June update – Sagas and Seascapes Recording, Competition and a Live Concert!

The end of May saw Nordic Viola playing together under the same roof for the first time since March 2020! And what a way to start, bringing our new commission, “Aud” by Linda Buckley, to life for the first time as we recorded “Sagas and Seascapes” for Orkney International Science Festival 2021. It’s always an amazing feeling to realise a new work and I love that collaborative process of working with a composer as we work together to unite the concepts of what they imagined as they created the music and how we interpret those dots as performers.

Covid made that experience slightly unusual as we went straight into the recording studio with “Aud” and still haven’t heard the complete score. I’m on absolute tenterhooks whilst Linda and our amazing recording team, Hedd Morfett-Jones and Simon Lowden work their magic and unite musicians with the electronic soundtrack.

Already the music has such a strong sense of journeying, depicting as it does Aud the Deep-Minded‘s journey from Ireland via Caithness, Orkney, and the Faroes before settling in Iceland. There is so much energy in the shifting textures and a sense of the music “flickering” through the distinct timbres of the three string instruments and the clarinet. It’s easy to think of string instruments as one body, but Linda’s writing really highlights how the colour of each pitch can vary across the three instruments.

There’s also a strong sense of yearning in the music – perhaps for that very human desire to be on the move and to explore that so many of us have missed during lockdown.

UK premiere of new Faroese work

We are also extremely grateful to the Aura Duo for allowing us to give the UK premiere of upcoming Faroese composer Eli Tausen á Lava’s Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum

Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum (Faroese: the Legend of the Seal Woman in 10 Pictures) is inspired by a set of 10 drawings by Faroese artist Edward Fuglø, which were originally drawn for the 2007 stamp issue titled Kópakonan (the Seal Woman).

Edward Fuglø’s drawings illustrate the Faroese legend of a female selkie, a mythological Ecapable of transforming from seal to human by shedding its skin, who is forced to live as a human when a young man from the village of Mikladalur steals her sealskin.

Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum was commissioned by Aura Duo and was composed with the support of Koda Kultur. The piece was due to be premiered in the Faroes in 2020/1 but has had to be postponed due to Covid. We’ll be introducing Eli and the Aura Duo to you in August.

Elsewhen by Lillie Harris

In our biggest ensemble to date, we recorded Lillie Harris‘ “Elsewhen” an incredibly eery, almost primitive at times (think stomping, Rite-of-Spring-style chords) depiction of Orkney’s prehistoric monuments and how they have come to us through time. “Elsewhen” is written for flute, clarinet and string quartet and, as well as its eery textures and footstamping rhythms, it features yearning melodies in the wind instruments and violins.

Lillie is an old friend of Nordic Viola, writing my first commission, “AND” for solo viola. She has an uncanny way of capturing the essence of a place, sometimes prior to even visiting it. “Elsewhen” was originally composed for the St. Magnus Composers’ Course in 2017.

As well as our audio team, we had Craig Sinclair working on video and Matthew Smith on lighting and, as you can see above, they created a stunning stage for us to work on. We consider ourselves very lucky to have been able to record in the RSNO’s purpose-built New Auditorium.

Filming in Orkney

Craig is now in the driving seat as the composers, Linda Buckley, Lillie Harris and Gemma McGregor head to Orkney to capture footage of the landscapes, monuments and tales that inspired their music. Craig and I first worked together on “Histories and Herstories” during lockdown last year. Despite being reliant on stock footage, I loved how he matched the rhythm of the music with film and I’m eager to see how much more can be done when he is set free to film on location.

In another first for us, the emotions of the composers as they explore these historic sites and experience the nature and seascapes of Orkney will be captured and interpreted by landscape artist Orla Stevens. Orla, too is fascinated by seastories and landscapes and often captures the energy of the sea in paintings with a considerable textural element to them. She is also a keen musician and is interested in exploring the parallels between rhythm in music and art. I’m very excited and intrigued to see how she interprets these musical worlds.

Seastories Competition

We’re at the halfway point in our Seastories Competition. We’ve received some very imaginative entries from Shetland, the Faroes and Greenland. Last Saturday Gemma McGregor led our first international zoom workshop alongside myself and Faroese trombonist and, on this occasion, interpreter, Dávur Juul Magnussen.

We explored ways of creating music about the sea and the techniques we could use to expand our musical ideas. We also took time to share our experiences of the sea in our home countries and explored common stories, such as legends across the North Atlantic about seals, and also explored Norse words that have survived in dialect in the Northern Isles. At a time when travel is nigh on impossible, I hope we were able to help the young people imagine a world beyond their own shores and to connect with others whose cultures overlap with ours.

We’ll announce our competition winners next week.

Live in Orkney

I’ll leave you with a wee teaser – whilst I’m in Orkney, I’ll be performing in a programme entitled “Birds and Landscapes of the North” with composer Gemma McGregor on flute. We’re in Stromness Town Hall on Friday 2nd July at 7:30pm and you can buy tickets here. Tickets are strictly limited due to Covid, so you need to book in advance.

More on the programme next time.

As you can see, there’s a lot happening with Nordic Viola at the moment. If you want to stay up-to-date, you can subscribe here:

Finally, I’d like to thank our funders: Creative Scotland, PRSF Women Make Music for supporting Linda Buckley, The Royal Philharmonic Society Enterprise Fund for allowing me to learn more about video alongside Craig Sinclair and the William Syson Foundation for supporting our education work.

Sea Stories – A competition for Young People

Sea Stories-konkurrence – See below

Sea Stories keppni – See below

Are you fascinated by the sea, the sound it makes and the stories it tells?

Are you a young musician aged 12-18 living in the Scottish Islands, Faroes, Iceland or Greenland?

Are you interested in sharing the music and stories of your home country with other young people from around the North Atlantic?

Then this competition from Nordic Viola is for you.

  • Write or record a tune or a short piece of music max. 3 minutes
  • You can play (or sing) the music on your own instrument or with your friends, or you can write a tune for us. We play flute, violin/viola and trombone
  • Send your entry by 5th June 2021
  • You can send your music as a PDF file or you can record mp3 audio or mp4 video
  • Submit your via google forms or email it to nordicviola6@gmail.com with your name, where you come from, a few sentences about your tune and your email address
  • We will select up to 15 tunes
  • Selected entrants will be notified by 7th June 2021 and invited to join a workshop on zoom
  • Following the workshop, one tune will be selected for Nordic Viola’s online concert on 3rd September 2021 for Orkney International Science Festival
  • After the festival we will release a short highlights video from the workshopped pieces

Privacy and safeguarding policy

Sea Stories-konkurrence – Nordic Viola

Bliver du fascineret af havet, havets lyde og de historier, det fortæller?

Er du en ung musiker i alderen 12-18 år, der bor på de skotske øer, Færøerne, Island eller Grønland?

Er du interesseret i at dele musikken og historierne i dit hjemland med andre unge fra hele Nordatlanten?

Så er denne konkurrence fra Nordic Viola noget for dig.

• Skriv eller optag en melodi eller et kort stykke musik max. 3 minutter

• Du kan spille (eller synge) musikken på dit eget instrument eller med dine venner, eller du kan skrive en melodi til os. Vi spiller fløjte, violin/bratsch og basun

• Deadline for tilmelding er 1. juni 2021

• Du kan sende din musik som en PDF-fil, eller du kan optage mp3-audio eller mp4-video

• Indsend via google-formularer eller mail den til nordicviola6@gmail.com med dit navn, hvor du kommer fra, et par sætninger om din melodi og din e-mail-adresse

• Vi vælger op til 15 melodier

• Udvalgte deltagere vil blive underrettet den 7. juni 2021 og opfordres til at deltage i en workshop om zoom

• Efter workshoppen vælges en melodi til Nordic Viola’s online koncert den 3. september 2021 til Orkney International Science Festival

• Efter festivalen frigiver vi en kort video med højdepunkter fra workshop

vores privatlivspolitik

Sea Stories keppni – Nordic Viola

Heillar sjórinn þig ? Hljóðin frá sjónum og sögurnar sem sjórinn geymir?

Ert þú ungur tónlistarmaður á aldrinum 12-18 ára og býrð í Skotlandi, Færeyjum, á Íslandi eða Grænlandi?

Hefðir þú áhuga á að deila tónlist og sögum heimalands þíns með öðru ungu fólki við Norður-Atlanshafið?

Þá gæti þessi keppni frá Nordic Viola verið fyrir þig. 

  • Sendu inn lag , hljóðritað eða á nótum, hámark þrjár mínútur að lengd.
  • Þú getur leikið á þitt aðal hljóðfæri eða sungið , ein/einn eða með öðrum, frumsamdar tónsmíðar velkomnar.
  • Við spilum á flautu, fiðlu/víólu  og básúna.
  • Skilafrestur er til 1. júní 2021.
  • Það má senda tónlistina á mp3, mp4, eða á nótum á pdf-formi.
  • Senda má í gegnum google forms’ eða á netfangið nordicviola6@gmail.com, þar sem fram kemur nafn þitt og netfang , heimaland og stuttur texti um lagið.
  • Við veljum allt að 15 þátttakendur. Þeir verða látnir vita 7. júní 2021 og þeim boðið að taka þátt í tónsmiðju á zoom þann 12. júní.
  • Í framhaldi af smiðjunni verður  eitt laganna  valið til flutnings á tónleikum  í tengslum við hina Alþjóðlegu Vísindahátíð Orkneyjar þann þriðja september 2021,
  • Einnig verða sýnd valin brot úr tónsmiðjunni.

Persónuverndaryfirlýsing

Supported by:

Sagas and Seascapes Launches

2020 saw Nordic Viola’s first foray into online concerts with our popular Histories and Herstories video performance. As our lives open up and we can once more work in the same space, we are excited to announce our new and ambitious Sagas and Seascapes programme which, once again, we will be producing alongside the Orkney International Science Festival.

Norse stories and landscape around the northern sea-routes form the inspiration for this concert. Scottish-based Irish composer Linda Buckley’s Aud draws on the settlement of Iceland, while Lillie Harris’ sextet Elsewhen seeks to capture the atmosphere of Orkney’s ancient sites. In Carry His Relics for flute and viola, Orkney composer Gemma McGregor describes the journey of the remains of St Magnus from Birsay to Kirkwall, along the present-day St Magnus Way. Eli Tausen á Lava from Faroe reflects on legends of the Selkies in Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum for flute and clarinet and his compatriot, Kári Bæk, depicts the ever-changing sea in Wogen. The Danish String Quartet’s dynamic arrangement of The Dromer offers a rousing finale.

Audiences loved film footage of the Far North last year as well as the chance to hear the composers speak about their music, so once again we’ll be working with videographer Craig Sinclair. Composers Linda Buckley and Lillie Harris will travel to Orkney with me to join Orcadian composer Gemma McGregor on location. The composers will share their impressions of the landscapes and ancient sites that inspired their music, offering an insight into their creative processes.

A new and exciting innovation this year is inviting landscape artist Orla Stevens onto the project. In common with the music creators on the project, Orla’s work is influenced by expressive responses to sounds and images of the landscape, as well as the emotional experience that being in nature has on the psyche. In conversation with the composers and incorporating her own emotions on being onsite in Orkney, Orla will develop a series of paintings expressing the emotions of the sagas and seascapes explored through music as the programme mirrors Aud’s journey from Orkney, through the Faroes and finally settling in North-West Iceland.

Making music with young people is fundamental to Nordic Viola. Responding to the challenges of travelling during the pandemic, we’ve decided this year to unite young people from around the North Atlantic by running a competition to write a tune for us. We’ll select up to 20 young people to join in online workshops working with myself, Gemma McGregor and Faroese trombonist Dávur Juul Magnussen to develop their ideas. From these workshops, one piece will be chosen to feature in our main concert video and 5 others will feature in a short video of the project in the autumn. More information on that very soon!

I’ll be keeping you up-to-date as the project progresses. If you want to be amongst the first to hear about our recording sessions next month and our on-location filming in Orkney in June, then why not subscribe?

This exciting and ambitious programme has been made possible through the generous support of the following organisations:

Creative Scotland for general project support

for supporting our commission of linda Buckley’s “Aud”

for supporting the competition and workshops

our partners and hosts

Music for the Anthropocene

In partnership with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Art-Making in the Anthropocene series.

Concert Streaming from 27th April 17:00 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVYuC4BRRIE

The Anthropocene – the era in which mankind’s effect on the earth became the dominant influence on the environment. Irreversible climate change, a lack of respect and care for the environment and for other species. The pursuit of wealth, the focus on the individual.

The arts have not been immune in the march of human “progress.” International touring, viewed as a mark of prestige coupled with easy and cheap travel has led to a world where artists are continually on the move, sometimes moving between countries on a daily basis.

How do we respond to this as artists? This is a question posed by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s series, “Art-Making in the Anthropocene”, supported by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and SHARE. The talks have focused on a wide range of issues that artists are increasingly engaging with: social justice, awareness-raising, activism and, perhaps most important of all, the question of how we lessen our own impact on the planet.

When I was asked by series organiser, Dr. Emily Doolittle, to put together a concert for the series with Nordic Viola, it felt like a natural fit in many ways. I can’t pretend to be an angel when it comes to good practice – I’m not sure any of us can. Travel is, in many ways, intrinsic to my project. Air travel is inescapable if you are going to visit Greenland after all. Other than paying your way on an expedition boat or finding a way to travel on a cargo ship, there is no other way of getting there. However, when I do travel, I try to stay in one location and do as much as I can. I also find that this helps to build relationships. I’ve never owned a car, so I rarely have to face that demon. Slow travel is my life – if I possibly can cycle, walk or ski for transport then I will, and I love it.

You’ll have gleaned from this that being outdoors in the landscape is something intrinsic to my life. Rightly or wrongly, I don’t want to agonise too much about the state of the earth in my art. Overall I feel at peace in the world and I’d prefer to move people to make changes in their lifestyles in two ways. Firstly by showing that travelling slowly and living in a more sustainable way generally is possible and secondly by inspiring people to look at and love the beautiful world around them and consequently to seek to protect it by making better choices.

I hope that the programme I’ve chosen reflects this. That’s not to say we shy away from “gritty” issues. On the surface, Anna Appleby’s Hrakningar portrays migrating geese, but it also poses the question of why we accept the migration of non-human species and yet dispute the rights of people to migrate. You can hear Anna talking about the piece by clicking on the link for the piece above.

Similarly, Lisa Robertson’s Machair depicts this unique Scottish landscape with the sound of seabirds and a feeling of spaciousness. Yet the introduction of a Gaelic song underpinned by a sinister cello pedal point and the use of human voices highlights the effect of human interference on this precious landscape.

Antonia Kattou’s It’s a Sad Child That Destroys Its Own Weather for solo flute similarly incorporates the human voice. I find this piece incredibly disturbing, actually, and flautist Janet Larsson’s performance in our concert is quite startling in its focus and intensity.

Aileen Sweeney’s Siku, performed in our concert by cellist Ruth Rowlands, was composed in conjunction with William Harcourt, a PhD student of glaciology at The University of St. Andrew’s and depicts Greenlandic sea ice. I’ve experienced climate change first-hand in Greenland. People laugh at me when I tell them that I suffered heat exhaustion there, but temperatures in the mid-twenties that far north are no laughing matter. The first time I travelled to East Greenland we almost got stuck in the sea ice in a small dinghy. Nowadays that bit of sea is frequently completely clear of ice in the summer. You can argue that it’s not necessary to travel to see and know this but the impact of seeing it is much greater than reading reports of it. In return, I hope I have given back something good in the form of my music-making and work with musicians there.

The centrepiece of our programme offers a real moment of peace and musical stillness. The low energy and feeling of calm in Martin Suckling’s “Her Lullaby” comes from the pure consonances of just intonation, using the naturally occurring harmonic series, meaning that the frequencies of the intervals are in phase with each other. I learned this piece in the long second lockdown and found the intense listening required to pick up on the harmonics “within” the viola utterly absorbing and calming – almost a form of mindfulness.

The other two pieces in the programme were written during lockdown, with the composers contemplating the nature in their immediate vicinity and beyond. Ailie Robertson, in focusing on the natural sounds outside her Glasgow flat, casts her mind back to the beautiful sight of a hen harrier in Orkney performing a Skydance, its elaborate courtship ritual. The delicate harmonics on the viola depict the bird soaring and diving. There’s a feeling of space and freedom, something we all craved in lockdown.

Emily Doolittle’s Gardenscape focuses on the world outside her composing window. It’s great fun to play as Emily leaves it up to the performer to choose what birds to feature in their garden and how to structure the piece. The performer can decide whether or not it’s raining, whether to feature some birds more than others (though the blackbird really has to feature with its rich and varied song) and even whereabouts in the garden the birds are with some use of spatial techniques either electronically or (post-pandemic!) physically. What I most loved about putting this piece together was how it made me hyperaware of my own surroundings. I heard Emily’s garden birds everywhere in my village – blue tits, wood pigeons, chiff chaffs, blackbirds. Emily is spot on with her bird observations and transcriptions!

And so we come full circle, back to contemplating our planet and the need to protect the diverse and beautiful forms of life here. I hope indeed that our concert makes you listen intently to the world around you and inspires you to appreciate its beauty. Most of all, I hope it encourages you to consider our impact on it and to understand the damage that humans are causing. Hopefully you’ll leave our concert wanting to care just a little more about the legacy we’re leaving behind us and to do what you can to preserve our amazing landscapes.

Please join us as the concert streams for the first time this Tuesday, 27th April at 17:00 BST on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVYuC4BRRIE If you can’t make it live, you can catch up afterwards.

April News Update

Histories and Herstories

Raising the profile of music by women

There’s lots going on with Nordic Viola this month. First of all, one year after it was meant to happen, our “Histories and Herstories” concert will be streaming online for the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Institute of Northern Studies on 16th April from 4:15pm. The concert is part of the 5th International St. Magnus Conference, which this year focuses on the role of women in island life and features speakers from all around the North Atlantic as well as further afield.

Our programme of music by women composers ranges from traditional tunes from Orkney (Fiona Driver), Shetland (Margaret Robertson) and Iceland (arranged by Jocelyn Hagen) to new music from Greenland in our commission from Arnannguaq Gerstrøm that depicts winter in the Arctic. There’s also music reflecting on climate change and the landscape by Lisa Robertson, and migration, human and avian, by Anna Appleby. Other composers include Gemma McGregor and Lillie Harris.

This concert proved to be one of the most popular events in Orkney International Science Festival’s 2020 festival. As well as the music, people commented on the beautiful images of the Far North in the video. Here’s a little taster featuring the Faroe Islands in Mjørkaflókar, composed by me and students from Anderson High School in Shetland. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sakvHqCVPM

If you didn’t hear the concert last time, make sure you set a reminder by clicking on this link for the 16th at 4:15 BST. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZosZA_ZG_fM If you heard it and enjoyed it, please share far and wide with your friends and acquaintances!

Art-Making in the Anthropocene

Our second concert this month is for the Art-Making in the Anthropocene Series hosted by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Art-Making in the Anthropocene is a series of 8 free online talks/discussions and an online concert, which bring together Scottish and international artists, activists, and academics from across disciplines to explore what art-making can be in this time of ecological emergency.

Art-Making in the Anthropocene is funded by a Royal Society of Edinburgh Research Workshop grant, and co-organized by Dr Emily Doolittle, Dr Sarah Hopfinger, and Dr Stuart MacRae at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Our concert features music with a connection to the environment and humankind’s relationship with it. All the composers have a strong connection to Scotland. Some of them are old friends of ours, but we also issued a call for scores and we’re excited to bring you some new voices from the thriving contemporary music scene here in Scotland.

We’re also partnering with the Ear to the Ground Podcast who interviewed our composers for the concert and who will be presenting an issue of the podcast focusing on the ideas behind the concert. I’ll share the links with you, as well as more information on the composers and music, nearer the time.

Art-Making in the Anthropocene is supported by:

Aud by Linda Buckley

Finally, a taster of news about an exciting project that we’ll be working on between May and September this year.

This week I received our new commission from Linda Buckley, supported by PRSF Women Make Music. Aud is a new piece for clarinet, violin, viola, cello and electronics and it will form the centrepiece of our new programme, “Sagas and Seascapes.” It depicts Aud’s journey from Ireland, via Orkney to Iceland, where she was one of the early women settlers. Featuring an atmospheric electronic track and with music brimming with energy, we can’t wait to start work on it.

Much more news to follow on “Sagas and Seascapes” in May. Add your email address below to subscribe and you’ll be amongst the first to hear about our exciting plans!

Histories and Herstories at the 5th International St. Magnus Conference, University of the Highlands and Islands Institute of Northern Studies

On International Women’s Day we are pleased to announce that our concert of music by women composers from the islands of the North Atlantic, “Histories and Herstories” will be featured in this year’s 5th International St. Magnus Conference hosted by the Institute of Northern Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands. The concert will be streamed on Friday 16th April at 16:15 BST at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZosZA_ZG_fM

The concert links into themes explored in the conference looking at the role women have played in society from the Hebrides, Northern Isles and on to the Faroes, Iceland and Greenland from Medieval times to the present day. The conference link is here.  

Shetland fiddler Margaret Robertson reflects on what it means to “always be a mother” in her piece Mother’s Love, written for a close friend who had recently lost a son. Figuratively speaking, Margaret is also a mother to “her gals”, the fiddlers of Edinburgh Tattoo band Hjaltibonhoga and we celebrate this in Windy Wellington” and St. Kilda Beach, written for Hjaltibonhoga’s trips to Australia and New Zealand. There are men in the band too, of course, but it is interesting to reflect on how Shetland fiddling, traditionally a pursuit of the menfolk, has become so popular with women and girls in our times, thanks in no small part to Margaret’s role as a teacher.

Margaret has been an invaluable source of information and inspiration in my work, too, and Mjørkaflókar, one of Nordic Viola’s most iconic pieces, was workshopped with Margaret’s pupils at Anderson High School, Lerwick, Shetland in 2016. In this concert it is performed with two students from Tórshavn Music School in the Faroes.

The hardship of motherhood in medieval times is represented in Jocelyn Hagen’s stunning arrangement of Sofðu Unga Ástin Min. In this traditional Icelandic lullaby, a mother sings to her child before leaving them out in the cold to die. Mothers struggling with too many mouths to feed in the harsh winters of Iceland would sometimes have to make this heart-rending choice.

The harsh winter weather of the Northern Isles of Scotland is represented in Lillie HarrisAND for solo viola, a response to Jen Hadfield’s poem, “Blashey Wadder” from Nigh-No-Place (Bloodaxe Books, 2008) Fiona Driver’s Wild November depicts the swirl of a windy late autumn day in Orkney. Winter can also be a time of great beauty and is celebrated in the Arctic regions. Arnannguaq Gerstrøm’s Ukioq is inspired by the spirit, nature and forces of winter in Greenland.

Like Margaret, Arnannguaq is a prominent leader in her home in Nuuk, Greenland. She led the Nuuk Music School for a time and is now influential as a business leader where she places great emphasis on developing her staff. Alongside this, she continues to compose and make music as an ambassador for the culture of her country.

Mankind’s interaction with the landscape and nature are important elements in Anna Appleby’s Hrakningar and Lisa Robertson’s Machair. Anna uses the metaphor of geese migrating from Iceland to Scotland to reflect on attitudes to human migration and uses an other-worldly blend of goose calls and electronics alongside a trio of flute, viola and bassoon. “Machair” depicts this beautiful and fragile landform of the West Coast of Scotland. Lisa includes the human voice humming fragments of a Gaelic song as she reflects on how climate change is impacting on coastal landscapes.

Gemma McGregor is another longstanding partner of Nordic Viola and her piece Joy draws in elements of Hardanger Fiddle style from Norway which has always had a strong influence in traditional music in Orkney and Shetland. Gemma, too, plays a strong role in the musical life of her island home. She has been commissioned by the St. Magnus Festival in Orkney and plays with and leads several ensembles in the islands. She also lectures on women composers and teaches composition at the University of Aberdeen.

You can find out much more about the individual composers elsewhere in the blog and find links to their music.

“Histories and Herstories” is performed by violinists Emily Nenniger and Anne Bünemann, myself, Katherine Wren on viola and Ruth Rowlands on cello. Helen Brew (flute) and David Hubbard (bassoon) join me in “Ukioq” and “Hrakningar” and Janet Larsson (flute) and David Martin (viola) perform in “Mjørkaflókar.” We very much hope you can join us on 16th April as we close out the conference.

Nordic Viola is grateful for the support provided for this production by Creative Scotland, The Ambache Trust, raising the profile of women composers, and the RVW Trust. Thanks also to Craig Sinclair Video. Our concert is part of Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters 2020/21.

This concert is free to access but if you would like to support us in paying our musicians and composers fairly and to extend the reach of our education work, you can donate via Buy me a coffee or Paypal.me You can also keep up to date with our work by scrolling down to the bottom of our home page and entering your email address. Thank you for your support.

Linda Buckley – Aud

As we enter a new year I look back on last year and feel proud of all we managed to achieve with Nordic Viola. We were just about to travel to Shetland when lockdown hit. We swiftly repurposed our “Histories and Herstories” programme for an online concert which aired for Orkney International Science Festival in September and it will go to its original hosts, the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Institute of Northern Studies for their online 5th international St. Magnus Conference on 16th April at 4:15pm GMT

Back in September 2019, I made many new connections at UHI’s Shoormal Conference and these are beginning to bear fruit. Poet Lesley Harrison, clarinettist Alex South and I are building a programme for Arbroath 2021 and sound artist and composer Renzo Spiteri, who lives in Shetland, has been sending me tracks to improvise with so we can get a feel for working together prior to putting some work together (possibly alongside landscape artist, Orla Stevens of Callander) in late 2021/22.

Alex and I have already produced some work related to Alex’s PhD on whale song and these have led to invitations to develop work future festivals.

Linda Buckley © Olesya Zdorovetska

The focal point of Nordic Viola’s work this year, though, will be a new commission from Linda Buckley. Linda Buckley ls supported by PRS Foundation’s Women Make Music for this project.

I first met Linda a year or so ago when she was researching her radio project for Athena Media and RTE, “Mother’s Blood Sister Songs” which explores the links between her home country, Ireland, and Iceland. I was able to put her in touch with friend and pianist Arnhildur Valgarðsdóttir in Reykjavik and you can hear the fruits of their meeting here:

Around the same time, I’d come across an article in Air Iceland’s inflight magazine on the female settlers from the Icelandic Sagas. The names of six of these remarkable women now adorn Air Iceland’s bombardier aircraft, perhaps rather appropriately, as these six strong women were great travellers! In the long term, money permitting, I’d like to commission six women composers to write a piece on each of these Icelandic heroines, so Linda, with her research on the connections between the Celtic women and their journeys across the North Atlantic to Iceland seemed like the obvious place to start.

Together we chose Auðr djúpúðga Ketilsdóttir (Aud the deep-minded). Aud married Olaf the White, the self-proclaimed King of Dublin following Viking raids on Ireland. They had a son named Thorstein the Red. After Olaf was killed in battle in Ireland, Aud and Thorstein journeyed to the Hebrides. Thorstein became a great warrior king, conquering parts of northern Scotland until he was betrayed and killed in battle.

Upon learning of the death of Thorstein, Aud, who was then in Caithness, commissioned a construction of a knarr, a Viking era ship commonly built for Atlantic voyages. She captained the ship to Orkney where she married off one of her granddaughters, Groa, the daughter of Thorstein the Red. Aud then captained the ship on its voyage to Breiðafjörður in Iceland with twenty men under her command. She was respected as a captain; capable, independent and strong-willed. In addition to the crew, there were other men on her ship, prisoners from Viking raids near and around the British Isles. Aud gave these men their freedom and land to farm once they were in Iceland.

I am delighted that “Aud” will be premiered for Orkney International Science Festival on 3rd September this year, where it will form part of a series of events and lectures by historians, geneticists and saga scholars exploring Orkney’s links with it’s northern neighbours around the North Atlantic. Our concert will be entitled “Sagas and Seascapes” and will explore stories and landscapes shared around the Far Northern cultures. I’ll fill you in on the composers and pieces over the year!

Linda Buckley’s Music

Linda has written extensively for orchestra (BBC Symphony Orchestra, Dresdner Sinfoniker Orchestra, RTE National Symphony Orchestra), and has a particular interest in merging her classical training with the worlds of post punk, folk and ambient electronica. She is “one of the leading figures in the thriving Irish new music scene” (Christopher Fox, Tempo) with her work being described as “sublime and brilliant” (Tom Service, BBC Radio 3) “strange and beautiful” (Richard Dyer, Boston Globe), “fantastically brutal, reminiscent of the glitch music of acts such as Autechre” (Liam Cagney, Composing the Island) and “engaging with an area of experience that new music is generally shy of, which, simplified and reduced to a single word, I’d call ecstasy” (Bob Gilmore, Journal of Music).

Awards include a Fulbright scholarship to New York University, a Civitella Ranieri Fellowship, the Frankfurt Visual Music Award (for Silk Chroma) and Gold at the New York Festivals Radio Awards (for Mother’s Blood, Sister Songs documentary with Athena Media).

Recent collaborations include work with experimental folk duo Anna & Elizabeth, poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa as well as premieres by Hebrides Ensemble, Contempo Quartet, Icebreaker, Iarla O’Lionaird, Joby Burgess (Barbican commission), Ensemble Mise-En and Crash Ensemble. In 2019 she was invited by John Schaefer’s New Sounds Live (WNYC) to present the New York premiere of a new live score to the silent horror film Nosferatu (co-composed with Irene Buckley) at Brookfield Place. Linda holds a Music Degree from University College Cork, a Masters in Music and Media Technologies and PhD in Composition from Trinity College Dublin, and lectures in Composition at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. In September 2020 her NMC Debut Disc, From Ocean’s Floor was released.

You can listen to Linda’s music here, including a previous response to Icelandic music, the beautiful and haunting Númarímur.

Linda Buckley is supported by PRS Foundation’s Women Make Music

CETACEA and New Collaborations

GIOFEST Online 26th-28th Nov 2020

It goes without saying that COVID-19 has had a massive impact on Nordic Viola, as it has on everybody in the arts: cancelled and rescheduled gigs, lost income, inability to travel… the list goes on. However, amidst the chaos, new opportunities are slowly emerging.

As a full-time orchestral musician, my schedules are normally so intense that I have little time available to develop new projects, ways of working and to build new skills. The last few months have offered me the rare and valued opportunity to explore new avenues and to build on new and existing partnerships.

The first of these projects is just starting to bear fruit. At the very start of 2020 I started working with clarinettist, composer and improviser Alex South and poet Lesley Harrison. The way this group came together is really testament to what Nordic Viola is about: making connections and telling stories across the north.

I first met Lesley at UHI’s “Shoormal” Conference in Shetland, September 2019. We share a deep love for the Far North, its landscapes, culture and wildlife and both of us have spent long periods of time visiting the islands of the North Atlantic. Alex was introduced to me by composer Emily Doolittle, a Canadian composer based in Scotland interested in Zoömusicology: the study of the music-like aspects of sound communication among non-human animals. Like Lesley, Alex is interested in whales and their music and is currently carrying out doctoral research into the relationship between humpback whale song and human music at the University of St Andrews and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Both Alex and I have an interest in developing new music through improvisation.

In January, when Alex and I first met to improvise together, we had no idea that our aim of creating new music around Lesley’s wonderfully evocative poems was about to be made a whole load harder. By March we were, of course, completely unable to meet and work together. The three of us live in different regions and Alex and I normally travel everywhere by public transport or bike. The one thing we did have in our favour was time, and so we took to Zoom to gradually figure out the direction our work was to take.

The creation of a large body of improvised work is never an easy task. What form would our performance take? What role would the words take? Would they be more or less present? Would Lesley read them? Would they be in printed form? How much music would we write down and how much would be left to free improvisation? Should there be a visual element to our performance? What themes should we draw out of Lesley’s poems?

Ideas were bandied back and forth, and germs of musical ideas started to be generated and shared via the cloud. At this point I have to say a big thank you to Pete Stollery and Fiona Robertson at “Sound” in Aberdeen for running their Performer/Composer workshops. These offered me a framework and deadlines in which to get some ideas down on paper as well as a forum in which to listen, learn and develop in what’s become a close-knit and supportive group of music creators and performers.

Eventually, during what now feels like a remarkably free summer, a moment of lightness in the darkness of the past 6 months, Alex and I were able to work together in person. I cannot describe to you how amazing and utterly immersive it was to be able to make music freely through improvising with another person in the same room. Very moving, actually. Maybe that’s why some pure magic happened in that studio in September.

Getting used to working with Zoom has also opened our eyes to new ideas of how to work over long distances. A year ago, would we have thought to invite Lesley into our session when she was 100 miles or so away? If we had, would it have felt as normal as it does now? It was such a worthwhile thing to do. Most immediately, the performer in me really misses playing to people live. Playing live to someone with Lesley’s perception and ability to turn those perceptions into words that further inspire is special. I also really value the trust she invests in us to interpret her words musically and I feel immensely honoured and humbled to know that our playing has inspired her to write new words.

And so, after many months of working in what you could describe as adverse circumstances (or were they ultimately constraints that imposed a new discipline on us?), we’re nearly ready to launch “CETACEA” onto the public stage at GIOFest in Glasgow which runs online from 26th-28th November.

Many of the questions I raised earlier about our working process remain unanswered as we continue to build to a full-length event, but we did decide to only use the text overtly where it really added to the music. To that end, I want to leave you with Lesley’s poem so that you, like us, can take it as your starting point before listening to our performance in a couple of weeks’ time.

C-E-T-A-C-E-A
an exhibition by Marina Rees, using the bones of a long-finned pilot whale carcass recovered from Skjálfadi Bay. Húsavík Whale Museum, Iceland.


depot :
a bleached whale

.
an old sea mammal
lying on a beach
wind blowing through its rotted sinews


unpitched
long, low tones
degraded by the air.


how sound becomes colour :
the wind over water
dark /light


the blue black silver of the fjord
in the meat of its spine,
its winglike arms almost blue.

.
in praises
repeated, repeating


one note
falling like a flare


again, and now again
for hours


the vast dark hung with
ropes of song

.
hvalreki :
(‘whale drift’) a windfall

.
sound substance :


minute adjustments of
pitch and ornament


the clicking patterns
rigid, discordant


the sternum
the cervical block


a plain of lunar
knocks and hollows

.
o cathedral :


like an aurora,
downsweeping


kindling the dark
with antiphons


the slow turn
of bulks in darkness

Histories and Herstories at Orkney International Science Festival 4th Sept

©Martin Stewart

I hope you have enjoyed our series on women composers. I am delighted to announce that we will be presenting the full programme in an online video performance for Orkney International Science Festival on 4th September at 20:30 BST:

Nordic Viola reflects on female experience of landscapes and community from the Northern Isles to Greenland in music by women composers for string quartet. Highlights include ‘Machair’ by Highland composer Lisa Robertson and music influenced by Orcadian history and the Hardanger fiddle style by Gemma McGregor. Greenland’s only classical composer, Arnannguaq Gerstrøm, reflects on winter whilst English composer Lillie Harris depicts the full fury of a Shetland storm. Anna Appleby’s evocative ‘Hrakningar’ includes migrating geese from Iceland, and American Jocelyn Hagen offers a new take on the haunting Icelandic lullaby ‘Sofðu Unga’. There are new tunes reflecting on motherhood and the wild Orcadian weather by traditional fiddlers Margaret Robertson (Shetland) and Fiona Driver (Orkney)

As well as the music, you can meet many of our composers talking about the themes and landscapes that inspire their work and, indeed, see some of those landscapes for yourself in the beautiful video work put together by Craig Sinclair Video. We’re also joined in performance by two students from Tórshavn Music School in the Faroe Islands.

As Orkney International Science Festival celebrates Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 there are many more virtual events to enjoy, including more concerts and performances, virtual outings and foraging, food and drink, exhibitions and talks. Why not join Nordic Viola and immerse yourself in a week of Orcadian culture?

After you have enjoyed our performance on 4th September, if you would like to support us in paying our musicians and composers fairly and also help us extend our reach through education work, you can donate the price of a coffee (or more if you’d like to!) at https://www.buymeacoffee.com/NordicViola or paypal.me/katherinewren1

In partnership with UHI’s Institute of Northern Studies and funded by Creative Scotland, Ambache Charitable Trust, RVW Trust and the Year of Coasts and Waters.

Raising the profile of music by women

Histories and Herstories Composers Part 9

Fiona Driver

Fiona Driver

I first met fiddle player Fiona Driver when she and husband Trevor Hunter, (one of Shetland’s most respected fiddlers) came to Nordic Viola’s concert with Gemma McGregor in Kirkwall,  Orkney and subsequent after-party. Fiona and Trevor are two of the most open-minded musicians I know, enjoying traditional, classical and contemporary music and generously passing on their love of music to the younger generation.

The morning after the concert I got to appreciate Fiona’s playing first hand as we had a session with Gemma playing through reams of Orkney tunes. And so I got to learn a little more about the most famous Orkney tune-writers as well as learning about fiddle style by playing alongside Fiona.

Fiona is a fine tune-writer in her own right. I always think the mark of a good melody is one that’ll stand on its own with no accompaniment and possibly also one that’ll transfer across instruments. Both of these things struck me immediately when I heard Fiona play “Suilven,” named after the iconic mountain in NW Scotland, accompanied  by a lone F# pedal point.

“Wild November”, which we play in our “Histories and Herstories” programme, is another such tune. Written after a wild November storm, Fiona herself said that this tune just flowed out in one go.  Distinctive and energetic, by turns slow and languid and driving and dancelike it seems to ooze the enjoyment and total absorption in her music-making that’s so apparent in Fiona’s performing. You can hear Fiona performing with Nordic Viola here:

Fiona also put together a CD “Orkney at Dawn” which grew out of her degree project with UHI. This CD is a beautiful record of Orkney’s extraordinarily diverse birdlife and is also incredibly soothing to listen to.