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

To say that everything's fine with the acoustics in Harpa's Great Hall is really saying nothing at all. The hall's basic shape is that of the traditional “shoe box” – a shape that in itself guarantees acoustic quality . But they wanted it better than anywhere else. The New York firm Artec Consulting, Inc. – one of the best in the business – was hired, and they inserted three additional elements that vastly changed the acoustics.  The first of these is a really heavy, but pleasant-looking, decorative object (about 70 tons) that hangs partially over the auditorium and completely over the stage; it can be lowered almost to floor level and raised practically to the ceiling. In addition to this – the main acoustics' modulator, large acoustic doors that can be opened according to need have been built into both walls, right up by the ceiling. Lastly, felt paneling has been installed to absorb sound. Reverberation can range from 1.7 to 3 seconds.

Harpa's Great Hall is acoustically warm and deep. Steinunn Birna says: “Of course, even the best builders can't predict the end result. When the orchestra played the first chords at their first practice here, everyone had tears in their eyes. We are very proud of Artec's work, this hall is our great wonder.” Jonas Kaufmann's concert was the final test, and his opinion was succinct – “one of the best halls that I've sung in.”  And you can believe it – recalling Amsterdam's Muziekgebouw and Concertgebouw, the Berlin Philharmonic and other famous halls, it seems that Harpa, in its beautiful maroon depths, creates completely hereto unknown feelings – the singer's voice, like a silky snakeskin, fills the space up to the darkest corner; sound infiltrates everything, and the hypnotized listener is wholly transported to a different world.

The Great Hall has 1800 seats; optimum capacity is 1500. Many wonder – why the need for such a big hall? Iceland has about 320,000 inhabitants; of those, 200,000 live in the Reykjavik area. (Let us remember that Riga, with a population of 700,000, had planned a similarly-sized concert hall – with 1750 seats.) Steinunn Birna says that up till now there hasn't been any indication that the hall couldn't be filled: “Our experience shows that even now, at the very beginning, all seats offered up for sale are sold. So we really aren't worried that the hall won't be used.  In addition, we have to look to the future – Iceland's population is growing. And it's evident that we won't be building a new concert hall in the next hundred years.”

Harpa is home not only to Iceland's Symphonic Orchestra, but also to Iceland's Opera. This begs the question – how can a hall built as a concert venue, that is, without wings, bridges, etc., take on opera? Steinunn Birna says: