More than almost any other country, Iceland is characterized by the elemental forces of nature. The island is situated slightly below the polar circle, has its fair share of barren volcano landscapes, boiling lakes and steam spraying geysers as well as huge glaciers. Until recently, the cosmopolitan capital of Reykjavik, the home of some 120,000 people, was hardly able to host any large scale cultural events. In August 2011, Harpa, the concert hall and conference centre was opened which proved to be a striking addition to the Icelandic and European cultural scene. Harpa is the place where the most important music and performances are united with an international conference centre. It offers a varied range of performances from classical to contemporary; the building is home to Iceland Opera and Reykjavik Big Band.
Harpa was only half complete at the time of Icelandic economic crash in October 2008. A dream was set to come true for the Icelandic musical community with this building and finally a concert hall was finally going to rise in Iceland. However, the crash proved to be a little disastrous as it brought all construction to a standstill and the future of Harpa was thrown into complete uncertainty. But in early 2009, a daring decision was made to complete the building by the Icelandic government and in August 2011, Harpa’s doors were opened to the public. In its very first year, Harpa received over 1.7 million visitors and hosted over one thousand events.
How to get here?
The Concert Hall and Conference Centre of 28000 m2 is situated in a solitary spot with a clear view of enormous sea and the mountains surrounding Reykjavik. The estimated flying time from London to Keflavik airport is 2.5 hours while New York to Keflavik takes 4-5 hours. It takes 40 minutes to drive from Keflavik International Airport to Reykjavik.
Harpa’s multi faceted glass façade is the outcome of a unique collaboration between Olafur Ellasson and Henning Larsen Architect. There is a geometric principle, realized in two and three dimensions which made the design possible. Reminiscent of the crystallized basalt columns commonly found in Iceland which helps in dramatically altering the transparency, reflectivity and colors of the façade as the weather and seasons change.
There are four main halls in this 28,000 square metres building including a 1800 seat concert hall, several meeting rooms and spacious exhibition area. Harpa’s is a public place and is continued in the square in front of the building. The dark grey shade inside Harpa contrasts with the crystalline exterior which in turn merges Harpa with its surroundings and city life.
Iceland’s natural landscape and cultural heritage inspired the names of Harpa’s individual halls. The names are intended to correspond to the four elements: water, air, fire and earth. Eldborg, the main concert hall, seats 1800 people. The glowing red interior is reminiscent of fire. The second hall Norsurljos, represents air and the name means ‘Northern Lights’. Representing the element earth, Harpa’s third hall is called Silfurberg, the name of a translucent calcite crystal that is rarely found outside Iceland. The fourth hall, Kaldalon, on the first floor translates as cold lagoon and was also the surname of one of Iceland’s most celebrated songwriters, Sigvaldi Kaldalons.
Events and Conferences
An impressive cast of celebrated musicians and cultural icons have performed here like Jamie Cullum, Bryan Ferry, Tony Bennett, the German Tenor Jonas Kaufman, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and many more. Harpa also hosts the Tectonics music festival, Dark music Days, The Jazz Festival and the Arts festival. Undercurrent is Harpa’s own concert series in the Kaldalon Hall which offers aspiring bands from the underground scene a chance to perform in Harpa.
Among the wide variety of events held in Harpa have been Design march, the Reykjavik Fashion Festival, a presentation for the car manufacturer Citroen, international chess tournaments and the Icelandic Expo Pavilion which is a stunning 360 degree film previously shown at the World Expo in Shanghai.
Restaurants and Cafés
Kolabrautin Restaurant, which is considered as Harpa’s flagship, is located on the fourth floor and offers dramatic views of both Reykjavik Harbour and surrounding city. It can seat up to 180 people. The view from Kolabrautin is Fascinating and adds a magical touch to your evening and ambitious wine list from the New World. Whether you just want to enjoy an aperitif before your meal or have drinks and snacks before or after your Harpa Event. This multi level bar prides itself on its exotic cocktails and was voted best cocktail bar of 2011 by Reykjavik Grapevine.
Harpa is also home to Munnharpan, which is a bistro cum café cum bar, on the first floor which serves Danish/French inspired food as well as coffee, beverages and pastries during all day. It is also possible to pre order a light meal for your concert interval at Munnharpan. There are also two shops located in Harpa, first is the Boutique design store, Epal on the first floor, featuring unique domestic items, furniture and design articles and gifts. There is also a record shop on the first level which offers a wide collection of music ranging from classical to rock.
Due to its geographical location midway between North America and Europe, Iceland has a tremendous advantage when it comes to hosting conferences and meetings. Harpa Concert Hall is the hub here for such activities. It is a must visit place.