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

“The opera people will have to come up with unusual solutions. There is an orchestra pit, but from the point of view of staging, it will be a test of the imagination of the stage designer. In such a good acoustic environment, the singers can simply stand and sing. Let the public imagine the rest! Often times, that is – how does one say it – more honorable and successful. If the singers are well-prepared, imagination will do the rest. In addition, the director can't mess anything up that way.”

Steinunn Birna's temperament wonderfully suits the Great Hall's name, Eldborg, which is one of Iceland's volcanoes. Before working at Harpa, Steinunn headed a piano music festival, and in 1993 she visited Latvia as Iceland's ambassador of culture and gave a piano concert; she has fond memories of Latvia. Steinunn's dark eyes and dark hair give off great enthusiasm that turns into a small, bright flame as we near a small room in the vestibule. She unlocks the door, and behind it are two concert grand model-D Steinway's. “I come here when everyone's gone. I can play my heart out. This is my secret room.” The grand pianos, of course, were bought in Hamburg; Steinunn picked them out herself.

One of them was played at the grand opening concert by New York's Julliard School graduate Vikingur Heidar Olafsson. He's young and beloved by Icelanders. Vikingur performed Edvard Grieg's piano concert, which was suggestively and originally directed by Vladimir Ashkenazy (Latvia's Radio 3 has obtained a recording of the concert and it will be aired sometime this summer). I'll remind you here that after moving to Iceland (he married an Icelandic pianist) and gaining citizenship, Ashkenazy created the internationally renown Reykjavik Art Festival. The first festival was held in 1970 and since then, the best of the best have visited Reykjavik; many, of course, have been Ashkenazy's own extremely talented friends. This whole time Iceland's Symphonic Orchestra practiced and preformed in an old, acoustically terrible movie theater. Another (and just as bad) movie theater was home to Iceland's Opera Company. Only we, Rigans, and others such as us, can understand what it means to long after a proper concert hall. And now they have one. We don't, and it doesn't look like we will soon, either. Paris also has had to do without a modern concert hall. In 2013 the Parisians will have a philharmonic hall built by Jean Nouvel. We won't.

Harpa doesn't consist of just the Great Hall. Steinunn first takes us to the black box. The walls are covered in ornamental objects carved out of birchwood (imported, of course). Behind these are panels covered in felt, which not only regulate the acoustics, but have small diodes imbedded in the bottom that create a colorful ambiance. Red, violet, red-violet... Steinunn's favorite is the bright green. This hall will be home to jazz, chamber orchestras and choirs. At the time of our visit, preparations are underway for a wedding. “Since the building opened on May 4th, the last 30 weeks of this year are booked with more than 200 events.