Sometimes It Isn’t Bad To Be Rushing In Late To The Party

A Guardian article on classical music in Iceland caught my eye last week. The story basically suggested that because the country got a late start with classical music, (first major tour by Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra in 1926 and first full time ensemble in 1950), they don’t have the same hang-ups about what belongs in the concert hall as everyone else.

While the rest of the world was busy erecting barriers between music genres last century – roping off classical music, in particular – Iceland was simply trying to get things going. There was no time wasted deciding who was allowed to listen to what. For much of the second half of the 20th century, classical orchestral music felt new in Iceland. Here, the symphony orchestra was a postwar institution, not a 19th-century one.

According to the article,  pop artist Bjork had sang Schoenberg at the Salzburg festival and often performs with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. Rock band Sigur Ros is planning a US tour including a 41 symphony musicians and in 2020 released an orchestral piece based on a 13th-century Icelandic poem.

The Guardian suggests a possible reason for what other countries might view as a sort of open cross-pollination:

Student musicians in Iceland often find themselves crossing genre boundaries by necessity. There’s only one institution in the capital where you can study music to degree level, thrusting students of varied outlooks together. This eroding of musical silos has produced countless indefinable artists, including Hildur Guðnadóttir who became the first female composer to win an Oscar, Bafta and Golden Globe in the same season. It was for her score to the film Joker – a cello concerto in disguise.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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