The World’s only Ice Music Festival: Geilo, Norway
February 2017 sees the 12th consecutive Ice Music Festival being held in Geilo, Norway.
Originally conceived by eminent Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset in 2006, this isn’t simply the only Ice Music Festival in the world, but a place where the performers play only instruments made entirely from ice.
Arriving from Oslo, you’ll get to the ski resort of Geilo on a four-hour train ride on the visually exquisite Bergen Line, often cited as one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world. It’s also the highest railway line in Northern Europe. It lives up to the hype – the Norwegian countryside made ever more stunning being draped in a blanket of thick February snow, the trees almost crystallised in white ice.
If you go one stop further on the train line to the village of Ustaoset, you will find the gateway to the beautifully bleak ski touring routes traversing the Ustevatnet Lake and the surrounding national parks. Like the iconic scene from Trainspotting, the train rolls away from the station to reveal the stunning vista, yours-truly stood drinking in the lake, mountains; surrounded by eerie silence. Wild and intensely white, it is well worth a look at this time of year.
Geilo is reassuring in its rural charm: little cafes and ski shops intersected by snowy alleyways snaking up and down the hillside. I ate local mountain trout, some reindeer, and I even left with a bottle of the local Aquavit.
This year the ice festival takes place from Thursday 9th to Sunday 12th February; but I only had time to visit on the Friday night. Sauntering down into Geilo, upon entry to the Ice Festival you have a choice to make: take the steps down to the performance area, or slide down the ice slide on your backside. Only losers take the steps!
Constructed from naturally harvested ice and snow, the festival bills itself as “a tribute to art, the environment and one’s of the world’s most vital resources — water. Frozen water.” And it certainly delivers on that front. The place has been lovingly and painstakingly sculpted; the main stage itself forming part of a massive piano, with surrounding igloos and sculpted art all carved by hand.
The musical instruments are varied and extremely well engineered — the team’s years of experience performing via the medium of ice are plain to see. Central to this year’s event is another world first: this time the world’s first saxophone made of ice.
The rest of the line up is equally as diverse: ‘Star’ guitar, drums, a bass (at one point played with an icy snowball, as opposed to fingers, naturally), percussion, tubular bells, and a harp. Friday’s performance is improvised, which really works (everything here seems to just ‘go with the flow’), and has gradual crescendos throughout which are heightened by an accompanying light show.
Your seats are also carved from compacted snow, making a frozen amphitheatre of sorts.
And, in case you thought it couldn’t get any more special, it all takes place under the soft illumination of the first full moon of the year.