Iceland Symphony Orchestra celebrate seven decades of history with first UK tour


Anna Thorvaldsdóttir / credit: Haraldur Jónasson

'Aeriality', by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdóttir, promises to evoke visions of the natural environment from British audiences

Known as the land of fire and ice, and home to some of the most impressive glaciers and active volcanoes in the world, Iceland is less well known for the orchestra which also calls this remarkable country home. As part of increasing recognition in its 70th anniversary year, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra undertakes its first tour to the UK with a whirlwind of eight concerts in nine days, culminating in their one and only Scottish performance in Edinburgh.

As well as showcasing the orchestra itself, the tour features Icelandic music by composer-in-residence Anna Thorvaldsdóttir. 'Aeriality', evoking the atmosphere of the natural environment, was commissioned by the orchestra in 2011 and is now notching up no fewer than 50 performances, an unusually high number for new music. 'I imagined looking at landscapes from various perspectives and thinking about this in musical terms,' she says. 'The title refers to the state of gliding through the air, as if flying.'

Thorvaldsdóttir's orchestral style takes on layered textures, using the whole canvas of the symphony orchestra in its harmonies. There are quarter tones and clusters of sound coming together to form the orchestra as a single force, alternating with more subtle lyrical passages and an airiness to the layering which is reflective of the piece's name. She describes it as 'both portraying the feeling of absolute freedom gained from the lack of attachment and the feeling of unease generated by the same circumstances.'

For many in her audiences, 'Aeriality' brings visions of Icelandic landscapes, while for others there are no such associations. 'It is really nice and interesting to hear those reactions, especially the variety of them,' Thorvaldsdóttir notes. 'But listening to music is such a personal experience, and to me it's really important that people approach music on their own terms.'

Sunday Classics: Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Usher Hall, Sun 16 Feb, and touring.

Sunday Classics: Iceland Symphony Orchestra

Yan Pascal Tortelier conducts the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Aeriality; Georges Bizet, L’Arlésienne suite; Ravels' Piano Concerto for the Left Hand and Sibelius' Symphony no. 1. Soloists are Jean-Efflam Bavouzet or Yeol Eum Son, depending on the venue.