A nondescript venue, a full orchestra and Hvar

Árstíðir – Karelian Philharmonics, Petrozavodsk; November 19th, 2014

The train ride from Kondopoga to Sankt Petersburg feels as if it has been going on four days already, while it has been “only” six hours so far (and another three to go). Starting out the window into the pitch black night I have a lot of time on my hands to reminisce about the concert Árstíðir played with the Symphonic Orchestra in Petrozavodsk and to get my thoughts about it in some sort of order. The one thought that is as clear as day is “It was absolutely worth coming here for!” – from the moment it was announced this was the concert I had wanted to see, without much of an idea what they would sound like supported by a full orchestra I knew it would be something beautiful and truly special. It was! <3

So I had finally made it to Russia to see Árstíðir – after a flight to Sankt Petersburg, five hours to kill at the train station and a night train ride to Petrozavodsk I was there and it all felt very surreal to me, even more so than my trip to Toronto or the Christmas concert in Iceland last year. Somewhere along the line, it must have been way back in the early days, I had promised I’d join them on their next Russia tour and now was the time to keep said promise. While all of my earlier trips to Russia had, at least partly, been accompanied by friends, I was on my own this time around. Yet, so far this country had always greeted me warmly and going to Karelia didn’t seem like such a huge adventure. It wasn’t. Everything went smoothly and in the early evening I found myself waiting in the entrance hall of the Karelian Philharmonics where Masha had said she’d meet me. Soon she was there, all hugs and friendliness even though the tour had been stressful and guided me into the hall where band and orchestra were line checking. I just sat quietly in a corner until they were done, had a brief chat with Ragnar and Linda, waved at Karl passing by and waited.

The concert was sold out so I settled for sitting by the ledge. I had a good view from there so when I was offered a real seat somewhere in the back rows, after everyone was inside, I declined. Soon an announcer told us something about the band and they walked on stage, followed by the full orchestra. It was quite a sight. 🙂 They started with ‘You just have to know of me’ and I immediately loved the bigger and broader sound of the orchestra arrangement. It was so very beautiful. To my surprise the second song was ‘Hvar’, one of the few I had never heard live and only got better from there.

“We usually sing this song along, sometimes on the tour bus, sometimes in train stations or in other places. This time we’ll try a different arrangement”, Gunnar announced before they started ‘Heyr, hymna smiður’ and for the first time in a long time I genuinely enjoyed the song. It’s not that I do not like it or think it is a bad song, it just seems to be the one everyone is hung up on and endlessly reposting over the internet (and to me it’s not even truly representative of this band), while so many of their own brilliant songs seem to be ignored. Either way, it was amazing. 🙂 Every song sounded new and fresh with the orchestra arrangement and I fully expected to cry, but never did. Somehow I was much too happy for tears, even though I came close a few times. I loved to hear ‘Things you said’ with drums finally, even though the drummer on the recording is better. Yet, my highlight in the first set was ‘Shine’ – it left me lost for words.

After the break the guys came back alone – the orchestra had only played with them for the first half of the show. First, only Daníel and Ragnar were on stage, starting ‘Ró’ on their own, being slowly joined Gunnar and Guillaume. Karl was last on stage, sharing the seat at the piano with Ragnar. It was lovely and they hugged when the song was over. 🙂 The second half of the concert was less serious than the first with Daníel having learned all sorts of Russian phrases from friends in Moscow and the others joking that he wanted to make them look bad. Also, Gunnar talked about the difficulties of learning Russian and how different letters sound the same to him. He went on to compare it to specific sounds in Icelandic that are almost impossible for foreigners to get right. It was funny and educational at the same time.

While at some of the last few concerts I have seen all of the strongly emotional songs seemed to have been saved for the second half of the show, they were a little more evenly distributed this time. Still, ‘Someone who cares’, ‘Silfurskin’, ‘The Cannon’ and ‘Days & Nights’ were all in the second set and especially the last one bought me close to tears after all. Especially in very happy moments I can’t help but realize how true these words are. :’) ‘The Cannon’ incorporated the story about Ragnar’s adventures while shooting a rifle yet again a bit modified. Later that evening, after the concert, Guillaume asked if the story was actually true. Why of course it is! 😀

The second set ended with the dramatic ‘Shades’ and when the lights went on after the guys had walked off stage, so many people got p to leave that I feared there might not be an encore. Luckily I was wrong and they came back again. Daníel asked in Russian if the audience wanted more (at least that’s what I assume he said) and of course they did so we were treated to ‘Ljóð í sand’ and the powerful ‘Kill us’. The standing ovations in the end were well deserved and if the people who had come were only half as happy as I was it would still have been a great concert for them. All my hope had been fulfilled, my expectations exceeded. I doubt it can get much better.

Setlist

Set one with orchestra, set two without

You just have to know of me
Hvar
Heyr, hymna smiður
Lost in you
Við dagsins hnig
Shine
Nú gleymist ég
You again
Things you said


Someone who cares
Á meðan jörðin sjefur
Orð að eigin vali
Silfurskin
The Cannon
Days & Nights
Moonlight
Shades

Encore:
Ljóð í sand
Kill us

It was a wonderful first concert in Russia and even made up for the fact that the following day’s show in Kondapoga got canceled due to only a handful of tickets being sold. I had had what I came for, nothing else mattered. <3 The night ended with drinks, stories and birthday songs before it was time to say goodbye.

pictures of this concert

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One Response to A nondescript venue, a full orchestra and Hvar

  1. k. says:

    How interesting that this time it’s the first set that seems to contain ‘the killer combo’ of most powerful songs… but the orchetra, wow.
    And what a great story! now I feel like I *really* know what I missed… thanks 🙂