Having given its first concert in 1950, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra has since expanded from a part-time ensemble of forty players to an internationally renowned orchestra of eighty-five full-time musicians. As Iceland's national orchestra, resident at Harpa concert hall in Reykjavík and funded in large part by the Icelandic state and the city of Reykjavík, it gives around a hundred concerts each season, its repertoire ranging from traditional classical works to contemporary and film music. It has worked with such renowned musicians as Daniel Barenboim, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn, Jonas Kaufmann, Isabelle Faust, and Evelyn Glennie. Currently Conductor Laureate, Vladimir Ashkenazy has conducted the Orchestra regularly since the early 1970s. Rumon Gamba was its Chief Conductor and Music Director from 2002 to 2010, succeeded by Ilan Volkov and then by Yan Pascal Tortelier in September 2016. Osmo Vänska is Honorary Conductor, having worked closely with the orchestra since his tenure as Chief Conductor in the 1990s, and the highly acclaimed Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdóttir is Composer-in-Residence.
The Orchestra's wide-ranging international discography includes highly praised cycles of the symphonies of Sibelius and orchestral works by Jón Leifs. The first volume in the series devoted to orchestral works by Vincent d'Indy with Rumon Gamba was nominated for a Grammy award in 2008, and the second volume was an Editor's Choice in Gramophone. The Iceland Symphony Orchestra has appeared widely throughout Europe, including performances at the BBC Proms and Wiener Musikverein, and in 2018 embarked on a highly successful three-week tour of Japan with Ashkenazy. It has also appeared twice in Carnegie Hall, New York. Writing in The New York Times, the critic Alex Ross described its performance under Osmo Vänskä as ‘sensational… one of the finest Sibelius performances I have encountered'.