During the 1990’s through the early 2000’s, splashy museums and concert halls were popping up everywhere. Not that I’m a hater of this trend—after all, I enjoy Frank Gehry’s Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park, built during the height of the building-as-spectacle orgy. Sometimes, though, these can seem kind of dated. And if something seems dated 20 years on…gah!…what will it be like in 50 years?
Construction on Reykjavik’s Harpa concert hall started in the late building-as-spectacle era, 2007, and it was completed in 2011. This was as godawful timing, as it coincided with Iceland’s economic crash. While construction was halted throughout the country, the Icelandic government funded the completion of the building.
The architect, Henning Larsen, collaborated with the artist Olafur Eliasson on the building’s façade.
Olafur Eliasson is an Icelandic artist who works with elemental, large scale installations. Some of us in the art world poke fun at him and I agree, these white guy artists with huge budgets to match their egos can be annoying. But see for yourself the way the Harpa’s honeycomb façade reflects the light and weather conditions and you too will recognize Eliasson’s extraordinary talent.
I had checked the concert hall’s website, but due to Covid, all the programs seemed to have been cancelled and it was locked up. HOB and I were trying to peek through the glass when a woman on a scooter, wearing a vintage coat over a colorful dress and a plastic rain bonnet despite the sunny weather, pulled up beside us singing opera. “Want to see inside?” this vision asked “Yes” we answered “but the building is closed.” “Well, you should come to the concert tonight—I’m singing. The box office opens at 7 pm.”
So we ate our sandwiches on while watching the light play over the façade, and went inside to buy tickets after 7 pm.
We explored the interior while waiting for the concert to begin. This gave us a chance to appreciate Olafur Eliasson’s façade from the inside.
Knowing that Eliasson’s works are inspired by the natural world, I thought about what his Icelandic influences might be.
Perhaps it was this rock formation in Þingvellir National Park.
Or this wall constructed from turf?
In theory, floating staircases look cool, but I get really freaked out when climbing them, like I’m going to topple off a cliff.
The rear of the hall has a sweet view of the harbor.
The concert was held in a smaller, recital space. The walls, lined with metal slats of varying thicknesses, are used to dramatic effect by Harpa’s lighting designers.
I hadn’t been to a concert since Covid shut everything down in early 2020. While it was a pleasure to hear live music again, I realized that I missed the business side of performance—something I’ve been working in and around most of my adult life. I observed the box office lady, and the secret communication between the ushers, and best of all I liked watching the audience, and they way they were just eating up the performance.
The she was, our scooter-riding diva, enchanting the audience with her repertoire of (mostly Icelandic) songs, accompanied by a pianist. HOB was also enchanted, though perhaps as much by her form-fitting dress, as by her vocal attractions.
The audience chuckled along with the flirtatious repartee between the diva and her handsome pianist, which of course we couldn’t understand. Not that we needed to—it was the standard “I’m a beautiful diva and I’m leaning coyly against this piano in my tight dress while you say something suggestive and I laugh a little and reply archly” shtick that I also seemed to have missed during the Covid lockdown on everything fun.
Walking back to our apartment after the concert, we saw the diva’s colorful dress hanging in a shop window on Laugarvegur street. HOB sighed that the diva had filled it out much better than the juiceless plastic dummy. I had to agree.
How we got to Reykjavik: flight from Chicago.
Where we slept: Baldursbrá Apartment Laugarvegur. Price: €111 for a double (including food). Recommended: yes.