To the Faroes

It’s pouring with rain and I’m waiting for the boat to the Faroes, so I may as well do a quick update!

I met with the head of the music school in Seydisfjordur this morning and we talked about playing to the students when I come back to Iceland. I also heard some interesting stories from her trip to Nuuk. Just to say, I had best make sure I have enough spare strings! I can also practise in the music school before my concert, which is great news. There’s only so much you can achieve in a tent.

Having said that, I played at the sound sculpture, Tvisongur, yesterday. It may not be warm, but it’s dry and the acoustics are amazing. Solves my eternal dilemma of “should I practise” or should I play around outside!

Well my tent isn’t going to dry, so I’ll just have to pack it up anyway and get on that boat. There’s a new piece in the offing, too. Might do some more in the coffee shop!


Flying across Iceland


Reykjavik was stunning in the morning sunshine – possibly more stunning than it is in July. The sun is lower and picks out the contours on the mountains. The light is richer.

I’m now waiting for a bus at Egilsstadir airport after a stunning flight over the VatnajokullGlacier. I’ve never seen anything quite like that. It’s different to the glaciers I’ve seen in the Alps, probably due to the volcanic activity around and under it.


There are huge braids of water coming off it, culminating in the big, muddy looking lakes here at Egilsstadir.


Hopefully I’ll be in Seydisfjordur by teatime, then tomorrow I need to get some concert publicity out!

Kinbuck Concert, Scotland


Helen Brew, Katherine Wren, David Martin, David Hubbard

Saturday 20th August was Nordic Viola’s first concert. I wanted to play first here at home so that I could share my journey with my friends who have offered me so much support in preparation for my journey. We may have been playing in a small village, but we packed the hall!

As you can see from the picture, this wasn’t your usual quartet combination and lots of people asked me how I arrived at this particular grouping. One of the pieces on the programme was Kari Bæk’s Vár Trio for flute, viola and bassoon. As often happens in smaller communities, I decided to build the concert round this instrument combination with my RSNO colleagues Helen Brew on flute and David Hubbard on bassoon. My husband, David Martin, shares my love of Greenland and I wasn’t about to leave him out, so that added in another viola. I have to say, I think we all enjoyed working with this palette. There were some interesting colours to exploit and we all felt that each voice came across clearly in the texture.

My aim for the evening was to share my forthcoming journey with the audience and to do my best to transport them northwards! I wanted to include a range of styles from across the region. The first half focused on Shetland, Orkney and the Faroes, and also included a piece by me, “Winter Melancholy”, written on a dark stormy day in Dunblane. The set of tunes by Tom Anderson (“Maas” etc.) and Kristian Blak’s “Drrrunnn” offered two contrasting views of birdlife and the sea: “Maas” (about the fulmar petrel) is written in the Shetland fiddle tradition and “Drrrunnn” is a semi-improvisational piece where the viola plays alongside recorded bird sound from the Faroese island of “Mykines”.


In the second half, we travelled ever northwards. We all loved playing the Fiðlufræankur. These Icelandic folk tunes are a wonderful mix of the proud, the melancholy and childlike tunes where we could play with the tunes and try to catch each other out!

I’ve known about Danish composer Poul Ruders’ work for many years after hearing his viola concerto and “Autumn Collection” demonstrates yet again how well he writes for the instrument.


One of the highlights of the concert for me was improvising on an Inuit song with David Martin. You never really quite know how a free impro will pan out on the night, but this one gelled and I think it was a special moment for both of us.



It wasn’t all about the music. I wanted people to have a clear image of where I’m going and what lies behind the music, so I included some readings from the books that inspired me. Gretel Ehrlich’s book “This Cold Heaven” (Greenland) is quite simply one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. Gavin Francis’ book “True North” gave me the framework for my journey. Also pictured are “Arctic Cycle” about Iceland by Andy Shackleton and “The Missing Son: A Faroe Island Saga” by Jennifer Henke.

Before I close this post, I have to say thank you to all my fabulous friends who helped make the evening a success, especially Lisa Rourke, ticket seller and stage manager, Hugh Hogben for taking most of these photos and putting my slide show together, as well as picking up any jobs that needed doing alongside his wife, Chris. All I had to do was enjoy playing with my inspiring colleagues, Helen, David and Dave who just made the night such a joy for me. Thanks all of you for sharing the music with me.




Seabirds, Storms and Space

I spent my summer holiday camping and cycling up in the far North West of Scotland. Emotionally and artistically it was quite an important trip for me as I prepare for my sabbatical. It was exactly a year to the day since I last saw the Atlantic Ocean in Reykjavik and, from Durness, my “view” to the countries I’m visiting was unimpeded.

Durness and Scourie have much in common with the communities I’ll be visiting in Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Shetland. There are just a few people living there, eking out a living from the land and tourism. The weather is a dominant force and needs to be respected, as we discovered when we were one of only 4 tents left standing on the Durness campsite in an unusually strong summer storm. It also rained – A LOT!

The weather may be tough, but these are well-connected, thriving communities with a strong artistic life. There are many musical gatherings and the Balnakiel Craft Village is an example of local talent working together, supporting each other and providing something beautiful for locals and tourists alike.

Cape Wrath

There’s no getting away from the environment artistically either and I found this time out really refreshed my music-making ahead of my concert in Kinbuck on 20th August. It reminded me what it feels like to have space all around me. Cape Wrath was windy, wild and, save for the lighthouse, without any sign of humankind. To the north and west there is nothing but open sea. This feeling of space is, for me, what epitomises the music of the north.

Sandwood Bay



Sandwood Bay was a different experience. The weather was benign – unusually hot and sunny, in fact. The sea was dynamic and kaleidoscopic in its ranges of blues, greens and azure. The sand was soft under your toes and golden, leading the eye with sweeping lines of stones and seaweed brought up by the tide.

Kristian Blak’s piece, “Drrrunnn” is all about the interaction of the musician with the recorded seabird sounds, both blending with and commenting on the natural sounds. I learnt a lot watching the seabirds from the campsites and learning their individual characteristics. The kittiwakes were my favourites. Beautiful, sleek and pure white underneath when flying, I loved their chattering “kittiwake” call.

Sunset at Scourie

Back home, I’ve finally dried out and it’s back to practising, but the music is different now: I’ve reconnected with the north and I can’t wait to get out there!