The Iceland Symphony Orchestra has more than doubled from an original 40 players at its founding in 1950 to become a world-class ensemble. It has not only toured throughout Scandinavia, but also appeared at the BBC Proms (2014), in Croatia, Austria, and the United States, among other countries. It has also collaborated with pop bands and in 2012 launched Ilan Volkov's first Tectonics Festival of new and experimental music.
The Iceland Symphony began as a joint project of state and municipal governments and the Icelandic broadcasting company. It had only one regular chief conductor, Olav Kielland (1952-1955) between its founding and the 1970s. Vladimir Ashkenazy, a naturalized Icelandic citizen, began guest conducting with the ISO in 1972, and the following year, it chose Karsten Andersen as its first chief conductor since those early years. Conductors since then have included Petri Sakari (1988-1993 and 1996-1998), Osmo Vänska (1993-1996), Rumon Gamba (2002-2010), and Volkov (2011-2014). Vänska was named chief guest conductor in 2014, and Ashkenazy conductor laureate. ISO gives most of its performances -- which are also broadcast -- in Reykjavik's Harpa concerto hall, opened in 2011, but it also takes its music to schools and to other communities, as well as its international appearances. It has made three notable recording series: a cycle of Sibelius symphonies with Sakari on Naxos, a cycle of Jón Leifs' works with orchestra on BIS, and a cycle of d'Indy's orchestral music on Chandos with Gamba. It was the first volume of this last series that earned the ISO a Grammy nomination in 2009 and proved its status as a top Nordic orchestra. ~ Patsy Morita