It may be berry-picking season in Iceland, but for three days this month the town of Ólafsfjörður will have classical music on the brain. The eighteenth annual Berjadagar, which translates to “berry days,” will be held from August 12 to 14, and will present a showcase of the finest Icelandic classical musicians in the isolated community nearly an hour north of Akureyri.
A family affair
The festival is something of a family affair. Pianist Örn Magnússon organized the first Berjadagar eighteen years ago, and it’s now directed by Ólöf Sigursveinsdóttir, his niece. Ólöf’s great-uncle is Sigursveinn D. Kristinsson, the celebrated composer and music educator, and this year’s Berjadagar will pay homage to the memory of the important figure in Iceland’s musical history.
“Sigursveinn was one of the first in Iceland who became a professional composer, and he founded two music schools,” Ólöf says. One of those schools is Reykjavík’s own Tónskóli Sigursveins, which still exists today. “He was unstoppable in his life to spread music and the joy of music, especially for children,” she says. “So we are remembering him this year.”
Ólöf sees a direct connection between Sigursveinn’s work and the vibrant musical community that exists in Iceland today. “All these bands that you can hear in Iceland now, they are all educated people from music schools in the country,” she explains. “And Sigursveinn is directly connected with certain laws in the parliament from 1968 that really allowed these music schools to flourish.”
One of the performers at this year’s Berjadagar is Þórunn Élin Pétursdóttir, a soprano singer who will be performing Mahler’s “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.” “I am really looking forward to her music concert because it all fits so well with her voice,” Ólöf says about Þórunn’s performance. “And the church at Ólafsfjörður is just a wonderful place to make music. It has a wonderful acoustics and it’s very inviting for the lied singers.”
A local experience
The church in Ólafsfjörður is one of two venues used during Berjadagar, the other being Menningarhúsið Tjarnarborg, the local cultural house. The localized aspect of the festival is part of what gives Berjardagar its charm, says Ólöf. Because of the isolated nature of Ólafsfjörður—it takes nearly seven hours to drive from Reykjavík—the festival also sees some of the same attendees returning again and again.
“That’s the beautiful thing, is that it’s a completely local experience,” says Ólöf. “A really big part of the festival is the atmosphere that comes when some people meet year after year.” That being said, Ólöf admits it has been difficult to get younger people interested in Berjadagar, even though admission for children under the age of fifteen is free.
But Ólöf isn’t worried about sustaining the spirit of Berjadagar. “There is an energy in Ólafsfjörður for music that is quite extraordinary,” she says. “People are really enjoying it in such a pure way, and they’re not coming to the concerts to judge, but to really enjoy. After each festival I cannot wait for the next one.”
The eighteenth annual Berjadagar will be held in Ólafsfjörður from August 12 to 14. A festival pass costs 6,500 ISK, while admission to individual concerts is 2,500 ISK and admission for children under the age of fifteen is free.
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