19 March 2007

nerdtunes in austerity

I am a semi-big fan of 16th century choral music. When I was in college, I heard Victoria's Requiem on the radio the first time as I was supposed to be headed out the door for work. 20 minutes later I was still listening, my work forgotten, as I sat on the windowseat in my sunsplashed room.

Yesterday I got to relive the feeling with live music at a concert of this loved piece at Reykjavík's Catholic church-on-a-hill. Unlike the rest of the ecclesiastical architecture here, this church is almost old-world looking, with frilly multicolored floor tiles, an organ loft with elaborate woodwork, marbled balustrades, and a full complement of stained-glass windows that yesterday streamed with the blazingly frigid sun. The whole building is rather miniature compared to the Great Churches of Europe and still maintains the Scandinavian austerity by keeping the gold trimming down to a few framed paintings and only a saintly statue or two. The windows are also just colors- nary a crucifix or Ascent to Heaven in sight.

The Catholic consistency carries to the seats as well, which are properly wooden, properly uncomfortable, and pitched ever so slightly forward so you get a nice thigh workout the whole time or you end up giving in and genuflecting on the kneelers, the only padded surface in the place. It was even not really warm enough in the building, although not quite as bad as the completely unheated concert I went to in a tiny southern Czech town where everyone huddled in full outdoor gear, our breath steaming up towards the multi-story headless saints painted on the walls.

But I digress.. this was about music originally. The performers were a blend of English and Icelandic singers, only two or three voices per part, and even a man singing alto in proper Renaissance fashion. The crowd was more mixed than I would have expected from a concert of this type, were it to have been held in the US. Such a concert in the States would have been more gray hair than hipster-scarves, but here it's an all-types interest group, from the usual older Classical Music Lover couple, the politician-style guy with the enormously coiffed hair in front of me to the just-stepped-from-his-garage-band-practice guy in the sixth row. Something for everyone, apparently.

The performace was beautifully executed, and my kórstjóri S (who also attended, and apparently once played the organ there) was right in saying that the acoustics of this church are among the best in Iceland. I suspect it's partly because of that unpadded, uncarpeted aesthetic that creates just the right amount of resonance without adding too much of its own commentary. The voices were clear, the execution well-timed, and although I could argue with the pronunciation of some of the French lyrics, the mood took me straight back to that morning in college when Iceland was nowhere in my thoughts and I forgot about everything in the wandering voices.


cK said...

Wonderful time, it seems. Choral concerts can be just brilliant. I'm spoiled here in Minnesota because the state has such a rich history of singing programs and professional choirs. And here in Saint Paul--being a bit older and quieter--we're treated to similar events quite frequently.

It's a good thing.

ECS said...

ck: ahh, Minnesota Public Radio. I grew up with the King's College broadcast at Christmastime that came via your state's radio station. Musical places are grand- it's part of what I love about living here. You've got the garage bands practicing in the neighborhoods, scads of choristers at work, and plenty of traveling minstrels that stop by Iceland to entertain.