The Reykjavík Chamber Orchestra was founded in 1974 under the leadership of Rut Ingólfsdóttir. It initially comprised a dozen young musicians who had recently returned to Iceland to perform with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and teach at the Reykjavík College of Music after advanced music studies abroad. The ensemble was founded with the dual objective of offering the public regular performances of chamber music from the Baroque era to the twentieth century and of providing performing musicians with varied and challenging performance opportunities. It can be said without hesitation that the Reykjavík Chamber Orchestra, now one of the cornerstones of Icelandic musical life, has succeeded in its mission.
The Reykjavík Chamber Orchestra appears in diverse groupings ranging from 3 to 35 players its size and instrumentation vary according to the projects at hand. Its members remain active in the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and as teachers and free-lance performers, but they share the goal of enriching Icelandic musical life with performances of chamber music from various periods. Thus the Reykjavík Chamber Orchestra’s objectives remain as valid today as they were at the time of the ensemble’s founding three decades ago.
The Reykjavík Chamber Orchestra is well known for its wide-ranging repertoire and excellent performances, among them its highly popular Christmas Baroque concerts. The group has premiered a host of Icelandic and foreign works, many of which have been composed especially for it. Moreover, the Reykjavík Chamber Orchestra has given Icelanders the opportunity to hear many masterpieces of Western music never performed in Iceland before: works such as Pierrot Lunaire, Serenade, Chamber Symphony #1, and other works of Arnold Schönberg Quatuor pour la fin du temps and Des Canyons aux Étoiles by Olivier Messiaen Façade by William Walton Fratres, Te Deum and other works by Arvo Pärt and the music of such composers as Lutoslawski, Adams, Gubaidulina and Boulez.
The RCO has worked with a number of distinguished conductors, including Vladimir Ashkenazy, Paul Zukofsky, Jaap Schröder, and Reinhard Goebel. The ensemble performs regularly, both in Iceland and abroad, and has recorded extensively for Icelandic radio and television. It is a frequent guest at the Reykjavík Arts Festival and has appeared at numerous music festivals in other countries. The Reykjavík Chamber Orchestra has been a cultural ambassador for Iceland at EXPO 1998 in Lisbon and EXPO 2000 in Hannover, as well as on tours to Japan and China. In May 2003, the RCO toured Belgium and Russia under the direction of Vladimir Ashkenazy. In October 2004, it performed a programme of Icelandic music at the Icelandic Culture Festival, Islande de glace et de feu [Iceland, Land of Ice and Fire] in Paris. That same year the group received the Icelandic Music Award for its recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti, performed under the baton of Jaap Schröder.
In recent years, the RCO has made an effort to record and issue on compact disc the large number of Icelandic works that have been composed for it.
During the season 2009-2010 Rut Ingólfsdóttir decided to hand the leadership of the orchestra over to a group of younger musicians. Una Sveinbjarnardóttir is the current consertmaster of the orchestra and Guðrún Hrund Harðardóttir is now responsible for the management, but together with them oboe player Matthías Birgir Nardeau and bassist Richard Korn form the board of RCO.