From 20-28 April 2023, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra will mark its first appearance in the UK under its new chief conductor and artistic director Eva Ollikainen. The seven-concert tour will include Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s sublime METACOSMOS, piano concertos by Beethoven and Rachmaninov with the celebrated soloist Sir Stephen Hough, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

Audiences in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Cardiff and Basingstoke will be treated to one of Iceland’s finest musical assets when the Iceland Symphony Orchestra rolls out its highly-anticipated UK tour in spring 2023.

Iceland Symphony Orchestra: Icelandic Symphony Orchestra to tour the UK for the first time

Composer-in-residence Anna Thorvaldsdottir. Photo: Haraldur Jónasson

Each concert will begin with METACOSMOS by the orchestra’s composer-in-residence, Anna Thorvaldsdottir. The 14-minute work, an exquisite study in instrumental timbres and textures, explores the natural balance between beauty and chaos and the emergence of the former from the latter. Sir Stephen Hough is set to perform Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 or Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.3, while the second half of each programme is devoted to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.5.

Eva Ollikainen has been with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra for 15 years and was appointed the new chief conductor in 2020, coinciding with the Orchestra’s 70th anniversary. “Iceland is a wonderful country that it has been a great pleasure to experience,” she says. Though travel restrictions during the pandemic presented unique challenges for the orchestra, it allowed Ollikainen to spend substantial unbroken periods with the players.

“This was a beautiful time, rehearsing and performing in our wonderful home at Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavík, one of the world’s great venues. There was time to really get to know the players and for them to get to know me. Now we have the chance to share what we’ve been doing together with audiences in the UK. Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov speak to universal emotions and feelings, just as Anna Thorvaldsdottir does in her music.”

Iceland Symphony Orchestra: Icelandic Symphony Orchestra to tour the UK for the first time

Chief conductor Eva Ollikainen. Photo: Nikolaj Lund

“A jaw-dropping understanding of the music of our time”

Thorvaldsdottir’s METACOSMOS is, as the composer notes, rooted as much in the human experience as it is in the creative chaos of the universe. The piece was inspired by the notion of falling into a black hole in space, a metaphor for the unknown. “As with my music generally, the inspiration behind METACOSMOS is not something I am trying to describe through the piece. To me, the qualities of the music are first and foremost musical,” explains Anna Thorvaldsdottir.

“Anna is incredible,” comments Eva Ollikainen. “Listening to her music feels like a purification process for the mind and soul. It is always a rich mental and spiritual journey. We’re so privileged to have her as our composer-in-residence as she’s in such huge demand around the world. The Iceland Symphony Orchestra’s players are outstanding performers of contemporary compositions and have a jaw-dropping mutual understanding of the spirit of the music of our time.”

Sir Stephen Hough is the Iceland Symphony Orchestra’s artist-in-association throughout the 2022-23 season. He and Ollikainen worked together for the first time at Harpa in early January and will perform Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto in Reykjavík in February ahead of their UK outing. “Stephen is such an incredible musician and human being. I look forward to our collaboration and working with him on tour,” says Ollikainen.

Almost a third of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra’s 90 full-time musicians are from outside Iceland, with 13 nationalities represented in the orchestra’s ranks. “It’s such a vibrant and exciting community of musicians,” says Jóhannsdóttir. “Many of our overseas players have lived here for 30 or 40 years and are true locals! It has been very important for us to have this international membership in Iceland’s national orchestra. And of course, it’s special for us to bring music by a great Icelandic composer to our audiences in the UK.”

Iceland Symphony Orchestra: Icelandic Symphony Orchestra to tour the UK for the first time

Pianist Stephen Hough. Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke

2023 UK tour dates:
20 April: Cadogan Hall, London
21 April: Symphony Hall, Birmingham
23 April: Usher Hall, Edinburgh
25 April: Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
26 April: Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
27 April: St David’s Hall, Cardiff
28 April: The Anvil, Basingstoke

Instagram: @icelandsymphony
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