Ice Music

Ice (photo by Cheryl Willoughby)

There’s an unusual music festival underway right now in Norway: the “Ice Music” festival is the brainchild of Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset. The instruments he and others play during the multi-day midwinter event are all made of…ice! True story. Large blocks are mined locally, and then sculpted on site into imaginative instruments largely of of Isungset’s own invention including ice harps, ice guitars, iceofons, and ice horns. And yes, they are musical.

One of the (many!) unusual facts about the festival is that the instruments must be made anew, each day. Playing them each evening in outdoor concerts, frequently in subzero temperatures, causes cracks and melting that compromises both their structural integrity and their sonority. (One has to wonder how the insurance works on such things!)

Tomorrow morning I hope you’ll join me in a musical visit to the annual Ice Festival, with Silent Coldness, a haunting song from Isungset’s 2008 “Ice Concerts” recording. And the Nordic fun doesn’t stop there – Edvard Grieg’s A minor Piano Concerto is also on the program, along with Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara’s captivating Concerto for Birds and Orchestra. Mozart is part of the mix too, with music he wrote for the glass armonica – an instrument perfected by Ben Franklin, whose sound is probably the closest thing classical music has to the austere, clear sound of “ice music”.

Someone once said the best way to get through New England winters is to embrace them. But no one ever said we had to do that outside.

Stay in, stay warm, and stay tuned tomorrow morning…for some of the “coolest” music you’ve ever heard on your radio.


  1. says

    Hi Cheryl – I have been meaning to tell you how much I enjoy your programing – Arvo Part – Rautavaara and so much more – thank you so much. Could you possibly play something by the Chinese composer Tan Dunn – and would Gavin Bryars ever be a consideration or does he fall too far outside of the ‘classical spectrum’? No matter – I enjoy your selections!

  2. Anonymous says

    I loved this piece, and love that you are paying attention to Scandinavian music.  I feared that that would disappear when John retired. 

    Thank you so much!


    Sherrill Harbison

  3. Anonymous says

    When you play the Rautavaara piece, Cheryl, remember to tell your listeners to put the cat in the other room.  Don’t want Fluffy to go bonkers, do we?

    –John M.

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