Egilsstadir and the East Fjords

This week I’ve been in Egilsstadir, the main town serving East Iceland. I grew to really love this town, actually. I like big country and the vistas were wide here, with some great, snow-capped peaks all around, not to mention the huge Lagarfljot (a big loch!) with some very vocal greylag geese!

My main reason for being based here was to do a masterclass with Charles Ross’ pupils at the music school. We did it in a different format to Torshavn. Rather than coaching individually, everyone was in the same room this time, giving the young people the chance to perform in front of their peers as well as me. It also meant we could work on points of technique together – much more fun!

As in Torshavn, I also ended up doing a bit of side-by-side work in orchestra, too, something I especially enjoy doing. It’s so nice when the pupils ask how long I’m around because they enjoyed having me play with them.

I was lucky enough to avoid another storm by staying with Charles and his family out at Faskrudsfjordr, an isolated east fjord community. It’s great being lashed by the elements – when you’re not in a tent!!! Time flew by walking the dogs and visiting the horses with Charles and his daughter, talking music and composing with Charles and language and translation with his wife.

Tomorrow I’m taking the bus to Myvatn for some volcanic sightseeing, then it’s back to Reykjavik and home!


Free improvisation and new music from the north.

Wow, what a fun way to end my time in Seydisfjordur! Last night was my concert in the Blue Church. I’d been looking forward to playing here as it’s such a beautiful building and an iconic symbol of this town. I’ve been lucky to have been allowed to practise in this wonderful acoustic all week. In fact, I’m not sure how I’ll deal with practising in my pokey room at home now.

I was, however, a little nervous about this concert, too. I was working with Charles Ross and we wouldn’t even meet until 5pm that afternoon. There’s a Scottish connection, too. Charles is from Ayrshire, studied the viola with the RSNO’s Ian Budd and has had his music performed in the BBCSSO’s Tectonics series. Find out more about him here.

Charles turned up with violin/viola/10string guitar and Siberian Fiddle – not to mention some mighty fine throat singing. Here he is with Siberian fiddle:


Thanks to the restrictions of air travel I just had a viola! That gave us a wealth of colours to play with. Those of you who know me will know I have a fetish about timbre, so we were off to a good start.

There’s only one way to approach free impro and that’s to get on with it, so we spent the afternoon playing around with various concepts and sounds, before letting it settle over tea!

The concert was a blend of music by the two of us, Kristian Blak, Poul Ruders and free impros with an Icelandic/Inuit /Siberian/Faroese influence. We finished with a long impro where we moved around our audience and somehow ended up playing in stereo in the balcony. And the audience? Well, they included 2 children under 10 who’d never been to a concert. We had a little chat after as they’d been so good and quiet and they were fascinated by the sounds and said they wanted to play music every day. We were also asked for an encore? Contemporary music inaccessible? Really?

Charles, I have to say thanks for a wonderful and inspiring concert and I’m sure we’ll meet again in Glasgow.

Life in Seydisfjordur

I can’t believe it’s only Wednesday, I feel like I’ve done and seen so much since I arrived here. I had noisy neighbours the first night, but the upside to that was that when I woke at 1am the northern lights were on show. As if that weren’t sensory stimulus enough, I woke up to a crystal clear cold morning. Nothing for it but to head for the hills, all in the cause of musical stimulation, honestly!!!

Walking here is like a mixture of Scottish walking at lower altitudes and Greenlandic above 600m. In other words, wet and rough, so after 22km I was banjaxed – and then I had to do some practice. I’m still tired today!


I played in the school today. It was nice to have the children join in clapping and stamping to the Scottish and Icelandic traditional tunes and to give a few interested young people a go on the viola. It’s always special to me when you see a child fascinated by music and is an important part of my work.

I spoke to Charles Ross today who will join me for Saturday’s concert. We’re planning on improvising together. Charles has been involved with Ilan Volkov’s tectonics  festivals in Glasgow and Reykjavik, so I think he’s going to be an interesting musician for me to work with. We share some Glasgow connections too.

As well as my concert on Saturday, there are plenty of other arts events over the weekend, and this in a town the size of Braemar, so I should have plenty to tell you over the weekend!

Settled in Seydisfjordur

I was pretty sad to leave the Faroes last night and a little nervous about how I’d feel arriving back in Iceland. However, once I hit terra ferma and pitched the tent, I felt quite settled. There’s always something nice about going to a place where you know the lie of the land.

After an afternoon picking up on some German translation work (I love the flexibility of freelancing!) I finally got to meet Alla Borgthorsdottir, my key contact in Seydisfjordur. We spent a lovely hour drinking coffee, chatting about mutual friends and life here in Seydisfjordur.


dscn3207This evening I spent practising in the beautiful Blaa Kirkja where I will perform on Saturday. It almost feels like the symbol of the whole trip as it actually is “Nordic Viola” blue. I’m really enjoying how my repertoire is constantly evolving as I gather more material. Also, the pieces take on new significance as I see the places they’re connected to and meet musicians who wrote them or who can tell me more about them. I’m not even sure what I’ll choose to play on Saturday yet!

A Whirlwind 36 hours!

Yes, I mean that quite literally, but more on the wind later!

dscn3089In view of the impending storm I set my alarm for 6am yesterday so I could enjoy the sunshine on the island of Nolsoy. If you know Lerwick, then Nolsoy is to Torshavn what Bressay is to Lerwick.



I met Norwegians Frode and Annette who were out for a speedy run and Paige from California. The two of us decided to hook up for a walk across the island and had a great morning swapping outdoorsy stories.

So, just like in Kinbuck, I put the bad weather jinx on them all so that they had to come to my concert today instead of walking! Seriously, it was lovely to share music with them.

I didn’t exactly have the best preparation for the concert in terms of sleep. One almighty storm hit overnight. At midnight I decided discretion was the better part of valour, packed up the tent and slept inside the campers’ lounge on the very comfy sofa! Comfy or not, no-one was sleeping with that racket, as winds hit up to 90mph! During the night a caravan actually blew over. Winds have now dropped to a sedate 35mph(!) and I’m back outdoors, where I like to be!

14285034_10210413969130252_623386341_oThe concert in the Havnar Kirkja went well. I had a lovely friendly audience and the acoustics were perfect. I played my new piece, “Tvisongur”, some Shetland tunes, Poul Ruders’ “Autumn Collection” and Kristian Blak’s “…  tad heilur gongur av lagi.” Afterwards I was treated to lunch at organist Gudmund’s beautiful house up the hill. People are so kind here.

Excitement of the day was finally getting my hands on William Heinesen’s variations on a Faroese theme. This is a really iconic piece in Faroese music history and I’ve desperately been trying to track it down.

In the afternoon I did some masterclasses with pupils at the music school. There are some very talented young musicians there. Hopefully I’ll get more sleep tonight as there’s a lot I want to do on my last day and there’s more teaching, too. I don’t think I’m really ready to leave these islands, but I’m sure there’ll be more stimulating experiences to have in Iceland.

Back in Torshavn

dscn2961Well, Mykines was an experience! Those of you who went to my concert in Kinbuck will remember that the sound track to “Drrrunnn” by Kristian Blak was recorded here, so I was excited about visiting. The island is at the far NW corner of the Faroes archipelago, so you can imagine that it gets everything the Atlantic can throw at it. 6 of us arrived by helicopter, just before the weather really got interesting. Everyone but me was on a one night trip and got out in a brief weather window. So now I was the only visitor on an island with just 10 year-round residents.

dscn2958I managed a walk to the top of the hill, which is also the top of the cliffs, but unfortunately the wind was far too strong to walk to the end of Mykinesholmur.

Having the house to myself was the perfect opportunity to get some solid practice done – much-needed with some concerts coming up. I also finished a piece I have been writing inspired by the Tvisongur sound sculpture in Seydisfjordur, Iceland.

The wind was wild that night, but I enjoyed being cosy in the house. Tuesday morning dawned pretty much the same, so it was another intense practice session! By coffee time, though, things had calmed down enough for a wander to the sea, and what a sight it was! dscn3030Waves were crashing up to 30m up the cliffs. In the afternoon I wandered up into the hills/mist. It was beautiful in the village by now but still pretty rough on top!

dscn3076This morning dawned bright and sunny, which was a relief as I was due to fly out! I decided to say goodbye to the place by taking the viola to the top of the cliffs and playing “Drrrunnn.” I’m glad I got to see the full force of the weather and I enjoyed the solitude, but if I’m 100% honest, I’m not sure I like being confined to such a small patch of land – and I was hungry ekeing out my rations!

Back in Torshavn things are busy. I spent a lovely couple of hours at Kristian’s practising, talking and stroking the cat! I now have a concert fixed up in the Havnar Kirkja, Torshavn on Saturday at 11.30. I’m really looking forward to playing here and sharing my music.

On the way home I dropped by the music school and spent a lovely half hour playing with the senior orchestra. What a happy, welcoming group of students. I look forward to working further with them at the weekend.

Finally, I made it back to the tent and a well-earned pizza!

Music and Sunshine!

I’m here primarily to make music, so let’s talk about that first! Yesterday I met Kristian Blak, a legend on the Faroese music scene. He welcomed me into his house which is in the beautiful old part of Torshavn, near the harbour. dscn3129I was greeted by the cat and I seemed to pass the test, as she was soon purring next to me. Always good to make friends with the head of the house!

It was good to be able to ask Kristian about some of the music I’ve been playing: not just his, but some of the traditional tunes I have as well. “Tistram” is a piece for solo viola by Kristian based on the “Tristan and Isolde” legend, and I had a few questions about how he wanted it played and what various passages were depicting. We also talked about “Tað heila gongur av lagi” which means, “It’s all gone wrong” and is a humorous take on some traditional songs. It’s a beautiful and fun piece and will definitely be coming out in concert sometime.

Tonight I popped into the music school. What a fabulous and thriving place with lovely, friendly, energetic staff. I was made to feel at home right away. I was treated to a short concert by some of the pupils and was well-impressed! I was also kindly allowed to stay in the building to practise for a while. I’ll be back there to teach and play next week.

dscn2929Of course this trip isn’t just about the music. I’m here to explore, too! Today I was lucky enough to have a hot (yes, really!) sunny day to cross the island of Streymoy to Kirkjubøur, the country’s most important historical site with the ruins of the Magnus Cathedral from around 1300, the Saint Olav’s Church from 12th century and the old farmhouse Kirkjubøargarður from 11th century.



dscn2938On the way across the pass, I was treated to the stunning panorama of the islands of Hestur, Sandoy and Koltur. I also learned why they say if the fog rolls in, stay still and wait. Even on a nice day the weather is volatile here and there was quite a lot of cloud inversion going on.

Tomorrow I go to the NW outpost of Mykines by helicopter. There’s some wild weather forecast, so I’m glad I booked the hostel. Hold onto your hats!

Landing on my feet in the Faroes

dscn2889After an overnight ferry on the beautiful ship Norrona I’m now in Torshavn, the Faroese capital. From my campsite it looks and feels pretty much like Lerwick in Shetland. There’s even that familiar wind blowing!


My feet have barely touched the ground. First the domestic chores after several days on the road. I now have a rucksack of clean clothes! Hurray!

Just when I thought I’d relax, I’ve spent the evening in the office, mailing Jona about a visit to the school and then Kristian Blak rang. How nice to have people approach me rather than having to do the chasing, though.

I’m really excited about meeting Kristian. He’s an interesting composer and an inspiring man. I’m sure I’ll learn from him. Just hope I can still play after my rather bizarre practice spots which so far include the Tvisongur sound sculpture, the tent and a beach! Don’t worry, it’s not my best viola, and I always wanted to practice outdoors – ask my Mum!!!!