Sagas and Seascapes Live in Concert

Boat Hall, Shetland Museum, Lerwick, 25th Sept

When lockdown started in March 2020, Nordic Viola was just 2 weeks away from travelling to Shetland to perform their “Histories and Herstories” programme. With the support of UHI Institute for Northern Studies and Orkney International Science Festival and Creative Scotland, we managed to successfully take the performance online.

Nonetheless, we’ve been itching to bring our music to Shetland and  so, hot on the heels of our film documentary/concert for Orkney International Science Festival online last week, we are excited to be finally heading to the islands with our popular “Sagas and Seascapes” programme. We’ll perform two pieces from our online programme: “Aud” by Linda Buckley and “Wogen” by Kári Bæk of the Faroe Islands.

“Aud”, supported by the  PRS Foundation Women Make Music programme, will be receiving its live premiere. Written by Linda Buckley during lockdown, “Aud”, in telling the tale of the 9th Century heroine of the Sagas,  also reflects on the emotions evoked by travel; the uncertainties, the sense of adventure the feeling, perhaps, of leaving something behind.

New pieces for us in this programme are Orcadian Gemma McGregor’s “Our Lady of Sorrows and Danger”, based on a poem by Ron Ferguson and Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen’s “Sea of Peace.”

Traditional voices from established and new musicians from Shetland depict Shetland’s seascapes and its people. Margaret Robertson’s tender air to mothers everywhere opens the programme. Young people are central to our work and we’re delighted to welcome accordionist Victoria Byrne-McCombie, who was one of the competition winners in our international Seastories Competition with her winning tunes. Victoria will be introduced by10-year-old Isla Jamieson’s poem “You are beautiful, Shetland” which I came across online last year.

Much older, traditional stories told in Icelandic folk melodies end our programme.

If you would like to have a wee taster of our programme, I’ve put together a short playlist on Soundcloud for you.

Workshops

During the week I’m also looking forward to an online workshop with pupils from Anderson High School on a Seastories theme. Last time I worked with the school, we developed one of Nordic Viola’s most popular pieces, “Mjørkaflókar”, so I’m excited to see what we can produce this time!

Sagas and Seascapes (Orkney) available to view online

Our documentary/concert film “Sagas and Seascapes”, featuring interviews with the composers, stunning film footage and artwork produced specifically for the film, as well as two world premieres was streamed by Orkney International Science Festival last Friday.

It’s now available to view at your leisure on YouTube.

Additionally, if you enjoyed Orla Stevens’ amazing artwork for “Carry is Relics” (Gemma McGregor), “Elsewhen” (Lillie Harris) and “Aud” (Linda Buckley), you can now buy cards (prints coming soon!) of the images from https://www.orlastevens.com/shop-prints?Printed+Art=Cards

Programme Notes Sagas and Seascapes

Carry His Relics – Gemma McGregor

‘Carry His Relics’ describes the journey mentioned at the end of the Orkneyinga Saga when the followers of St Magnus carried his remains from Christkirk, Birsay along the coast to the capital town of Kirkjuvagr.

St Magnus is the patron saint of Orkney. He was murdered on 16th April, 1117. Twenty years after Magnus’ death, a farmer called Gunni, from the Orkney island of Westray, reported that Magnus had appeared to him in a dream and instructed him to tell Bishop William that he wanted his relics moved. Gunni reported his dream and permission was granted.

Part of Carry His Relics by ©Orla Stevens

After the procession along the coast of Orkney, Magnus’ remains were interred at St Olaf’s Kirk, although they were later moved to St Magnus Cathedral. Many miracles had been reported by those who had prayed to St Magnus for help.

The joyful processional melodies make reference to both Magnus’ Viking culture and his Christian beliefs by using traditional Orcadian and Norwegian style music and by quoting from 12th century plainchants that may have been sung by the followers of Magnus. The fifty-five mile long route taken by the pilgrims subsequently became a devotional walk but fell out of use centuries ago. The St Magnus Way was cleared and reopened in 2017 to mark the 900th anniversary of the martyrdom of St Magnus. Gemma McGregor

Elsewhen – Lillie Harris

©Kevin Leighton

Ancient sites are intriguing: they offer us amazement at the sheer age of artefacts, many mysteries of why things were that way, and the sense of a delicate thread connecting us now, to those people then. Our interactions with these relics helps us build an image of our past, but there is only so much we can learn from what remains – the rest is lost to time.

In this piece I have sought to capture the strangeness, wonder, and melancholy of objects and sites that exist out of time: they retain traces and memories of the past, but have outlived those for whom they were built, and have been left behind.

Written for the St Magnus Composers Course 2017 Lillie Harris

Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum – Eli Tausen á Lava

©Daniel Arge

Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum (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 creature capable 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. – Eli Tausen á Lava

Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum is receiving its UK premiere by kind permission of the composer and the Aura Duo, who commissioned the piece to perform at Sumartónar in the Faroe Islands.

Wogen – Kári Bæk

Transcribed for viola by Katherine Wren

Wogen captures the shifting moods of the sea. The piece has a sense of voyaging, a sense that gains momentum as the piece progresses. It ends with a hymn-like passage from a stanza of Sinklar’s Visa set to a tune from the island of Nólsoy, in which the Scottish mercenary is warned by a mermaid not to engage in battle with the Norwegians. – Katherine Wren

Aud by Linda Buckley

©Olesya Zdorovetska

It has been a strange yet uplifting experience to create a work so immersed in adventure and travel, while those parts of our lives for now, remain on hold – almost suspended in time…

This marks another chapter in a long and deeply felt connection to those expansive landscapes of Iceland and the Scottish Isles, perhaps rooted in my own first breaths of home, born in the Old Head of Kinsale in the south of Ireland, a headland jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Section of Aud by ©Orla Stevens

The story of Aud the Deep-Minded has been immensely inspiring to me, this strong Viking woman who showed great courage throughout her life, through her travels from Norway to Scotland and north to Iceland. My own musical interests seep into this work, from the droning of the hardanger fiddle in Norwegian folk music, to the restless energy of Scottish and Irish dance tunes, to field recordings of wind and ice made in rural Iceland.

I wish to thank Katherine Wren for bringing this project to life, and for shining a light on these important historical figures from the Icelandic sagas – giving new voice to their stories.

Commissioned with support from the PRS Foundation Women Make Music Fund.

Korona Trot – Anni Helena Lamhauga

Anni Helena Lamhauge lives in the Faroe Islands and was the winner of our recent “Seastories” Competition. Her winning piece, “Korona Trot” was written as she looked out over the sea from her home as she quarantined. The title is a play on words as “trot” in Faroese means to be tired of something.

The Dromer – Traditional arr. Danish String Quartet

The Dromer appears in a collection of tunes in Denmark made by the Bast Brothers from 1763-1782. It is a so-called “English Dance”, In the last half of the 18th Century, dances from the British Isles were very much in fashion in Denmark. The peculiar titrle of this tune is probably a misspelling of “The Drummer”, which is a fairly well knwn Scottish reel that is identical to the melody notated by the Bast Brothers. “The drummer” started to appear in British tune collections around 1700 and it later morphed into the quite famous Scottish song, “The Piper o’Dundee” that was used to “stir up the chiefs and their clans” during the Jacobite Rising. – Danish String Quartet

The Dromer is performed by kind permission of the Danish String Quartet.

Part of Elsewhen by ©Orla Stevens

Winning Tunes from our Seastories Competition

Back in June we announced the winners of our Seastories Competition, which was open to young people in the Northern Isles, Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland.

As we approach our online concert for Orkney International Science Festival this Friday, it’s time to introduce you to the fabulous tunes that our winners and runners up wrote on the theme of the sea.

Cumliewick Shore by Victoria Byrne-McCombie

First up is accordionist Victoria Byrne-McCombie. As we will be performing “Sagas and Seascapes” live in Shetland Museum Boat Hall on the 25th September, we decided to award a special prize to the best tune from Shetland, with the winner playing with us live in concert. You can buy tickets for the concert on Eventbrite here.

Victoria’s piece, Cumliewick Shore, depicts a beach near Sandwick on Shetland Mainland. Victoria said, “When I was thinking about the theme of the sea I was trying to think of a way that I could interpret the theme into a tune and I thought of the melodic tide and how it moves in, the way it comes in and out, so I knew here that I wanted to have a note through the tune that keeps coming back to and that was like the melodic movement of the tide. For the second part I took the same note of E as the structure but went higher and started changing the rhythm as the sea is much stronger than people think and the tide can change and weather (especially in Shetland!) at any time.”

Victoria also sent us “Just another double-peg day”, a double-peg day being the term the Northern Isles use for a windy day, which she will also play at our concert.

Korona Trot by Anni Helena Lamhauge

Coincidentally, our overall winner is also an accordionist. Anni Helena Lamhauge lives in the Faroe Islands and her winning piece, “Korona Trot” was written as she looked out over the sea from her home as she quarantined. The title is a play on words as “trot” in Faroese means to be tired of something. You’ll be able to watch Anni Helena playing her tune in our online concert, “Sagas and Seascapes”, on Friday 3rd September from 21:00BST.

Anni Helena also sent us a second tune, Tra Le Linee, which is a characterful minor key waltz.

Fjøra by Ronja Gaard Hansen

Finally, our runner up and youngest finalist is Ronja Gaard Hansen, also from the Faroe Islands. Ronja’s waltz for fiddle and piano, “Fjøra” (seashore), reminds her of happy days spent down by the sea on the long summer days.

I would like to thank the William Syson Foundation for supporting our competition and workshops as well as Gemma McGregor and Dávur Juul Magnusson for their valuable input into our online workshop back in June.

Seastories Workshop Arbroath

Arbroath

If you live in the East of Scotland and are aged 12-16, I will be running another “Seastories” workshop with artist Orla Stevens in conjunction with Hospitalfield and Aproxima Arts in Arbroath next Sunday, 5th September. More information and details of how to sign up here.

Arbroath Seastories Workshop

With Katherine Wren and Orla Stevens

A full day workshop for young people aged 12- 16 yrs hosted by Hospitalfield.

Sunday 5 September 10am- 4pm

To book a free place email: Pippa@hospitalfield.org.uk

Workshops will start at 10am meeting at Arbroath West links Park, Queens Drive.

Sea Stories – Youth Music Composition Workshop

Are you fascinated by the sea: its sights and sounds and the stories it yields? Have you ever wished you could tell those Sea stories through music and art?

Musician Katherine Wren of Nordic Viola and landscape artist Orla Stevens join together in this day of workshops to recreate and interpret our experience of the sea. During the morning we will walk down to the sea at Arbroath to watch and listen to the sea. We will collect sounds and make sketches as well as looking for objects on the beach (natural and human-produced) that we can use to draw and to create sound.

In the afternoon we will split into 2 groups working in turn with Katherine and Orla at Hospitalfield. Katherine will explore ways of sounding the sea on our instruments as well as with homemade instruments, found objects and recorded sound. We will learn about the elements that make up music and about how these help us to structure sound.

Orla will lead the drawing element of the workshop, exploring intuitive and expressive approaches to sounds and seascapes, using both found objects from the shore line and traditional art materials to create artworks and graphic scores.

At the end of the afternoon we will come together to explore how we can use graphic scores (a visual alternative to reading musical notation) to explore how shape, colour and composition can inspire sounds, and vice versa, finishing with an informal group performance.

Age Range: 12-16

Experience: No prior experience required, but if you play an instrument, please bring it along. Art materials will be provided.

Clothing: we will be spending time outside and on the beach, so bring sturdy footwear, warm clothing and waterproofs as well as snacks and drinks. Please wear old clothes as they may get covered in paint!

Face coverings will be required during the afternoon while we are working indoors.

Katherine Wren is the founder of Nordic Viola and a member of the RSNO. Her work explores the environment and cultures of northern coastal communities. She has twice been shortlisted for the Scottish New Music Awards “Making it Happen” category.

Find out more about Katherine’s work at https://nordicviola.wordpress.com/ Social media: Twitter @kathviolaplayer Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/katherine.wren.33/

Orla Stevens is a Scottish artist, whose work explores rural landscapes of the north and north west. Paintings are increasingly driven by both visual and audio field research, looking to explore a multi-sensory experience of place, translated through colour and form.

To view Orla’s work: www.orlastevens.com / Social media: @orlastevens

Nordic Viola’s “Sagas and Seascapes” for Orkney International Festival Online to include two world premieres.

Nordic Vola’s “Sagas and Seascapes” digital concert will premiere at Orkney International Science Festival on 3rd September at 9pm. The concert celebrates the islands’ cultural and genetic connections with the Norse World as part of Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters and includes world premieres by Irish composer Linda Buckley and Faroese composer Eli Tausen á Lava. The concert also includes specially commissioned artworks by Orla Stevens.

Linda Buckley’s “Aud”, supported by the PRS Foundation Women Make Music Fund, traces the journey of the eponymous heroine as told in the Icelandic Sagas from Caithness and Orkney to North-West Iceland, whilst Eli Tausen á Lava’s “Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum” (The Legend of the Sealwoman in 10 Pictures) draws on legends common across the North Atlantic region of a female selkie capable of transforming into a human being.

The programme celebrates Nordic Viola’s continuing partnership with Orkney International Science Festival and includes Orkney resident Gemma McGregor’s “Carry His Relics”, inspired by the St, Magnus Way, and Lillie Harris’ “Elsewhen”, composed for the St Magnus Festival Composers’ Course in 2017, which muses on the ancient monuments of Orkney and their meaning for us today.

The retelling of old stories in contemporary settings is an apt metaphor for the way in which Nordic Viola has sought to find new ways to present music online without being bound by the four walls of a traditional concert hall. Founder Katherine Wren said that “following last year’s successful programme for OISF, which included interviews with the composers as well as footage of the landscapes that inspired the music, we have sought to further develop the creative, visual element of the concert by bringing landscape artist Orla Stevens onto the project to work alongside video producer Craig Sinclair.”

Orla and Craig travelled to Orkney with three of the composers as they explored the locations that inspired the music and reflected on their experience of being in the landscape and imagining the past worlds of the Norsemen and the prehistoric peoples of Orkney. Orla’s paintings will be incorporated into the video performance.

Since 2016, Nordic Viola has maintained particularly strong connections with the Faroe Islands. The ensemble is grateful to the Spanish/Danish Aura Duo for generously allowing them to premiere “Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum” for flute and clarinet which was commissioned for the Faroese Sumartónar Music Festival in 2020 and has twice been postponed due to Covid. Faroese composer and pianist Eli Tausen á Lava has quickly developed a unique and recognizable artistic voice, and in 2019 he won Best New Artist at the Faroese Music Awards of 2019, marking the first time a classical composer had received the award. The programme also includes “Wogen” (Waves) by Faroese composer Kári Bæk for solo viola.

The Faroese connection is continued with the inclusion of “Korona-Trot” by Anni Helena Lamhauge, the winner of Nordic Viola’s recent “Seastories Competition” which was supported by the William Syson Foundation.

Katherine, a viola player with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, founded Nordic Viola in 2016. They have twice been shortlisted in the New Music Scotland Awards “Making it Happen” category for promoting contemporary music and its relationship to traditional music from the North Atlantic region and for working with musicians from Scotland, the Faroes, Iceland and Greenland.

Katherine said: “This has been Nordic Viola’s most ambitious project to date, and it has been a fascinating process for me to explore in depth how the musicians and artist have interpreted these ancient stories in a modern, pan-Nordic context, taking the landscape of Orkney and beyond as inspiration.”

Orkney composer, Gemma McGregor said: “It was a magical experience to visit the historic Orkney sites for filming with Katherine Wren, Linda Buckley, Orla Stevens and Lillie Harris. We compared our music and the historic tales that had inspired it. It was good to imagine the journeys of the pilgrims from Birsay and the awe-inspiring journey that they made, carrying St Magnus’ relics to Kirkwall.”

Composer Linda Buckley said: “The story of Aud the Deep-Minded has been immensely inspiring to me, this strong Viking woman who showed great courage throughout her life, through her travels from Norway to Scotland and north to Iceland. My own musical interests seep into this work, from the droning of the hardanger fiddle in Norwegian folk music, to the restless energy of Scottish and Irish dance tunes, to field recordings of wind and ice made in rural Iceland.”

Composer Lillie Harris said: “I wrote ‘Elsewhen’ before I’d visited Orkney in person, based on documentary footage and online research. Once I was there, I was amazed in a whole new way by what it felt like to be in these places. There’s a continuum of human culture leaving its marks on the landscape, and clear signs of people having been inspired by the landscape itself, which is very special.

Getting the opportunity to visit again with Katherine and the other creators as part of Nordic Viola’s Sagas and Seascapes project was magical, and brought a whole new level of appreciation of all the stories shared between us and particularly from Gemma McGregor. We had all been drawn to Orkney, its history and its people – like many before us, and many yet to come.”

Artist Orla Stevens said, “Being part of the Sagas and Seascapes project has been a really inspiring opportunity and has offered the space to further explore the influence of history, music and sound within my painting practice. For this series of work, I sought to reference the composers thoughts, ideas and inspiration, whilst including my own interpretation of Orkney and the pieces of music as I feel and hear them.”

Nordic Viola’s video is produced by Craig Sinclair in conjunction with OISF and is supported by Creative Scotland and Event Scotland for the Year of Coasts and Waters 2021. Linda Buckley is supported by PRS Foundation’s Women Make Music. Further details about the concert can be found at https://oisf.org/fest-event/sagas-and-seascapes/ The concert is part of a full programme of events from 2-8 September from Orkney International Science Festival which includes workshops, performances, talks and walks around Orkney. The full programme can be found at www.oisf.org.

A Faroese World Premiere

The premiere of our Sagas and Seascapes online programme is nearly upon us. It will take place from 3rd September at 21:00. The live link will appear here.

Nordic Viola has enjoyed a strong connection with the Faroe Islands since I was first so warmly welcomed to the islands back in September 2016 and so it gives me great pleasure that our Sagas and Seascapes programme has a strong Faroese element to it. Kári Bæk’s Vár Trio was in our very first programme and his music has featured frequently since. A new composer for us, though one I was introduced to by Kristian Blak and Sunleif Rasmussen a couple of years ago, is rising star on the Faroese and Nordic scene, Eli Tausen á Lava. Finally, the winner of our recent Seastories Competition is also Faroese. Anni Helena Lamhauge will be playing her tune Korona Trot on accordion as part of our online concert for Orkney International Science Festival on 3rd September at 21:00 BST.

It is a great and unexpected honour for us to be able to give the world and UK premiere of Eli Tausen á Lava’s Søgnin um Kópakonuna (The Tale of the Sealwoman) for flute and clarinet, composed in 2019. The piece was commissioned by the Spanish/Danish Aura Duo and should have been performed at Sumartónar 2021 but was sadly postponed due to Covid restrictions. The duo very generously granted us permission to perform the premiere in the UK and we look forward to being able to share their performance dates with you when they are finally able to take the piece to the Faroes and Denmark.

The legend of the sealwoman is one that is common throughout the North Atlantic region with variants of it coming from the Hebrides, Northern Isles, the Faroes and Iceland. It is exactly these shared stories stemming from a shared environment and culture that were the inspiration and source of fascination for me when planning Sagas and Seascapes. The core of the story hinges around men who capture the selkie’s skin and take the selkie woman as a wife. The selkie, no longer in posession of her skin is trapped in human form with her captor.

In Shetland the stories take a more sinister turn, the selkies luring men into the sea at midsummer, their lovelorn admirers never returning to dry land. Anyone who has heard the mournful, eery sound of the selkies may not find this so far-fetched.

In Iceland, tales of elves are common and in some variants of the selkie legend, such as that told by Jón Guðmunsson the Learned in the 17th Century the seal-folk are in fact sea-dwelling elves or marmennlar (mermen and mermaids).

Eli Tausen á Lava

©Danjal Arge

Since he first stepped onto the classical music landscape in 2015, Faroese composer and pianist Eli Tausen á Lava has quickly developed a unique and recognizable artistic voice. He has a deep appreciation for stillness and simplicity in both music and life — something he expressed most recently with his 2020 debut album Impressions, a 40-minute refuge from a hectic world.

Eli won Best New Artist at the Faroese Music Awards of 2019, marking the first time a classical composer received the award. One year earlier, he had attracted his fellow Faroe Islanders’ attention when he was selected, despite his young age, to represent the Faroe Islands at the international World New Music Days festival in Beijing.

Eli has worked with a variety of musicians and ensembles from around Europe. He has an intuitive and open-minded approach to making music and believes there is no right or wrong way to create art. “I try to get out of my own way when composing,” he says. “My feeling is that writing music is more like discovering an already-existing structure or organism, rather than creating one out of thin air.”

Eli introduces his music

I’ll leave it to Eli to tell you more about his piece and you can also hear a few short extracts played by Janet Larsson (flute) and Robert Digney (clarinet).

Kári Bæk

Kári is an old friend of ours and it gave us great pleasure to work alongside him in Tórshavn in 2018 when we performed his Vár Trio and Fragment with flute, viola and bassoon at Sumartónar 2018. Gemma McGregor also played his solo flute piece, Snjólysi, in Orkney last month.

Kári has played an important role in Faroese musical life as musician, choral conductor as well as composer.
He began composing relatively late and has composed both choral and instrumental ensemble works, some of which have been recorded by the Faroese ensemble Aldubáran and by a wind quintet located in Reykjavik (Iceland).
Bæk’s choir works range from sacred to secular music written for both amateurs and professionals.
In 2006 a CD containing some of Bæk’s works for choir was released.

In this programme I’ll be playing my own transcription of “Wogen”, originally for cello, that I produced in consultation with Kári. I love how this piece captures the shifting moods of the sea. For me, the piece has a real sense of voyaging, a sense that the piece gains momentum as it progresses. It ends with a hymn-like passage which I discovered, on listening to Kristian Blak’s CD Shaldergeo (a collection of music based on Shetland and Faroese traditional music) comes from a stanza of Sinklar’s Visa set to a tune from the island of Nólsoy, in which the Scottish mercenary is warned by a mermaid not to engage in battle with the Norwegians. And so we find ourselves full circle with the selkie folk.

Whale Song

Sunday 8th August, Fishmarket Arbroath 2020+1 12pm

A new collaborative performance of music and poetry inspired by whale song, devised by poet Lesley Harrison with viola player Katherine Wren and clarinettist Alex South.Tickets available here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/…/whale-song-live-poetry…

Alex and I have composed new pieces around the poetry from Lesley’s recent collection, ‘Disappearance’. This performance explores the theme of the voyage of the 19th-century whalers to the polar seas, and the cultural aftermath of the whaling industry.

Our music includes sounds recorded on location in Greenland and Iceland melded with our improvisations and including live electronics. The programme is framed by traditional tunes from the North Atlantic Whalers who travelled from Shetland.

A special screening of CETACEA will follow the live performance.The trio’s music and words meet with marine biologist Michael Scheer’s recordings of pilot whales and Alexander and Nicole Gratovsky’s underwater footage to create the piece CETACEA. This film proved to be one of the most popular events in GIOFest last November. You can listen to the music below:

Arbroath 2020+1 Artworks

Arbroath will be buzzing in this summer-long festival of the Declaration of Arbroath. Why not come to our concert, treat yourself to a fish and chip lunch by the sea and then explore the artworks around town. https://arbroathfestival.com/festival/2021-festival-programme/

Alternatively, if a brisk walk is more your scene, explore the magnificent clifftop walks close to town. I look forward to seeing you there!

Filming in Orkney

Composers Lillie Harris, Linda Buckley and Gemma McGregor with artist Orla Stevens

Early July was a landmark for Nordic Viola: our first trip north since September 2019 and our first live performance since Covid-19 started. We headed out to Orkney with 3 composers, a landscape artist, a video producer and me – the largest team we’ve ever taken on tour and our most ambitious project yet.

Film footage is for our “Sagas and Seascapes” film that will air at Orkney International Science Festival on 3rd September and the goal was to place three of the composers, Gemma McGregor, Lillie Harris and Linda Buckley, in the landscapes that inspired their music. Artist Orla Stevens and video producer Craig Sinclair would document their reactions as well as incorporating their own creative responses to place.

The theme uniting all three pieces is Orkney’s history and genetic heritage. Central to our narrative is “Aud”, the remarkable woman who, in the 9th century set sail from Caithness to Iceland. On her way to settling in North West Iceland, she landed in Orkney, where one of her granddaughters, Gróa, was married. Remarkably, in Erik the Red’s Saga we can trace Aud’s line via Gróa and her daughter Grélaður, who married Thorfinn Torf-Einarsson, Earl of Orkney (also known as Thorfinn Skull-splitter) into the Orkneyinga Saga and down to Saint Magnus, subject of Gemma McGregor’s “Carry His Relics.” Gemma’s piece reflects on the journey of Magnus’ relics along what is now the St. Magnus Way and we explored the historic links through the ages as we traced the first part of this journey from the Broch of Gurness to the Brough of Birsay where Magnus was schooled in the monastery.

The Broch of Gurness is a remarkable place. Craig had us up bright and early and so we had the privilege of having the site to ourselves, a very special experience. Dating back to the Iron Age, this site, like our programme, also links into later Viking settlements, as the grave of a Viking woman was found at Gurness, along with some grave-goods – a sickle blade and a pair of ‘tortoise’ brooches.

As we visited this and other older, prehistoric sites such as the Stones of Stenness, Ring of Brodgar and Maeshowe, which all inspired Lillie Harris’ “Elsewhen” we talked about how “Aud”, too, may well have shared in our wonder at these ancient sites, too. This promoted many discussions about how humans perceive time and whether these sites would have seemed just as ancient to Aud as they do to us – how exactly do humans measure timescales over thousands of years? For me, these musings are strongly represented in the eery, slightly disturbing quality of Lillie’s music.

Our filming culminated with interviews in St. Magnus Church, Birsay, generously hosted by Robin Barr and preceded by some much-needed downtime over a packed lunch (and the famous Birsay  tea shop pies!) in Robin and Anne’s beautiful garden. During filming, Orla had taken time to sketch down some preliminary ideas and, in her wonderfully natural and enabling way, she encouraged us to express ourselves by drawing down by the beach between interviews – even those like me who haven’t produced any art since secondary school! Orla stayed on in Orkney to consolidate her ideas and you can read some of her initial thoughts here.

A Live Concert

Trips north with Nordic Viola are always packed affairs as we pack in as much activity as we can. One of the reasons for this is to lessen environmental impact by traveling less frequently but also simply from a desire to make the most of our time in the islands.

And so Gemma and I collaborated with Orkney Arts Society to give one of the first live events in Scotland since lockdown ended. I cannot even begin to explain to you how sweet it felt to play to a live audience again. Even with a masked audience, that feeling of connecting with people again was so special. One of the most important things for me in Nordic Viola is meeting after concerts to share experiences with audiences. Even at level 0, distance still needed to be respected but it felt so nice to talk informally with people after the event.

Our programme was entitled “Birds and Landscapes of the North” and included music for viola and flute by talented young Scottish composers Electra Perivolaris, Ailie Robertson and Kristain Rasmussen as well as Faroese composer Kári Bæk. I also performed live on my new viola d’amore for the first time in my arrangement of traditional Shetland tune “Da Day Dawn” and “Tirrick” (Orcadian for Arctic Tern) a reel I commissioned from Fiona Driver. Thanks to generous funding from Chamber Music Scotland’s Transition Fund, Gemma wrote a companion piece to “Carry His Relics” called “The Trysted Shore”. Inspired by George Mackay Brown’s poem “Magnus” (this year mark’s GMB’s centenary) it depicts Magnus’ betrayal on the island of Egilsay.

A note on travel and sustainability

Before I wrap up this blog, I’d just like to reflect briefly on our travel choices for this trip. As the world deals with the climate emergency, travel is becoming a point of focus for many musicians. Travel is obviously intrinsic to the Nordic Viola project so it is vital to consider how this is done with minimal impact.

A lifelong cyclist, this has been an intrinsic part of my thinking since my twenties. However, I do recognise that not everyone wants to be subjected to travelling the length and breadth of Orkney in a howling gale with instrument  (and tent) strapped to back. I actually also believe that being too dogmatic is not always the best way to persuade people to change transport habits. For me, the most important premise is to carefully think through travel options and to understand the impact they have, making balanced, informed choices.

I asked the team where possible to choose surface transport and this was, in the main, achieved. A couple of people did need to fly due to scheduling constraints, but again, the important point is that other alternatives were explored first. Our hand was also forced by the fact that Scotrail is not currently offering a Sunday service.

Some car use was necessary to carry filming equipment. I was also concerned at rising Covid cases in Orkney at that time. After a fair bit of soul searching, I decided that the safety of my team, the island population and the need to maintain bubbles within the two accommodation groups was paramount. We did carshare but ended up using one more car than I’d wanted to. I feel quite uncomfortable about that but I believe it was a pragmatic decision in light of the circumstances. I still managed to travel back from the final session by bike (into a howling gale, of course!) as well as touring on my free days on two wheels. I am also proud that my team only own 2 vehicles between 6 people plus partners. Hiring and borrowing vehicles leads to lower car use in the longterm and I’d love to see more people considering this.

Nordic Viola is supported by:

Linda Buckley is supported by:

The concert for Orkney Arts Society, including a new commission by Gemma McGregor was supported by:

Heading north and a live concert!

This week is a landmark week for Nordic Viola in several respects. First and foremost, it’s the first time we’ve headed north since UHI’s Shoormal Conference in September 2019. (Little did we know then what was coming.) It seems an age ago and yet, in the scheme of things, 2 years isn’t so long.

So what are we up to? We have a team of composers (Linda Buckley, Lillie Harris and Orkney-based Gemma McGregor) and a video producer (Craig Sinclair) going to Orkney to film content for our online concert for Orkney International Science Festival, which will be premiered on 3rd September. It’s quite an operation in the covid age, but a process that musicians and producers alike are having to get used to in this strange new world. Pre-travel testing, health questionnaires, rigorous planning to allow for safe travel, accommodation and distancing whilst working.

Hopefully all will go to plan, we can enjoy the amazing history and scenery that Orkney has to offer and produce some exciting and engaging content.

Another landmark moment is working with a visual artist, Orla Stevens. Orla will interpret the landscapes and seascapes around us as well as interpreting the emotional responses of the composers as they explore the places that inspired their music.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the 2nd July marks Nordic Viola’s return to live performance and I am so happy that this should happen in the Northern Isles. Gemma McGregor and I  will perform a programme of music for flute and viola entitled “Birds and Landscapes of the North.” We will play some of our own music as well as music by Ailie Robertson and Electra Perivolaris, two of the most exciting young composers on the Scottish scene. The Faroes and Denmark will be represented with pieces by Kári Bæk and Kristain Rasmussen, who is currently studying in Aberdeen. There’ll also be traditional music from Shetland and Orkney and a brand new tune composed for the occasion by Orkney fiddler, Fiona Driver.

The concert is promoted by Orkney Arts Society and takes place on 2nd July in Stromness Town Hall from 7:30pm. Tickets available from Eventbrite. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/birds-and-landscapes-of-the-north-tickets-158727304641?aff=erelpanelorg

The concert is supported by Chamber Music Scotland’s Transmission Fund, which has enabled a new commission from Gemma McGregor for viola and flute.

Filming is supported by Creative Scotland and, for Linda Buckley, PRSF Women Make Music.