Bjarni Returns as Prime Minister

Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson

Bjarni Benediktsson, current minister of foreign affairs and leader of the centre-right Independence Party, will become prime minister in the reshuffled coalition government following the departure of Katrín Jakobsdóttir from the office, RÚV reports.

Katrín announced last week that she would resign as prime minister and leader of the Left-Green Movement to campaign for the office of president, with presidential elections scheduled for June 1. This threw the future of her party’s coalition with the Independence Party and the centrist Progressive Party into uncertainty. A parliamentary election is scheduled for September next year, but the opposition has called for a snap election in light of these developments.

Bjarni’s return following privatisation scandal

At a press conference in Harpa concert and conference hall today, Bjarni announced that he would become prime minister. Bjarni was previously prime minister during a short-lived coalition in 2017 and finance minister for most of the period from 2013 to 2023. He resigned as finance minister in October of last year after the Parliamentary Ombudsman found that his role in the privatisation process of Íslandsbanki bank, which had been nationalised after the 2008 banking collapse, had not confirmed to guidelines.

He became minister for foreign affairs instead, with fellow party member Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir becoming finance minister in his stead. Þórdís will now move back to the ministry for foreign affairs, where she served previously.

Embattled Svandís switches ministries

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, leader of the Progressive Party, will now become finance minister. Embattled Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir, who was set to face a motion of no confidence in Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, this week, will become minister of infrastructure. In January, the Parliamentary Ombudsman found that she had not acted in accordance with law when she temporarily banned whale hunting last summer.

Her fellow Left-Green Movement MP, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, will take her place in the ministry of food, agriculture and fisheries.

The changes will be formalised at a meeting of the cabinet with President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson at 7 PM tonight.

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.

Reykjavík to Erect a Ferris Wheel

Ferris wheel on Miðbakki

Reykjavík authorities are looking for a partner to operate a Ferris wheel at the Miðbakki wharf in the capital city’s downtown area. The partner will carry the costs of erecting and running the Ferris wheel business, while the city provides the plot of land for a set period of time, according to Reykjavík city’s ad post.

A summertime activity

The Ferris wheel would be operated over the summertime, from May through September, and would be “an exciting addition to the diverse city life” as stated in the post. The wheel can at most be 30 metres in height, due to its proposed location being in the vicinity of Reykjavík airport. The land available for the project is 725 square metres and should accommodate a 20 metre long carriage for the Ferris wheel.

Miðbakki developments

The area has seen major renovations over the last decades, with Harpa concert hall as the most notable addition, along with new commercial and residential properties. Aspiring Ferris wheel operators have until March 22 to submit their proposals, which must include specifications on the wheel’s ability to withstand Icelandic conditions, including necessary wind and earthquake resistance.

New National Opera to Launch Next Year

Icelandic Opera

A new National Opera will begin operations next year as a division of Þjóðleikhúsið, the National Theatre of Iceland. The opera will stage its shows in Harpa concert hall in Reykjavík, as well as Hof in Akureyri and other venues across the country, Mbl.is reports.

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, minister of culture and business affairs, has introduced a draft bill on the new opera, which estimates operating costs of ISK 800 Million [$5.8 Million, €5.4 Million] per year. The opera will employ 12 solo singers and a choir of 16 part-time employees, as well as other staff. The opera will also be responsible for educational activities, collaboration with music companies, theatre companies, and choirs outside of the capital area, and other grassroots work. The opera should aim to stage at least one Icelandic work every year.

Opera in flux

A national opera has been in the pipeline for years as a part of the government coalition platform. A director of the opera will be appointed for a five year term, and will have artistic and operational independence to run the opera, despite ultimately answering to the artistic director of the National Theatre. Two more members will be added to the National Theatre’s board, both of whom should have experience with operatic works.

The state of opera in Iceland has been in flux in recent years. The Icelandic Opera, the leading opera company, lost its public funding last year after the union of opera singers criticised its administration. The union supported a national opera being founded in its stead.

Iceland Symphony Orchestra Strike Narrowly Avoided

Iceland Symphony Orchestra in Eldborg Hall

The Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the state have settled their wage dispute. Agreements were signed at the state mediator’s office yesterday evening at 7:00 PM, just in time to call off a musicians’ strike that was set to begin today. The dispute was referred to the state mediator last June.

According to a government notice, the state mediator and the negotiation committee have placed great emphasis on the involvement of the Ministry of Culture to resolve the dispute. The Ministry of Culture and Trade has proposed that the Symphony Orchestra receive additional funding in the coming years to cover the costs of salary increases and strengthen workplace culture.

Operations have been challenging for the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in recent years, not least due to the coronavirus pandemic. The notice also states that it was clear that a strike would impact the orchestra’s ability to meet its obligations and its possibilities of earning income.

When the Band Began to Play: 70 Years of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra

“The Icelandic Symphony Orchestra pays a key role in Icelandic musical life. It is therefore gratifying that an agreement has been reached,” stated Minister of Culture and Trade Lilja Alfreðsdóttir. “A strike could have had a significant negative impact on cultural life in the country.”

The Iceland Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1950 and has been a central figure of Iceland’s musical landscape since. The orchestra has received two Grammy nominations. Read more about the orchestra in Iceland Review Magazine.

Björk Awarded Honorary Degree by Iceland University of the Arts

Björk Guðmundsdóttir

Icelandic artist Björk was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Iceland University of the Arts during a graduation ceremony at Harpa Music Conference Hall on June 16, 2023. It marks the second time in the university’s history that such an accolade has been bestowed.

“No ordinary musician”

At a graduation ceremony at the Harpa Music Conference Hall on June 16, 2023, Icelandic artist Björk Guðmundsdóttir was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Iceland University of the Arts. She received the honour in recognition of her “significant artistic contributions.”

As noted by a press release on the university’s website, the honorary doctorate is bestowed upon individuals who have made a distinctive impact on art and culture and serves as an opportunity for the institution to pay homage to the recipient’s achievements and contributions to the academic realm of art.

To be eligible for the recognition, recipients must have made an important contribution and “garnered respect within their respective fields, be it as artists, academics, or influential figures in the realms of culture, art, or art education.”

During the event, Friða Björk Ingvarsdóttir, President of the Iceland University of the Arts, delivered a speech highlighting the career of Björk, describing her as a formidable force. “Björk is no ordinary musician; a different set of laws seem to be govern her work. As a solo artist, she has consistently revitalised her bond with her compositions and her own image. Each new creation she presents brings us an unforeseen and harmonious world.”

“Most of us are familiar with the story of how Björk practically introduced Icelandic music to a global audience,” Fríða Björk continued. “While other Icelandic musicians have garnered acclaim and left an impression worldwide, Björk was the trailblazer who effectively brought Icelandic music into the international spotlight. Her groundbreaking achievements have undoubtedly benefited subsequent artists who have followed in her footsteps.”

Two works by Björk were performed at the ceremony: a performance of Atopos by Murmura, on the one hand, and a performance of Tabula Rasa by Viibra.

This marks the second time in the university’s history that such an accolade has been bestowed. Composer Hjálmar H. Ragnarsson was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2016.

In Focus: Cultural Appropriation at the Icelandic Opera

madame butterfly reykjavík

On March 3, the Icelandic Opera premiered its production of Madama Butterfly, authored by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini and first performed publicly in 1904.  The opera is set in Japan in the early 20th century and centres on the relationship between the US naval officer Pinkerton, portrayed by the Icelandic tenor Egill Árni Pálsson; and […]

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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.