Friday 22 August 2014

Iceland Symphony Orchestra - Proms debut

Ilan Volkov
Ilan Volkov
Tonight (22 August 2014) the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, conductor Ilan Volkov, makes its first performance at the Proms in a programme which combines contemporary Icelandic music by Haukur Tómasson and music by Jon Leifs (1899 - 1968), Iceland's premier 20th century composer, with music by Schumann and Beethoven. (Hilary Glover will be attending the concert to review it for this blog). To celebrate the orchestra's debut,there was a reception at the Icelandic Embassy to enable us to meet members of the orchestra and those involved in the concert.

The orchestra was founded in 1950, only 6 year's after Iceland's independence and culture played an important part in strengthening the Icelandic identity. For much of the orchestra's life, its home was in the University Cinema but in 2011 it moved into the new concert hall in Reykjavik, Harpa. This hall has been something of a miracle as it was planned before the financial collapse and work came to a standstill. Thanks to the then Minister of Culture and the Mayor of Reykjavik, the hall was completed. Its name has various meanings, but in ancient Icelandic it is the first month of summer.

The effect of moving into Harpa has been to nearly double to orchestra's concert audience (from 900 to 1600), which is quite a dramatic change for an orchestra. In fact this has been a great success and anyone who looks at the orchestra's website will see that they have a lively series.

The collapse affected the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in other ways. They had tours planned in 2008/9 and were just about to embark for Japan when it happened, leaving them unable to get hold of enough Yen to be able to travel.  This Proms debut will be only their second concert abroad since then.

The orchestra's chief conductor, Ilan Volkov, is perhaps best known in the UK as the chief conductor (and subsequently principal guest conductor) of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and in his speech he said that his previous Proms appearances have been with this orchestra. One of the works in tonight's programme is Jon Leifs' Geysir, inspired by the geology of Iceland. Volkov's first encounter with Leifs music did not occur until he took up his post in Iceland (in 2011), and he first conducted one of Leifs pieces earlier this year. Geysir is a huge orchestral piece with off stage percussion.

The other contemporary work in the programme is Magma by Haukur Tómasson. Magma in fact dates from 1998 and the orchestra has experience of playing it, and a number of Tómasson's other works. Volkov talked of Tómasson having a highly individual voice.
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