Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Iceland National Symphony, Part II

I went to what could easily be a horror-of-horrors concert for my personality type, the "Family and Young People" concert on the Iceland National Symphony's program. It was full of classical excerpts all pertaining somehow to trolls, goblins, fantasy, and magic. What in the States is usually a feeble attempt to rally children into thinking "classical music is fun!...Right?!..Anybody??...!" here was really a fun and delightful little program that kept the Icelandic kids (and myself) totally entertained.

Icelandic-raised kids seem to have a higher standard of musicality (choirs, festivals, sagas told in song-rhyme, holidays devoted to singing, music schools in many towns), and they grow up learning that 'classical' music can be enjoyed in the same ways that other genres of music can. Thus as adults, there is less of a stigma that the classical repertoire is something highbrow and elitist, and frankly uninteresting to the masses. I have yet to talk to anyone here that's asked, 'so how do you plan on making a living, when classical music pays nothing and nobody listens to it?', a question I'd often get in the States. With relatively few of them around, many composers in Iceland can actually make a comfortable living writing music, and be admired for it.

What made the kids' concert so enjoyable (besides the sound of the orchestra, which is good as always) was the completely engaging host, who talks to the kids between every song. She's kind of an Icelandic character actress, so I'm told, and appears at various cultural events and wears a red nose, jumps around and makes jokes, tells really fabulous stories about the classical pieces you're about to hear, and even keeps the kids engaged with little group activities ('raise your hand if you've seen a troll!' and 'we have to help the clarinetist play really high, everybody blow real hard!'. Also, her level of Icelandic is just simple enough that I could understand most of it, especially good when I understand a joke! She loved picking on people who were coming in late- at one point she jumped off the stage and helped people to their seats as they couldn't find their way. Those people won't be late to the symphony again.

The best moments of the music concert included (surprisingly), hearing John Williams' 'Hedwig' theme from Harry Potter, in which several tiny kiddies sitting around me hummed along with the theme with scary accuracy (the melody is not exactly linear, it has a big weird interval jump and chromaticism throughout it). Then during 'Uranus' from Holst's Planets, the boy next to me pretended to conduct, and at one point imitated playing the tympani, again with scary accuracy of the rhythm happening on stage. Then he stood on his chair for a better view, took out some cheese puffs from his mom's bag, and ate them loudly. All in a day's work for a cultured five-year-old.

(image from

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