The Festival of Sacred Arts 2015 has come to an end and these ten days truly have been a magnificent feast.
From the first bouncing step of the baroque dancers at the opening ceremony on August 14th till the final note of Jon Hlodver Askelsson´s lovely new choir piece Deo Dicamus Gratias died out on August 23rd, we´ve had one grand musical event after another with the participation of over 400 artists from 18 countries. Between 15 and 17 thousand guests attended the festival.
A five-star beginning
The Festival opened with the Iceland premiere of G.F. Handel´s oratorio Solomon performed by the Hallgrimskirkja Motet Choir, The Hague International Baroque Orchestra and five soloists, among them the world famous countertenor Robin Blaze. It was a deeply touching performance, the audience was thrilled and critics acclaimed the performance, giving it a five-star review:
It is a great feat delivering such a long musical piece to an audience without lulling everyone to sleep. This time the music was a pure revelation. I enjoyed every single note and got a vivid insight into the world of the Old Testament. Great is the power of the arts! The music life in Hallgrimskirkja truly is blossoming.
Primal power and elegant softness
The feast had just begun and more was to come. The Klais organ of Hallgrimskirkja starred in three concerts over the next days. Young electronic musicians tried out the organ´s new midi-equipment, conjuring up a world of sound never before heard from the pipes of old Klais. The audience was of an unusually mixed age and everybody from teenagers to the elderly seemed quite impressed with the outcome.
Klais´ next companion was the French organ virtuoso Olivier Latry, organist of Notre Dame, Paris. Latry played two concerts that will be long remembered for his magnificent style and creative use of the instrument´s voices. Not least impressive was his four-handed version of Stravinski´s Rite of Spring, where he was accompanied by his wife Shin-Young Lee. Super rhythmical and full of primal power, their performance received a standing ovation.
Handel´s softer sides prevailed in an elegant chamber concert organized by Scottish recorder player Ian Wilson. It was a very ambitious programme, based on historical research, reflecting London home chamber concerts in the composer´s era. Wilson played beautifully along with chamber group Nordic Affect and Icelandic solo singers.
Kingsmen and the hymns of women
There certainly was no lack of talented artists from the UK at the festival this year. World famous guests from King´s College, Cambridge, also visited and partook in many events during the latter half of the Festival. The male choir King´s Men conducted by the renowned Stephen Cleobury is considered among the very best, all the singers have sung from a very young age and as twenty-year -olds are incredibly capable. Among the members is the astonishing number of four countertenors. It was a pleasure listening to the King´s Men sing an English Evensong for a full church, an exquisite concert with renaissance and baroque music and showing a different side at the Feast of Hymns on Reykjavik Cultural Night, performing pop music.
The Feast of Hymns´ programme this year also included film music played on the Klais organ and the premiere of five new hymns by ten Icelandic women poets and composers. More guests than ever before came to this yearly event and happily joined in the singing. The church was also full at the two high masses where artists from the Festival performed.
The end of the Festival -well, not quite
The Schola Cantorum chamber choir of Hallgrimskirkja gave two concerts during the festival and did so brilliantly. The former concert featured classic Icelandic choir music, in the latter three brand-new Icelandic choir pieces were premiered. The choir also sang Allegri´s Miserere in an unforgettable way and impressed critics:
Schola Cantorum chamber choir sang so beautifully that it will be long remembered. … The mystique and the holiness of the music was perfectly delivered in this first-class concert. … It was a marvellous end of the Festival of Sacred Arts.
Finally, even if the Festival officially has come to an end, painter Helgi Thorgils Fridjonsson´s exhibition in Hallgrimskirkja will be open until December. It is a most impressive exhibition not to be missed, reaching from the vestibule to the choir and even floating in mid-air in the nave itself.