© Hansueli Krapf | Wikicommons
© Hansueli Krapf | Wikicommons
The Iceland Symphony Orchestra, which plays in Reykjavik’s Harpa Concert Hall, was founded in 1950. In recent years, it has gained an international reputation, partly based on its recordings which have been well received. Consisting of 90 players, the ISO performs a full concert season under such distinguished conductors as Osmo Vänskä (Principal Guest) and Vladimir Ashkenazy (Conductor Laureate). All its Harpa Hall concerts are broadcast live on Iceland’s national radio station, but – as with all classical music – nothing beats hearing it live.

The orchestra helpfully organises its season into four colour-coded subscription series: Red (with a focus on large orchestral works), Yellow (mostly Classical/ early Romantic repertoire), Green (popular favourites) and Blue (Family concerts). Of course, you can “pick’n’mix” your own series via a “Rainbow card”, where you can earn a discount. Great news for youngsters – under 25s earn a 50% discount on Rainbow cards! There follows some season highlights to help you make your selection.

Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavik © Lynn0927 | Wikicommons
Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavik
© Lynn0927 | Wikicommons
The ISO gives its principal players the chance to shine by stepping into the concerto spotlight. Arngunnur Árnadóttir, who joined the orchestra as principal clarinettist in 2012, performs Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, a jewel in the Classical crown.

Other Icelandic soloists this season include Emilía Rós Sigfúsdóttir, who plays Jacques Ibert’s high-spirited Flute Concerto. Composed for Marcel Moyse, one of the 20th century’s great flautists, the concerto ends with a flirtatious, jazzy finale. Alexander Scriabin died 100 years ago and the ISO marks the centenary with celebrated Icelandic pianist Víkingur Heiðar Ólafsson, who tackes the rarely performed Piano Concerto, paired in concert with Schubert's “Great C major” Symphony. 

Baritone Ólafur Kjartan Sigurðarson is a familiar name to audiences at London’s Opera Holland Park, where we reviewed his Falstaff as “rich and lyrical enough for the main arias while retaining enough agility to work perfectly in the hilarious mimicry of the women”. The rollicking fun of Falstaff is a far cry from Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children) which Sigurðarson sings in November. This concert also includes a new work by ISO Artist-in-Residence Daníel Bjarnason – Collider, named after the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland. Ligeti and Debussy complete an intriguing programme.

Of the international soloists joining the ISO’s season, one of the most eagerly anticipated must be mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton. This summer, Bachtrack has described her “authoritative presence” at the BBC Proms, while her “vicious chest tones” ignited a terrific Die Walküre at Houston Grand Opera. In Reykjavik, Barton sings Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody, the same work she performed in London.

Vladimir Ashkenazy © Keith Saunders
Vladimir Ashkenazy
© Keith Saunders
Vladimir Ashkenazy has close ties to Iceland. His wife is Icelandic and the celebrated pianist and conductor became an Icelandic citizen in 1972. He has a special affinity with the music of Jean Sibelius, whose 150th birthday is marked this year. Ashkenazy’s October concert includes the Fifth Symphony, with its swan flight-inspired finale, and the mysterious tone poem Luonnotar, which features soprano Þóra Einarsdóttir. The anniversary is further marked by another fantastic Sibelian, Osmo Vänskä, who conducts Esther Yoo in the icy grandeur of the Violin Concerto.

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto no. 1 in B flat minor may be a familiar old warhorse, but eagle-eared listeners may be surprised when Kirill Gerstein performs it in February. Gerstein plays the original version of the concerto, from a recently discovered manuscript from 1875. This is the first performance of this version in Iceland.

Other notable international soloists in the season include Latvian violinist Baiba Skride (playing Beethoven’s Concerto) and young Uzbekistani pianist Behzod Abduraimov, who plays Prokofiev’s glorious Piano Concerto no. 3. Sasha Rozhdestvensky performs Glazunov’s Violin Concerto in a concert conducted by his father, Gennady Rozhdestvensky.

JoAnn Falletta conducts a programme of all-American classics, with music by Barber, Bernstein, Gershwin and Copland. Appalachian Spring paints a very different landscape from Iceland’s glaciers and geysers, but Falletta is an expert guide to the terrain. For Icelandic landscapes, try Jón Leifs Three Abstract Paintings in January.

To view the full Iceland Symphony Orchestra season, click here.


This article was sponsored by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra.