After a week in the capital, I was really excited to head north-east to Egilsstaðir to meet old friends from 2016 and to “repeat” (can you repeat an improvised concert, I wonder?!) our Reykjavik concert with Charles Ross.
Whilst Egilsstaðir is just a small town of a couple of thousand inhabitants, there is plenty going on culturally. I spent my first afternoon listening to the Sinfóníuhljómsveit Austurlands (East Iceland Symphony Orchestra). The real stand-out performance for me was young violinist Kristófer Gauti Thórhallsson playing a movement from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I’d coached Kristófer back in 2016 in Egilsstaðir Music School. Accompanied by a small group from the orchestra directed by Charles on “theorbo” (10-string guitar) continuo, this was wonderful energetic, idiomatic playing.
No orchestral concert would be complete without a couple of drinks afterwards and it was a great chance for me to learn a bit more Icelandic and speak a little with some very patient teachers. (Orchestral conversations the world over tend to follow common themes, so I could guess a lot!)
Monday was a free day and I made the most of the spring weather. However the weather can be fickle in Iceland, especially as the seasons turn and I woke up on Tuesday to driving snow. It was cosy sitting in the cottage catching up on work, drinking coffee and keeping the cats and dog company, though! And I got my first taste of driving on ice tyres for real on my way to work, which was fun.
After the obligatory session in the hot tubs I was coaching in the music school with some old faces as well as some new ones. I really enjoy group masterclasses and it’s a pleasure to work with a group of mutually supportive students on technique.
That evening Charles and I performed in Slátarhusið. This time we had some time to rehearse and experiment with new sounds, allowing us a more structured approach than our very spontaneous gig in Reykjavik! A local gig for Charles allowed us to use more instruments. A particular favourite of mine from our 2016 concert in Seyðisfjörður is the Siberian fiddle. I love using the larger, more resonant viola to gently pick up on the sounds this small, delicate instrument makes. That particular set ended with some fine throat-singing from Charles – ironically enough aided by the aftermath of a bad cough, which made for some low frequencies! You can hear it here.
The nice thing about small, informal venues is that they’re conducive to chatting with the audience afterwards. We enjoyed showing people how we made sound and people were able to try out some of the instruments and effects for themselves, with Briet Finsdóttir proving particularly adept on a small African fiddle!
It was good to talk to Slátarhusið’s director, Kristin, a graduate of the the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now RCS). She has big plans for the venue, a space which has so much potential.
As well as making music, I had plenty of time to enjoy the wonderful open landscape around Egilsstaðir. I drove down the Fljótsdal to Hallormsstaðaskógur, one of Iceland’s biggest forests. (Yes, Iceland does have trees, contrary to popular belief). I enjoyed walking down the Lagarfljót (the big lake running through the valley) and didn’t see a soul and heard no man-made sound. Just the lapping water, cloudless blue skies and a snow-decked Snaefell (Iceland’s highest mountain outside the glacier areas) in the distance.
When I last visited Egilsstaðir, it was ablaze with autumn colour. As it emerges from winter, it looks very different. After months of snow, the vegetation is all dead. In fact, the day after this walk it was back under snow! That doesn’t make it any less beautiful, though. The mountains are decked in pure white snow, beautiful against the pale blue sky and even the dead vegetation is a burnished yellow that sets off beautifully the white mountains and blue sky.
In autumn the geese had been gathering noisily for their long flight south. (The inspiration for my beautiful commission by Anna Appleby, “Hrakningar”). The first few days this time I was really missing them, but as I walked next to the groaning ice flowing out of the lake, small groups of them were returning, gossiping away. I also loved the eery sounds of the elegant whooper swans in flight.
I’m always asked if I saw the Northern Lights. I’ve always
been lucky and yes, once more they made an appearance on my concert
night. It doesn’t matter how many times you see them, they are still
fascinating to watch as they slowly shift and morph into different