The Iceland Symphony Orchestra’s 2022-23 season starts strong. On 8th September, one of the starriest names in the season, Daniil Trifonov, will join the orchestra and their Chief Conductor Eva Ollikainen as soloist for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 4 in a programme that includes ARCHORA, by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, which impressed us with its “remarkably haunting atmospheres and textures” at its Proms premiere a couple of weeks ago (with Ollikainen conducting the BBC Symphony). The concert also includes music from Ollikainen’s native Finland in the shape of Sibelius’ Symphony no. 7, his evocation of the country’s vast landscape. It should be a concert to remember.

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Iceland Symphony Orchestra
© Ari Magg

Commissioned by the NY Phil, Thorvaldsdottir’s Metacosmos has also appeared at the Proms, a year after we noted its “impression of vistas without borders” and “deep originality” at its world premiere in 2018, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen at Lincoln Center. The orchestra takes it on tour in April, paired with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 5, starting on 14th April with a concert at home in Reykjavik’s Harpa Concert Hall, which will also feature Finnish star soprano Anu Komsi in Sibelius’ symphonic poem Luonnotar. Three concerts will follow at venues across the UK, where another superstar pianist, Sir Stephen Hough, will join the orchestra to play Beethoven’s Piano concerto no. 3 (in Nottingham and London and the Piano concerto no. 2 in Basingstoke). Earlier in the season, on 12th January, Hough will travel to Reykjavik for a Beethoven 3 with Ollikainen, which he will follow on the 13th with a solo recital of Debussy, Liszt and his own Partita and with another visit on 23rd February for a Rachmaninov Piano Concerto no. 2.

The season features two younger internationally renowned pianists. Polish-Canadian Jan Lisiecki plays the Chopin Piano Concerto no. 1 on 3rd November in a programme devoted to Polish music, with the addition of the Adagio by Icelandic composer Jón Nordal, a work premiered by the orchestra's former Chief Conductor, the Pole Bohdan Wodizcko. Sunwook Kim plays the Brahms Piano Concerto no. 2  on 9th March: we’ve described Kim as “a born dramatist” whose playing of Brahms was “as balanced as it was rich”.

It’s not all standard “concerto-symphony” programmes and it’s not all Romantic. On 29th September, Ollikainen conducts the orchestra with Artist in Residence Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir in Daníel Bjarnason’s Bow to String for cello and orchestra, in a programme whose first half is all-contemporary, followed by Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Thorsteinsdóttir returns the following evening for a similarly constructed concert of new (or nearly new) music, followed by Dvořák’s Silent Woods, with Nathanaël Iselin, a young Frenchman who is the Iceland Symphony’s Conductor-in-Residence, on the podium. For Advent, Jonathan Cohen conducts the orchestra in a Baroque programme with star countertenor Tim Mead; along with Handel, Vivaldi and Mozart, there’s a rare chance to hear the thrilling overture to the opera Talestri, Regina delle Amazzoni by the exotically named Duchess Maria Antonia Walpurgis of Bavaria (who, as Electress of Saxony, surely counts as the highest-ranked opera composer in history).

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Eva Ollikainen, Chief Conductor and Artistic Director
© Nikolaj Lund

Iselin also conducts more contemporary music in January as well as a concert on the lighter side entitled “Music loving magic” on 10th November: the music includes The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, “Hedwig’s Theme” from Harry Potter and Harry Potter fans can get a full fat dose of the film music from Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets in a set of four concerts from March 22nd-25th. Another lighter programme comes in the shape of Keri-Lynn Wilson visiting Reykjavik to conduct three performances of “Viennese favourites” from 5th-7th January, which should provide an appropriate tonic for long Nordic winter nights. 

If, on the other hand, you prefer long Nordic summer evenings (or, for that matter, large scale choral works), you should be looking at Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana on 1st June; alternatively, wait a week for 8th June, when the sun barely sets at all, for Augustin Hadelich playing the Brahms Violin Concerto, paired with the Fourth Symphony, all under the baton of Bertrand de Billy. The other top-of-the-range visiting string soloist is Isabelle Faust, who plays the Dvořák Violin Concerto paired with Mahler’s Fifth Symphony on 19th May.

There are concertos for other instruments also: Sofia Gubaidulina’s Triple Concerto for violin, cello and bayan on 17th November (a Bayan is Russian type of chromatic button accordion), Bjarnason’s Percussion Concerto on 19th January and Bára Gísladóttir’s Hringla, for double bass, live electronics and orchestra, on 27th January.

With more visiting international pianists and other soloists than we’ve had space to name, and a sprinkling of jazz, chamber and events for children, there should be plenty to keep residents of Reykjavik and visitors to the city fully musically occupied.

Click here to see the upcoming concerts from the Iceland Symphony Orchestra.

This preview was sponsored by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra.