All About Harpa Concert Hall in Iceland

Harpa concert hall in RYK

When was Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre built in Reykjavík? Why is it an important landmark? What musical acts and stage performances can you see at Harpa? Read on to learn more. 

If you’re taking a stroll around Reykjavík, you’ll likely stumble upon the award-winning Harpa Concert Hall. 

After all, it’s hard to miss.

 

 

It is one of the city’s most iconic buildings. A striking and decidedly modern structure that favours the use of glass and abstract shapes to make up its slanted walls. 

It is not only Icelanders and visitors who have taken notice. Numerous magazines have awarded Harpa prizes, including the likes of Gramophone and Business Destination. In 2013, Harpa also won the Mies van der Rohe European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture. 

Facilities at Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre / Facebook. Gamers at EVE Fanfest in 2018

The facilities themselves at Harpa are world-class, both for performers and businesses. Harpa has four main stages: 

Eldborg 


The first is its main hall, Eldborg, designed to streamline its acoustics and seat 1600 guests. Eldborg won the USITT Architecture Award in 2018. 

Silfurberg 

Waves by Harpa during extreme weather
Photo: Golli. Waves hitting Harpa.

Silfurberg conference hall can seat 840 people, making it an excellent choice for business events hosting large groups. Its technological prowess is particularly appealing. The stage is entirely moveable and the acoustics can be configured to a production’s liking. 

Norðurljós


Norðurljós recital stage is attached to Silfurberg, meaning the latter can expand or recede when required. It also boasts a movable stage and has viewing balconies that line its perimeter. The lighting set-up can also be changed quickly, allowing for stage managers and directors to create a variety of moods and aesthetics. 

Kaldalón


Kaldalón auditorium is the smallest of Harpa’s halls, and therefore better suited to quieter events and performances. In front of the stage is Norðurbryggja, an open area that allows for wonderful views of Harpa’s surrounding nature. 

When was Harpa Concert Hall built?

 


Plans to build Harpa extend far back to the early 2000s. It was thought that a fancy new building was needed to boost the capital’s cultural scene, as well as provide a makeover for its waterfront.

The actual construction came at a difficult time for Icelanders. In the midst of building, the country suffered through a financial crisis. In some circles, criticism was thrown at the project on account of Harpa’s perceived lavishness and expense. 

Harpa Concert Hall was completed in 2011, neatly coinciding with Iceland’s tourism boom. Since then, it has been one of the country’s most recognisable buildings, as well as a point of interest widely experienced by city sightseers.  

Where is Harpa Concert Hall located? 


Harpa is located on Austurbakka 2, 101 Reykjavík. Nearby areas include Old Harbour, Lækjartorg square, and Arnarhóll hill. Of course, behind the function hall lies nothing but ocean, and the omnipresent mountains that surround the Capital Region. 

Who designed Harpa Concert Hall? 


Harpa’s design can be traced back to Henning Larsen Architects, a Danish firm who worked closely with Danish-Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson. 

What can you see at Harpa Concert Hall? 

Harpa concert hall
Photo: Golli. A performance at Harpa Concert Hall.

Harpa Concert Hall has three residents, musical in-house acts, that are a permanent fixture. These do not include Múlinn Jazz club, who also happens to call Harpa home. 

Icelandic Symphony Orchestra


Having been founded in 1950, the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra is a cultural institution that has long held a significant place in local society. Today, they hold weekly concerts at Harpa Concert Hall from September – June. 

In the past, it has performed at the BBC Proms, New York’s Carnegie Hall, and Vienna’s Musikverein. 

Reykjavík Big Band

 

 

Fans of the golden oldies will want to catch a performance by the Reykjavík Big Band. Known for their musical expertise and great ability to swing, this beloved cultural institution has been entertaining Icelanders since first forming in 1992.

The band’s origins can be traced to Sæbjörn Jónsson, who worked as their main conductor until the start of the millennium. As of today, they are sponsored by both the City of Reykjavík and the Icelandic Music Fund. For the band’s 30th Anniversary, Maria Schneider stepped in as composer and conductor, having won many Grammy Awards in her own right.

The Reykjavík Big Band has won a handful of Icelandic Music Awards. In 2008, they were awarded Jazz Performers of the Year, and in 2011, won Best Jazz Album. Overall, the outfit has five well-received albums to their name. But not only that; they have also recorded music with some of the biggest names in local music, including ​​Bubbi Morthens and the Sálin band.

Icelandic Opera 

Russian invasion
Photo: Golli. Harpa in Ukrainian colours.

Founded in 1980, the Icelandic Opera was first staged at Gamla Bio – the Old Cinema – until moving to Harpa Concert Hall in 2011. After having settled in, the performers quickly made a name for themselves as one of the venue’s most sophisticated acts.

Each season, the Icelandic Opera puts on two productions, both as spectacular as each other. Aside from that, they also engage in various educational programs, as well as put on free lunchtime concerts under the name Kúnstpása.

International Acts at Harpa Concert Hall? 


Harpa Concert Hall also plays host to the many international acts who stop by Reykjavík while touring. This not only includes iconic musicians like Fatboy Slim and Patti Smith, but also comedians such as the UK’s Bill Bailey. 

What is the best way to experience Harpa Concert Hall? 


The best way to experience the Harpa is to grab yourself a seat at one of its many shows. That way, you will experience just what the facility has to offer, as well as catch a spot of entertainment in the meantime. 

If you’re not looking to see a show during your vacation, you can still visit Harpa simply to appreciate its unique aesthetics. 

What attractions are nearby Harpa Concert Hall? 

Esja
Photo: Golli. Esja mountain seen from Reykjavík

Glistening beneath the Midnight Sun, Harpa is one of the best places in Reykjavík to look upon its backdrop; Mount Esja. 

Mount Esja overlooks Faxafloi Bay, a startlingly blue stretch of water that separates the mountain from the city. In the winter, its slopes are blanketed with snow. In the summer, its brown-rock demeanour disguises the hiking paths and flora found there. 

If Esja was a standalone mountain, it might be one of the most iconic of its kind in the world. However, the neighbouring range behind it alludes to the vast open wilds Iceland is famous for.    

Sun Voyager
Photo: Golli. The Sun Voyager sculpture in Reykjavík

Only a short walk away is the Sun Voyager sculpture. This work, also on the coast, stands in testament to the early settlers who discovered Iceland, and decided to call it their home. 

Appreciating the Sun Voyager sculpture allows you to think about adventures of the past. In old, wooden longships, voyagers from the North braved tempestuous seas and a challenging new home to found Icelandic society. 

Given how modern Reykjavík appears today, it is strange to think about this nation’s primitive start.  

From Harpa to Downtown Reykjavík 

If you were to walk in the opposite direction from Harpa, you would find yourself in historic Old Harbour. This lovely district is easily recognisable thanks to the presence of the Odinn; the prize ship in the Coast Guard’s war-winning fleet, as well as the small fishing boats and yachts that dock around it. 

Hallgrímskirkja lutheran church in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík

Nearby to Old Harbour is Kolaportid, the city flea market. Boasting an eclectic array of goods; from military surplus to strange decoration and old books and restaurants, this market is popular among visitors seeking peculiar souvenirs. It’s also one of the most popular locations to taste-test Hakarl, or fermented shark, as well as a range of other Icelandic delicacies. 

If, from Harpa, you walk into the urban heart of the capital, you’ll arrive in downtown Reykjavík. Describing it as a concrete jungle might seem a tad overzealous, but it’s the closest to it you’ll find during your trip to Iceland. For anyone seeking shops, bars, and restaurants, Laugavegur street has you covered. From there, it’s only a quick jaunt to Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran Church – Reykjavík’s most recognisable landmark. 

What events have been held at Harpa Concert Hall? 

Golli. Armed police outside Harpa during the Council of Europe Summit, May 2023

Many events have been held at Harpa Concert Hall since it first opened.

These include: the European Film Awards, the Food and Fun Festival, EVE Fanfest, and the Reykjavík Arts Festival. Many music festivals also make use of Harpa’s stages, such as Iceland Airwaves, Dark Days, Sónar Reykjavík, and Reykjavík Jazz Festival.

A variety of productions have also used Harpa as a shooting location, such as the hit US reality show, The Bachelor, and the film, Hearts of Stone.

In May 2023, Harpa welcomed world leaders as part of the Council of Europe Summit. This was one of the more globally important conferences to be held there, and required police escorts and road closures to ensure everyone’s safety. Still, Harpa was a fitting choice given the building’s importance to Icelandic culture.

After all, the venue has also hosted events as part of the National Day of Iceland and the Festival of the Sea.

Triangle of Sadness Sweeps European Film Awards

Harpa Concert Hall Reykjavík

The 2022 European Film Awards took place in Rekjavík’s Harpa concert hall last night, December 11.

Some 1,200 were expected for the film awards, 700 of those foreign guests who came for the ceremony.

See also: European Film Awards in Reykjavík Postponed Due to COVID-19

The film awards, which had previously been postponed due to COVID-19, are seen as significant, as their being hosted in Reykjavík serves as recognition for Iceland as a film industry destination.

“Triangle of Sadness,” directed and written by Ruben Östlund, swept the awards last night. A critique of the lifestyles of the super-rich, the film garnered awards in four categories, including best film, best director (Ruben Östlund), best screenwriter (Ruben Östlund), and best actor (Zlatko Buric).

Other notable prize-winners included Vicky Krieps (best actress, “Corsage”), “Mariupolis” (best documentary), and “The Good Boss” (best European comedy).

In lieu of the traditional red carpet often present at film awards, attendees at Harpa walked along a moss carpet, both a reference to Icelandic nature and sustainability.

 

New Designer Shopping and Dining Centre Hafnartorg Gallery to Open Downtown

Downtown is about to get another designer facelift. Vísir reports that 11 new shops and restaurants, all of which will be housed in the newly anointed Hafnartorg Gallery, are expected to open in the next five weeks. The gallery is located between Arnarhóll and the Kolapórtið flea market and its opening signals the long-awaited conclusion to more than decade’s worth of development between the Harpa Concert Hall and Lækjartorg.

See Also: Sizeable Hotel Rises Beside Harpa

Downtown Reykjavík has been under near-constant construction since ground was first broken on Harpa in 2007. (After the Icelandic economy collapsed in 2008, construction halted on Harpa—and in Iceland in general—until the government decided to step in and fund the building’s completion, making it the only active construction project in Iceland for several years following the crash.) In recent years, this harbourside district has added high-end apartment buildings, a luxury hotel, a pedestrian mall, and a variety of shops. And the end is finally in sight: after Hafnartorg Gallery opens, Landsbankinn’s new building is the area’s last major construction project. It’s set to be completed by the end of the year. 

See Also: Iceland University of the Arts to Receive Permanent Home

Finnur Bogi Hannesson, who works for the real estate firm Reginn and acts as Hafnartorg’s development manager, says the all-indoor gallery will be easily accessible in inclement weather from the 1,100-car underground garage, and will also have entrances on several surrounding streets. He says that most of the restaurants are on pace to open slightly ahead of the stores, but the goal is for everything to open by early July.

The gallery will house the largest 66° North in Iceland, as well as the country’s first North Face location, the lifestyle store Casa, an 80-seat fine dining restaurant focused on contemporary Franco-Italian cooking, and seven smaller restaurants catering to a range of tastes. In the end, Hafartorg will be home to a total of 30 shops and restaurants.

“Wind Harp” Sculpture Unveiled at Harpa Concert Hall

Elín Hansdóttir Harpa sculpture Himinglæva

Himinglæva is the name of a new stainless-steel sculpture by Elín Hansdóttir that will be officially unveiled outside of Harpa Concert Hall tomorrow. It’s a work of art that is not only meant to be seen, but also heard. An “Aeolian harp,” the sculpture is designed to produce sonic overtones as the wind travels through it. Its name comes from Norse mythology, and means “transparent, shining, and small wave.”

In Norse mythology, sailors who sensed the power of the wind and waves around them assumed that the mythical figure Himinglæva was embodying the water and propelling their vessels across the ocean. Alluding metaphorically to this legend, the harp is designed to attune the viewer to the natural forces around them. The shape is based on a Lissajous figure, representing the shape of light beams reflected through vibrating tuning forks. The sounds it produces change based on the force of the wind travelling through it.

A long time in the making

The sculpture has been a long time in the making: back in 2008, before Harpa was completed, a design competition was held for public art in the environs of the concert hall. Himinglæva was the winning entry. Funding priorities shifted following the banking collapse, but thanks to a monetary gift from the City of Reykjavík and the state given to Harpa last year, the concert hall could finally fund the construction of Elín’s design.

Elín’s work often involves visual distortions that heighten the viewer’s awareness of their own presence in relation to the artwork. Himinglæva plays with sonic distortions instead, exploring how a sculpture can filter the natural environment around it.

Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Mayor of Reykjavík Dagur B. Eggertsson will be present at the sculpture’s unveiling in front of Harpa at 4:00 PM tomorrow. Elín is currently completing a residency in Berlin, but will travel to Iceland for the unveiling of Himinglæva.

Björk to Stage Three Unplugged, Fundraising Concerts in August

This August, Björk will stage three, special matinee performances to raise awareness about, and funds for, causes important to her. “i want to invite you to some concerts,” she wrote in a Facebook post in late June. “i want to celebrate that we’ve at least made it through the first stage of the coronavirus epidemic and honour the many icelandic musicians i’ve worked with through the years.”

“i recorded almost all of my albums with local musicians,” Björk wrote in a translation of her post on the Harpa website:

homogenic with an icelandic string octet

medulla with schola cantorum ( an icelandic mixed choir )

volta with 10 brass girls i found all over the island and then later they formed wonderbrass

biophilia with langholt´s church girl choir graduale nobili

vulnicura with a 15 piece string ensemble

utopia with 12 female fluteplayers who later formed the flute septet viibra

cornucopia with hamrahlíð´s choir conducted by þorgerður ingólfsdóttir

all these albums where then performed all around the planet with these musicians

together they are over hundred people !!

and we are going to celebrate that we are all healthily exiting quarantine together by playing concerts in harpa

my input into the feminist fight is to brag about that almost all of those arrangements are by me

unfortunately this is something that is almost always ignored when women are arrangers

Björk Orkestral – Live from Reykjavík” will be comprised of three, unique unplugged/acoustic performances. For the first performance, she’ll perform with the Hamrahlið Choir (conductor Þorgerður Ingólfsdóttir) and organist Bergur Þórisson. The following week, she’ll be accompanied by the string section of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra (conductor Bjarni Frímann Bjarnason), and finally, for the last performance, she’ll be joined by the brass section of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, the flute septet Viibra, and harpists Katie Buckley and Jónas Sen.

Each of the performances will be held in the afternoon and streamed live, giving viewers the opportunity to donate to Kvennaathvarfið, a local women’s shelter which provides assistance to women and children who have had to leave their homes because of domestic violence. In-person attendees will have the opportunity to purchase food after the show, the proceeds of which will also support the shelter.

Referencing the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Björk concluded by writing:

i feel we are going through extraordinary times

horrifying but also an opportunity to truly change

it is demanded of us that we finally confront all racism

that we learn that lives are more important that profit

and look inside us and finecomb out all our hidden prejudices and privileges

let´s all humbly learn together

transform

humongous love

Tickets for the concerts will go on sale at noon on July 3.

When the Band Began to Play

Iceland Symphony Orchestra in Eldborg Hall

First, the strings enter: bowing a soft, high A. It’s the first ray of morning sunlight breaking over the horizon. The woodwinds answer with a two-note proclamation, like shadows retreating before the dawn. Like brilliant droplets of dew, glittering textures arise from the clarinets.

This content is only visible under subscription. Subscribe here or log in.

Continue reading

Skateboarding in Reykjavík: What Are the Rules?

Skateboarding in Reykjavík

Recently, Iceland Review sent an email to the City of Reykjavík inquiring – on behalf of one of our readers – whether there were any, “explicit rules governing the sport of skateboarding in Reykjavík?” While the responding official did not address the question directly, he did mention that Reykjavík offers a few designated skate areas, including outdoor ramps and two skate parks.

A Skateboarding Task Force

The aforementioned skateboarding areas are outlined in a recent report submitted by a Reykjavík city task force, established to assess the state of skateboarding in Reykjavík.

Formed on November 9, 2017, by Mayor of Reykjavík Dagur B. Eggertsson, the task force was assembled to generate proposals regarding the city of Reykjavík’s policy on skateboarding. The task force convened a total of ten times – meeting with representatives of the Reykjavík Skateboarding Association (Brettafélag Reykjavíkur), the Jaðar Association, and others – before finally submitting its report in April 2018.

According to the report, the state of indoor and outdoor skateboarding facilities in the Greater Reykjavík Area is “far from being acceptable,” and not on a par with what is required for extreme sports in Iceland to thrive, as they do in many places abroad.

The report broadly outlines the main places to skate in Reykjavík, which includes indoor parks, outdoor ramps, and popular places within the city. 

Indoor Parks:

*Organised practices are scheduled in both skateparks, along with open houses for different kinds of extreme sports.

Outdoor Ramps*:

  • Laugardalur
  • Gufunesbær 
  • Jafnasel
  • A moveable pump track that is relocated to different places in Reykjavík
  • Ársel
  • Mosfellsbær

* The condition of the abovementioned ramps varies greatly.

Popular Places in the City:

  • Ingólfstorg Square
  • Harpa Concert Hall

Authors of the report propose the construction of a new skatepark somewhere in central Reykjavík. As far as we know, no such skatepark is currently under construction.

An Insightful BA Essay

In a BA essay published in 2013, Anton Svanur Guðmundsson – a then student of the Department of Design and Architecture at the Iceland University of the Arts – traces the origins of skateboarding in Iceland to the late 1970s. The essay also sheds some light on the rules of skateboarding in Reykjavík, vis-a-vis a paragraph on Ingólfstorg square: “The police cannot interfere with the activity of the skaters as the square belongs to the city of Reykjavík, and as there are no laws that forbid skateboarders to skate on or around the square, just as there are no laws that forbid them from skating in other public spaces in the city. Police regulations state, however, that skateboarders should not skateboard in or around streets in a manner hazardous to pedestrians or motorists.”

For further information on skateboarding in Reykjavík, you can also review this article from Grapevine published in 2012.