Inside the Arctic Circle’s vibrant classical music scene

2 June 2023, 17:00

Terje Isungset plays a trumpet-like ice instrument in the Arctic
Terje Isungset plays a trumpet-like ice instrument in the Arctic. Picture: Alamy / Getty
Classic FM

By Classic FM

From the northernmost classical music festival in the world to instruments made out of ice, discover the vibrant musical life of the Arctic Circle.

Located at the northernmost part of Earth, the Arctic Circle is filled with magnificent glaciers, rich wildlife, and if you listen close enough – music.

Despite its gruelling temperatures, many regions of the Arctic host international music festivals, and world-class orchestras which tourists and locals travel to hear.

Explore the Arctic’s classical scene with us as we show you what the northern continent has to offer...

Read more: Five glorious pieces of classical music inspired by Antarctica

Ludovico Einaudi - 'Elegy for the Arctic'

  1. The Arctic Philharmonic

    The Norwegian Arctic Philharmonic is one of the world’s leading orchestral institutions based in Tromsø and Bodø. The northern cities are part of the Arctic Circle, with Tromsø also commonly referred to as the Arctic Capital.

    Founded in 2009, the group was originally known as The Northern Norwegian Opera and Symphony Orchestra. Today, as the Arctic Philharmonic, the orchestra plays over 200 concerts every year, for local inhabitants of northern Norway, and for music lovers across the country and the world.

    Alongside classical and contemporary programmes, the orchestra also upholds the traditional music of northern Norway’s indigenous communities – the Sámi and Kven people.

    To give you an idea of the dramatic landscapes this group performs in, watch their striking performance of Vivaldi’s ‘Winter’ below.

    Vivaldi's 'Winter' from the Arctic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra

  2. Arctic Chamber Music Festival

    One of the places you’ll find the Norwegian Arctic Philharmonic performing during the year, is at the world’s northernmost chamber music festival.

    The Arctic Chamber Music Festival takes place in February and was first organised by members of the Arctic Philharmonic in 2018.

    It is set in the charming coal-mining town of Longyearbyen, in Svalbard – the world’s northernmost settlement, which has a population of around 2,000.

    Take a look at some of the stunningly picturesque views the musicians get to play alongside, at this unique festival:

  3. Nordland Music Festival

    Taking place in Bodø, the Nordland Music Festival brings 25,000 visitors to northern Norway for a summertime musical celebration.

    With a variety of music ranging from classical, to jazz, folk, musical theatre, dance, pop, and rock, the festival is one of Norway’s largest, which has also come to be known for programming concerts in unexpected locations.

    Over the years, performers have played at mountain summits, on beaches, and in fortresses. Watch highlights from the 2021 festival below...

    Musikkfestuka 2021

  4. The Northern Lights Festival

    Taking place in Tromsø, Norway, the Northern Lights Festival takes place at the end of January each year.

    Originating as a classical music festival in 1988, the 10 day-long series of events now also hosts ballet and jazz, bringing some of the world’s best artists to the Arctic.

    As its name suggests, Tromsø is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights, also known as the aurora borealis, which can be seen between September and April.

    The Northern Lights Festival takes place from the end of January to the beginning of February, making the chances of experiencing both beautiful music and dancing lights in the sky a high possibility.

  5. ... and finally, have you ever heard an orchestra made out of ice?

    Across the Arctic, sculptors and musicians have worked together to create instruments carved out of ice.

    Artists such as American ice sculptor Tim Linhart, and Icelandic drummer, Terje Isungset, have both created orchestras out of ice, with Isungset running his own annual ice music festival.

    Collaborating with Greenpeace, Isungset and his orchestra performed outside on an ice floe – a sheet of floating ice – on the island of Spitsbergen in 2019 to raise awareness of how climate change is affecting our oceans.

    Playing through temperatures of 10 degrees below Celsius under the midnight sun, they recorded this chilling, majestic work. Watch the most northerly ice concert ever, below.

    Terje Isungset, Ocean Memories. Greenpeace - May 2019.

Thanks to Hurtigruten Expeditions, world leaders in exploration travel, who offer expedition cruises to Arctic Norway and the Svalbard Archipelago. You can have your own adventure here in the UK, win an incredible getaway for two to the Lake District, complete with a kayaking expedition, guided walk and star gazing night swim – enter here.