modern (The Weather Project, consisting of a giant sun projection inside that museum’s Turbine Hall that made the space look like a foggy beach from some other planet, where visitors sprawled on the floor, looking like post-apocalyptic sunbathers). Elíasson has done other public building designs that I really like, so I felt sort of clued in.
The orchestra has a lot of young musicians who look to be in their twenties or thirties, including their first violin. I guess I’m used to seeing orchestras with older members, especially in the case of featured musicians but the quality of the performance didn’t suffer in the least.
The pianist featured in the Brahms was a(nother) young Icelander named Víkingur Olafsson.
Two interesting side notes – I was sitting in my seat during the interval, catching up on my journal, when the fellow next to me asked if I was a journalist. I smiled and told him I was a day behind on my travel journal and just trying to catch up. We chatted about music and I remarked on the incredible beauty of the venue. He explained that there was a certain amount of controversy surrounding the construction of the hall, coming as it did during Iceland’s financial crisis. I offered that I was glad the building had been completed and hoped that Reykjavik was happy with it as well.
The other amazing incident – on one of the day trips following my night at Harpa, we stopped at a small shop for a toilet break (no, that’s not the amazing bit). The shop had an interesting selection of locally made gifts and I struck up a conversation with the woman at the counter. I mentioned the concert at Harpa and she asked about the program. When I told her about the young pianist, she knew who he was and rattled off his name immediately. We were not too far from Reykjavik at this point, but it reinforced the fact that most of Iceland’s population lives in and around that city and gave me the feeling that Iceland as a whole is like a small town, and one I could feel comfortable spending more time in (whale killing aside).
Did he answer as to whether the Rejkjavikians (I think I just made that word up. I dunno if you noticed 🙂 ) were eventually happy with the new hall? It looks pretty spectacular to me.
I know what you mean about Iceland being like a town. It has about the same population as the town I live in (including its urban area). And yet it has its own language, laws, culture, history etc. It’s incredible really.
Well, the concert was well attended, considering it was a winter mid-week evening. Not sold out, but almost full. I assume the hall is a source of pride now that the financial crisis is over and the hall remains to attract talent and audiences. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that heating the cavernous foyer and concert halls is, like all of Iceland, done with hydro and geothermal renewables, so I would assume the expense of maintenance to be pretty low.
As to culture, Icelandair had videos depicting the best-known (to Icelanders, certainly) of the Sagas and those, along with similar tales on our day trips, prompted me to start reading those stories – in translation, natch!
You’re reading the sagas? Interesting. Would you recommend them?
I remember hearing that Icelanders can stil read them perfectly well as the langauge has changed so little (that’s my token bit of trivia that I can add 🙂 ).
I’ve only just started, but I need to finish another (modern) murder mystery novel before I can really concentrate on the ancient Icelandic stuff. I found a 700-plus-pager Penguin edition “The Sagas of Icelanders) containing SOME of the sagas. It starts with Egil’s Saga and there are maps, family trees (very handy when names are re-used so often) and lots of background notes. Several translators contributed, each doing one or more sagas.
There is also a five volume complete edition and I saw these in several places on my travels, though obviously these were in Icelandic over there.
I have the feeling it will take a while, sort of like reading (all of) Shakespeare. Thankfully, the sagas are prose, so it should be a bit smoother going. I’ll let you know how it progresses.