Walking through the city centre, your eyes can’t help but be drawn to a glittering castle of glass and steel by the harbour, with a picture-perfect backdrop of Mt. Esja on the other side of the water. Harpa, Reykjavík’s music hall and conference centre, was completed in 2011 much to the joy of Icelandic musicians as well as the music-loving public.
Even if Harpa is a relatively recent building, there had been talks, and even plans, of building a music house in Reykjavík for decades. In fact, the first documented suggestion of a music hall appeared in 1881! The talks became serious when the Iceland Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1950 but its “temporary” home in the Háskólabíó cinema lasted longer than expected. Many locations were suggested but in 2000, people settled on Harpa’s current spot by the harbour. Construction began in 2007 but were halted due to Iceland’s financial collapse in 2008. The building became a hot topic and the nation was divided on whether this was the right time to build a house dedicated to the arts. Luckily, construction soon went ahead, and the result is the Harpa, a lovely addition to both the city centre and Iceland’s music scene.
The building was designed by a Danish firm in cooperation with Icelandic architects but the building’s standout feature, the honeycomb façade of glass and steel, is the brainchild of internationally acclaimed artist of Icelandic descent, Ólafur Elíasson. If you’re interested in seeing more of his work, head to The Marshall House by the old harbour, which houses Ólafur’s studio and exhibition space.
The most important part of Harpa is not the brick and mortar (or in this case, glass and concrete) but what goes on inside its halls. Harpa is home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, the Icelandic Opera, the Reykjavík Big Band, and a curiously musical mouse called Maximus Musicus, who regularly appears at the orchestra’s children’s concerts and is very excited to teach kids all there is to know about music and musical instruments.
In addition to classical concerts and operas, Harpa is also home to modern popular music – popular music festivals regularly take place in Harpa – as well as conferences, lectures and comedy shows. Be sure to check out the Harpa programme while you’re here, taking in a show or a concert in one of its grand halls is an unforgettable experience.