Review: Iceland Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Concert Hall

Words: Ian C Douglas
Thursday 27 April 2023
reading time: min, words

Ian C Douglas reviews the Iceland Symphony Orchestra...


Iceland's national orchestra was founded in 1950 and is one of the leading institutions on the country’s cultural scene. With appearances at international festivals and concert halls, the BBC Proms as well as Carnegie Hall, the orchestra has built up a worldwide acclaim. Well, that’s the hype, so how did it live up to its reputation?  

Tonight’s performance was under the baton of conductor Eva Ollikainen, who decided to be a conductor while studying at the Sibelius Academy. She went onto perform with some of the top orchestras on the planet. And she’s been with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra since 2005, originally jumping in at short notice when someone else had to drop. Her rapport with the musicians was so great that she was offered the position of Chief Conductor.

And that rapport was evident tonight. Eva brought a cheery, non-nonsense presence to the podium and effortlessly coaxed note-perfect performances from her crew.

First item on the programme was a modern piece. Entitled Metacosmos, this brooding exploration of beauty and chaos had the audience spellbound. Slow but powerful crescendos carried the listener away, out onto a sound ocean, where great swells of melody stirred something deep within the psyche. Meditative, dark yet awe-inspiring, this made a good start to the evening.

great swells of melody stirred something deep within the psyche

Better still, the composer came up on stage for a round of grateful applause. In fact, Anna Thorvaldsdottir is Composer-in-Residence with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Her distinctive composing style is winning fame and awards across the globe. Definitely a composer to watch.

Next up was British pianist Stephen Hough, CBE, who treated us to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor. And that went down so well, as an encore he played Anton Rubinstein’s Melody in F.

Anton Rubinstein being one of Tchaikovsky’s most beloved of mentors, segued nicely into the second act and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E Minor. Well, you cannot go wrong with a bit of the old Saint Petersburg maestro, and the auditorium lapped it all up.

And so, Iceland’s Symphony Orchestra really did live up to the hype. Not quite a standing ovation in the stalls but nearly. Let’s hope they come back soon.  

The Iceland Symphony Orchestra performed on Wednesday 26 April at the Royal Concert Hall

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