New music comes in out of the cold in Iceland

A thought-provoking article on Iceland by John Carlin in yesterday's Independent. Here is an extract supplemented by my own brief survey of the flourishing contemporary music scene in that remarkable country.

The miracle of Iceland is that so much has been achieved in so little time in a country of only 300,000 people. Whether the miracle can be replicated in a bigger, more historically complex country is another story. Iceland has managed to arrange its society extraordinarily sanely. It has contrived to create an innovative entrepreneurial climate in which the price of failure is not destitution, as it might be in the US, but the guarantee of a social safety net that will feed and house you till the day you die, and take care of your children's health and education to the highest modern standards. A lot of people I spoke to in Iceland agreed that a large reason for the country's success was the absence of the cultural, religious, political and tribal baggage that other nations accumulate over time. Baggage that, as the minister of education observed to me, weighs other countries down, and gets in the way of intelligent, practical, natural solutions to the elementary problems of life.

* Iceland is the only member nation of Nato that has no armed forces, these having been abolished in the 14th century.
* Only a tiny fraction of the country's 679 police officers - an elite crisis unit called the Vikings - carry guns.
* With an annual murder rate below five, the sum total of the country's prison population is 118.
* Iceland legalised gay marriages in 1996.
* Private education and private health care do not exist - the state facilities are so good that there is no demand.
* Icelanders buy more books per capita than any other nation on earth

There is certainly no accumulated baggage getting in the way of an intelligent and practical approach to new music, and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, under its Principal Conductor and Musical Director Rumon Gamba (right) is a model of progressive programming. As well as the completion of a Shostakovich symphony cycle and a mandatory Mozart opera their 2005/6 season includes the premiere of a new orchestral work by Mark-Anthony Turnage which is a joint comission by the orchestra. The season also includes Finn Kalevi Aho´s Flute Concerto, Christian Lindberg’s new Trumpet Concerto from Sweden, and Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson, an Icelandic flautist at the Metropolitan Opera in New York is performing American Lowell Liebermann’s Concerto for Flute and Orchestra.

There is also a strong commitment to performing contemporary Icelandic music. Among the works performed in the Iceland Symphony Orchestra's 2005-2006 are concertos by Jón Nordal in celebration of the composer´s 80th birthday, the recent Symphony no. 2 by Atli Heimir Sveinsson (the composer is on the right of the group photo), a new violin concerto by Áskell Másson, and new works by Þorsteinn Hauksson, Haraldur Sveinbjörnsson, Eiríkur Árni Sigtryggsson and Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson. Iceland is also, of course, fertile ground ground for rock acts, most famously Björk and the disbanded Sugarcubes (but note the Sugarcubes including Björk are performing one reunion concert in November to raise funds for the future betterment of Icelandic music and artists - nice one). Among the other rockers there are Quarashi, Sigur Rós (who show classical and minimalist influences), Minus and many more. Additions, corrections, and links to composers I couldn't trace for this Icelandic saga, are, as ever, very welcome.

For more facts on Iceland visit the CIA over in Virginia, and by one of those wondrous coincidences that abound here CIA also stands for Centre for Icelandic Art, which is well worth a visit. And all that talk of the CIA also gives me a neat back-link to The Winter's Tale

Image credit: Header Hornafjordur, Hofn via (c) RTH Sigurdsson. Atli Heimir Sveinsson from Notendur.centrum. With thanks to Vanessa Lann whose mention of Bjork (and Pink Floyd!) sent me down this Overgrown Path. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk .


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