The Motet Choir was founded in 1982 and has long been one of the preeminent choirs of Iceland. Hörður Áskelsson has been its conductor since its inception.
The choir’s repertoire is extensive and multifaceted, and includes numerous oratorios, passions and requiems, a cappella pieces from various periods and also Icelandic compositions that the choir has premiered.
The Motet Choir has toured numerous times, sung in many major cathedrals of Europe and participated in music festivals such as the Bergen International Festival, the Nordic Church Music Symposium in Gothenburg and the Wiener Festwochen in Vienna. The choir has also participated in international choir competitions, most recently in Jūrmala, Latvia, in the fall of 2018. It won a prize at the Cork International Choral Festival in 1996 and took home three gold medals as well as the Grand Prix from the 2014 International Choir Competition and Festival Cançó Mediterrània.
Among the big productions that the Motet Choir has performed are works such as George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, J.S.Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, St. John Passion, Christmas Oratorio and the Mass in B minor, Mozart’s Requiem and Great Mass in C minor, the requiems of Duruflé and Fauré, Mendelssohn’s oratorios Elijah and St. Paul, Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir and the German Requiem of Johannes Brahms. The choir has twice been nominated as Performer of the Year in Classical and Contemporary Music at the Icelandic Music Awards, in 2012 for their performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra) and in 2015 for their performance of Handel’s Solomon at the Festival of Sacred Arts in Hallgrímskirkja.
The Motet Choir regularly performs with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, most recently in the fall of 2020 for the concert series “Klassíkin okkar” (“Favorite Classics”) where they performed a chorus from St. John’s passion. In April of 2018, the choir took part in the Iceland Symphony Orchestra’s showings with live music of Miloš Forman’s film “Amadeus”; later that same year, the Motet Choir performed the final movement of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony with the orchestra. In addition, the choir has performed several celebrated concerts with the International Baroque Orchestra (formerly known as The Hague International Baroque Orchestra).
Among the Icelandic works that the Motet Choir has premiered are the oratorio “Mysterium” by Hafliði Hallgrímsson in 2019 as well as his “Passía” in 2001 (which was last performed on Good Friday in 2015); “Fléttu” by Haukur Tómasson at the Reykjavík Arts Festival of 2011, which was subsequently released on CD and DVD; and the oratorio “Cecília” by Áskel Másson and Thor Vilhjálmsson in 2009, which was nominated as composition of the year at the Icelandic Music Awards.
The Hallgrímskirkja Motet Choir has published many recordings and received international praise for their performance of Duruflé’s Requiem and the Passía of Hafliði Hallgrímsson. The Swedish record label BIS has released the Motet Choir and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra’s performances of Jón Leifs’ works. The choir’s Christmas CDs are as much a popular staple of the Icelandic Advent as its yearly Christmas concerts are a staple of the cultural life in Reykjavík. In 2011, the record “Heilög stund á jörð” (“Holy Times on Earth”), a recording of the previous year’s sold-out Christmas concert with opera singer Kristinn Sigmundsson, first came out.
In late 2008, “Ljósið þitt lýsi mér” (“May your light shine on me”), a recording of Icelandic sacred music, was published and later sold out – however, 2011 saw a second, special edition of the record, which included a documentation of the choir’s national tour by Heimir Hlöðversson.
All of the choir’s published works are available on Spotify and YouTube.