For one week during the summer solstice, the hills around the fjord-side town of Ísafjörður are alive with the sound of the annual Við Djúpið festival. With a programme packed with master classes and classical concerts, Artistic Director Dagný Arnalds tells us what to expect this year, which marks the festival’s tenth anniversary…
PUTTING TOGETHER A LINEUP
Hi Dagný, what have you got planned for this year’s festival?
Well, the master classes are at the centre of the festival and we have outstanding artists teaching this year: Jorja Fleezanis (violin), Vovka Ashkenazy (piano) and Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson (flute). They also perform in the main concert series along with Sif Tulinius and Anna Guðný Guðmundsdóttir. Then there are The Declassified [a progressive ensemble from Carnegie
Hall], which will premier three new pieces commissioned by the festival as a part of our New Composers Project directed by Daníel Bjarnason. This year’s new composers are Árni Freyr Gunnarsson, Ellis Ludwig-Leone and Máté Szigeti. It’s our tenth anniversary, so it will be a feast!
Congrats! How are you going to celebrate?
We have a new series of concerts this year, which will see songwriters KK, Skúli Mennski, Helgi Hrafn Jónsson and Jussanam Dejah meet up with musicians (“the festival house band”) from the West Fjords for an open rehearsal during the day and a concert in the evening. That starts at 22:30, so it will be a place for people to meet in the evening. I’m sure it will be a lot of fun.
OUT WITH OLD, IN WITH NEW
What will you not miss in this year’s programme?
Actually I don’t want to miss anything! We are so happy with the line-up. I am really looking forward to The Declassified; some of them came last year, too, and they were really fantastic. I am also really looking forward to hearing the violinist Jorja Feezanis play; she is such a beautiful artist. The songwriter project I mentioned will be fun to follow and James McVinnie of course, and Una… I recommend you just get a festival pass and come to all the events.
What is it about Við Djúpið that brings in world-class names like the Declassified, Pekka Kuusisto and Davið Þór Jónsson, which has some of them returning to Ísafjörður year after year?
I think Við Djúpið offers a different experience; it’s a small place where everything is within walking distance. Summer solstice is also an intensely beautiful time in the West Fjords and definitely sets the atmosphere, so it becomes something rather special.
SMALL TOWN, BIG TRADITION
A chamber music festival with an impressive international programme in a remote fishing village, population 2.600—how on Earth did this happen?
Despite its size and small population, Ísafjörður has a strong rooted musical tradition. The facilities are already here to make the festival happen—we have a good concert hall, Hamrar, and two thriving music schools that we are in co-operation with for the festival.
Plenty of pop and rock musicians hail from Ísafjörður too—what with Mugison, Skúli Mennski and the Reykjavík! gang.
Yes, I think Mugison has done a lot with his Aldrei fór ég Suður festival, and in general I think music has a very positive outlook here. Ísafjörður is home to one of the oldest music schools in the country and nearly every kid in town studies music at some point. The path is laid out for them—they are always welcome to perform and get positive feedback for what they are doing.
Iceland tends to be known for contemporary music. How are things on the classical front?
I think we are entering an interesting time. The classical musicians are doing very well abroad and the number and quality of concerts offered in Iceland is astonishing. Musicians are also looking into less conventional ways of expressing themselves, not just strictly through the concert platform. I hope the categories will start to loosen up a little bit, but in the end it is all music.