Umsögn / Review

Hilary Finch:

Harpa International Music Academy, June 27 – July 14, 2018


Seventy students from seven countries, 20 events, open masterclasses, faculty concerts, seminars and creative workshops: a midsummer banquet for locals and visitors to Reykjavik with ears to hear.

More than two weeks of stimulating and inspiring music-making at the five-year-old Harpa International Academy of Music (HIMA) reached their grand finale in a gala concert on July 14 in Harpa’s main Eldborg Hall. It celebrated not only the achievements of the young musicians from Europe, Asia and America, but also the centenary (1918-2018) of Icelandic sovereignty (the country reached full independence in 1944).

The Academy Orchestra was conducted by Bjarni Frimann Bjarnarsson, recently appointed musical director of Icelandic Opera. Yet another centenary was celebrated in the concert’s opening work, Eldur (Fire), by Jorunn Vidar. A still under-performed composer, Vidar wrote many outstanding songs – but also orchestral works such as this 12-minute tone-poem, in which imaginative and assured ensemble writing resembles, if anything, Sibelius in festive mode. A stirring from the depths of the earth leads to a tugging swell of energies, as trilling figures are passed through the textures and reach a taut apotheosis.

The evening’s set-piece was the first movement (Molto allegro con fuoco) of Mendelssohn’s First Piano Concerto, played by the 11-year-old Icelander, Asta Dora Finnsdottir. Her performance revealed not only technical brilliance but also the sensitivity of nuance and musical understanding which we had heard in earlier days. Her contemporary string-playing counterpart, 11-year-old Norwegian, Amanda Noor Vatn, was there in the orchestra, but was not, alas, given a solo spot at this concert. In previous days, her playing, of remarkable finesse and quiet insight, had made quite some impression. As had the playing and teaching skills of the Chinese violinist Ziyu He. Studying at Salzburg, and just 18 years old, he has a maturity and wisdom way beyond his years. He was the soloist in this gala concert’s exhilarating performance of Saint-Saens’s Havanaise, Op 83.

The concert ended with a brave, robust performance (though perhaps ill-advised, given limited rehearsal time) of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. But, after the cumulative experience of this highly valuable summer-school, praise must go foremost to its Artistic Director, Lin Wei Sigurgeirsson, whose perceptive insight, musical wisdom and immaculate organisational skills make this an event of truly international significance.


Hilary Finch
Former senior music critic of The Times, London

 
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