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Interior if the Reykjavik’s New Concert Hall. Press photo

Reykjavik’s New Concert Hall, Harpa 0

Orests Silabriedis, music journalist

Icelandic voices:

-        We've waited for a hundred years!
-        Our blood is invested in that building!
-        A dream temple for music!
-        Let the banksters (a favorite new word in Iceland these last few years – a hybrid of the words “banker” and “gangster”) come and wash the glass facade themselves!

Opened on May 4th of this year, Reykjavik’s new concert hall and conference center, Harpa (Icelandic for “harp”), is built right on the Atlantic Ocean, in the shelter of the city's Old Harbor. When it comes to appraising the new building, Icelanders' opinions are contradictory, but even the most leftist of citizens, who pointedly remember the pit into which the banking crisis pulled them, look to be quite satisfied that there finally is a place where one can listen to music.

And the place is simply amazing... and that's coming from a widely-traveled music lover. From the airport to Harpa at break-neck speed, to listen to Jonas Kaufmann – arguably, one of the all-time best and smartest tenors. We're a few minutes late, the lights are already dimmed, the first measures of Verdi's overture are playing, and the people who have taken their seats on time give us disapproving looks. The late-comers clustering in the gallery don't seem too puzzled, as they're being helped by a wonderful Icelandic girl who explains the seating to the uninitiated, and even though Verdi seems a bit offended by the noise in the house, at last everyone is finally seated.

Now I can finally take a look around – my breath catches, because the walls are painted maroon. A wonderfully warm feeling of being sheltered – “passion and majesty”, is how Harpa's music director, Steinunn Birna Ragnarsdottir, puts it a few days later. She's right, and Jonas Kaufmann feels it as well. He has surprised our ears with fragile, web-like piano's, blinded us with forceful forte's; he feels the public's need to hear more and more, and with little ado, presents us with practically a third, additional part of the concert – he sings four (!) completely different encores.