Music and Art in Nuuk

I feel very privileged to have experienced a wealth of culture in Nuuk this week. Last week was about playing and teaching for me. This week has been about enjoying other people’s efforts.

Hanne Sandvig Immanuelsen’s Classical Festival has been running all week. It must have taken a lot of effort on Hanne’s part to put this together. Bringing 8 musicians from across the Nordic countries to Greenland takes a lot of organisation and fund-raising. On top of that, Hanne herself was playing first violin in a couple of tricky pieces and also had her own pupils to teach.

Speaking of which, it was great to see the senior string students playing alongside the professionals in some of the pieces in the gala concert on Thursday.17022120_10212282725083088_5611576417340324084_n We do a lot of side-by-side projects with the RSNO. I’ve never had the chance to step outside and listen, but this week showed very clearly how young people step up when they are joined by professional players. Quite aside from all the amazing experiences I’ve had in the last 6 months, that in itself will inspire my work when I go home.


Kids were to the fore again in the Sunday Brunch concert, this time in the audience. I say audience, but that’s too formal for the setting in Katuaq’s foyer. In this wonderfully adaptable cultural centre, the “brunchers” were eating in the small hall, it’s walls drawn back, whilst the musicians were right in the foyer. The space around them gave young children the chance to get up close. Sometimes I was more focused on the kids than the music, watching their fascination with the double bass, crawling under the piano to get close to the sound and dancing to the music. What a lovely way to present music to people. The playing was good, too, with a mix of chamber works by Mozart, Schubert, Haydn, Tchaikovsky and Lumbye, the Danish Strauss.

Saturday night was a different kind of gig with Greenlandic singer Frederik Elsner and his band, also drawn from across the Nordic region. In a nice twist, this was the most formal concert of the week. Nice to see preconceptions and expectations being pushed aside and people enjoying all kinds of music in all kinds of settings for it’s own sake. Greenland, I’m impressed!

On Thursday I also visited the art museum. I was especially impressed by the current exhibition of photography by Jette Bang, a Dane working as far back as the ’40s. Beautiful portraits showing the very different life in Greenland a generation ago. The exhibition space was superb, too. Adele, if you’re reading this, you’d love it. That Arctic light reflecting off the snow outside coming in through long windows has a beautiful quality.

With so much culture around me, I was inspired to do some composing myself, with a piece for flute, 2 violas and bassoon inspired by the brittleness and wildness of this icy world. I’ve got some recordings of natural sound that I’d like to incorporate, but that’ll test my technical competence when I get home.
Talking of iciness, we’ve been down into the minus 20s this weekend. Now even I will own that that is cold. I find it invigorating when the sun is out but the wind is biting and quite sore on the bits of my face I can’t manage to cover!

I’ve sadly only got 3 more days left, so this is probably my last blog from Greenland. It’s been an amazing month. Time has flown by as there has been so much to learn and experience. I can’t resist adding just a few more pictures of this very beautiful country!

Concerts and some lovely weather

Last week was a busy week, much of it spent in the music school, working alongside Hanne Sandvig Immanuelsen. We were preparing for the first concert of Hanne’s Classical Music Festival. I gave a couple of one-to-one lessons and a sectional with the violas and then played alongside them. We also had some guests from the Maniitsoq music school. Maniitsoq is a smaller town north of Nuuk. A children’s choir from Nuuk were also singing with us. For some of the orchestra, this was the first time they’d accompanied a choir, so one of my jobs was to get my enthusiastic and very rhythmic charges to slow down a bit and follow the singers!

There are some quite advanced students in the orchestra, too, and most fun was playing the “Lady Gaga Fugue” (in the style of a Bach organ fugue!!) and “Let it Go” from “Frozen” with them.

The concert in the Hans Egede Church went really well and was a lovely way to start off the festival. Hanne is a real life-force for music in Nuuk, working tirelessly with her pupils and performing herself when time allows. She can turn out a pretty mean polka, too, as she showed in the school concert we gave on Thursday morning!

Concerts resume this week in Katuaq, the arts centre which stands as the proud centrepiece of the city. Katuaq is actually celebrating its 20th birthday this year. It’s a busy place with concerts of all genres, meetings, workshops, a cinema and a bustling cafe.

On Monday I had a lovely meal with Arnannguaq Gerstrøm, her husband Lars and their two lovely children. Arnannguaq is a composer and flautist and is writing a trio for flute, viola and bassoon to complement the trio I have by Kari Baek. We spent some time talking about writing for the viola and various sounds that I can make on the instrument. We had a look, too, at pieces I already have by Lillie Harris and Poul Ruders, as these are such good examples of contemporary writing for the instrument. My hope is that I can get both Lillie and Arnannguaq to a Nordic Viola concert in Scotland. I’d love them to meet each other.

Aside from music, I learned a lot about modern Greenland from Arnannguaq. It’s a country that’s changing rapidly, especially as it confronts the possibility of one day being fully independent from Denmark.

We’ve had a week of beautiful weather. Just as in Scotland, Valentine’s Day seems to be a real turning point. The days are noticeably longer and the sun is higher in the sky. When I arrived, there were just 7 hours of daylight, now it’s 9. I remember one day when I could hardly drag myself away from the colonial harbour for rehearsals as the sunset was so stunning over the sea. When I set off home at 7pm, there was still a strip of deep red on the horizon. Temperatures were down around minus 15 with clear skies and a north wind, but that’s really OK when you’re wrapped in down and merino wool. Clear skies also brought an absolutely stunning aurora on Thursday night. The whole sky was lit up with waves of shimmering light, from luminous green to delicate lilac.

The temperature shot up over the weekend – in fact it rained overnight!! Yuk! That also turned the ski trails icy – I have the bruises to prove it! On the plus side, I enjoyed feeling a little warmth from the sun, hanging around on the rocks just enjoying the panoramas out over the sea.

I can’t believe I’ve only got just over a week left here. Time has flown by learning about this fascinating country and just enjoying the sheer beauty of the place. Once I’m back in the UK I’ll upload some pictures for you.

Greenlandic Music and Culture


Musikskolen, Nuuk

One week into my stay in Greenland and it was time to get to work. I’m going to be teaching and playing at the music school most of this week, prior to a concert in the Hans Egede church next Thursday. Nuuk’s music school is thriving with a string orchestra and chamber groups under the tutelage of Hanne Sandvig Immanuelsen. After communicating with Hanne by email for the best part of a year, it was lovely to finally meet.

The afternoon started with a viola sectional before a full orchestral rehearsal. It was a real treat, too, to play with the children’s choir from Nuuk. I love listening to the beautiful Greenlandic language. I wish I could speak it, but I’ve enough on learning Danish. It’s quite challenging teaching through another language, but music is so universal and also children are so patient with language learners, something I’ve found throughout my journey. After the rehearsal I joined in with a quartet playing “Let it Go” from “Frozen”. Apt enough!

As if Hanne didn’t have her hands full enough with the school, she is also organising a week-long classical music festival in Katuaq, the cultural centre.


Musicians are coming from around the Nordic countries to play. Unfortunately for me there are enough viola players – even I would concede that 3 violas to 2 each of first and second violins would be a little overkill. I get plenty of chances to play at home and for Hanne it’s a well-earned chance to play with other professionals. It’s good for my work/life balance anyhow – ski in the morning, concert afternoon/evening! Perfect!

Arnannguaq Gerstrøm


On Monday I’m having dinner with Arnannguaq Gerstrøm, a flautist and composer who has had her music performed in Copenhagen and the wonderful Harpa concert hall in Reykjavik. I’ve asked Arnannguaq to write a piece for flute, viola and bassoon to complement Faroese composer Kári Bæk’s “Vár Trio” which Helen, Dave and I performed last August. I know from working with Lillie Harris that it’s a really exciting thing to have a piece written for you and it creates a real bond between you and the composer. It’s also a massive challenge, as obviously the piece has no performance history to fall back on. It’s entirely up to you to decide how the score should be interpreted. Arnannguaq’s piece should be finished by June and I hope to perform it sometime over the summer for the first time, followed by a performance as part of the RSNO Chamber Series on 21st January 2018.

Greenland’s music

Drum Dances


I had a look round the Greenland National Museum the other day and learned a bit more about the country’s music. Many of you will remember from earlier concerts I’ve played that drum songs were a central part of the culture and were used as entertainment but also to settle disputes. In duels (iverneq) songs (pisit) would be delivered in turn until one person either surrendered or ran out of arguments. The audience were part of the judging process too. Shamans would also use the drum song in séances and trances.

European whalers brought polkas and dance music in the 17th and 18th century. These included Shetlanders and I have a set of tunes from Shetland inspired by Greenland. Shetland fiddler Maurice Henderson made his own journey to Greenland to find the origin of the tune “Willafjord” and has produced a beautiful book published by the Shetland Times. German Moravian Brethren missionaries brought wind instruments and there was a fine case of brass instruments in the museum.

Greenland’s Music Today

From the 70s there has been a move towards more political writing with many fine bands writing music with an anti-colonial message as well as drawing on Inuit music for inspiration. And so the story comes full circle.

My next job will be to root around in Atlantic records and see what I can find to take home with me. I may not have a solo concert on this trip, but actually that may be a good thing. There’s a lot to assimilate and a lot to learn. A lot of music should come out of this month and the performances can come later. I’d like an excuse to come back here again, anyway!

Life in Nuuk, Greenland

I’ve been in Nuuk, Greenland, for 4 days now. I was a bit nervous before I left. Being here for a month is a very different prospect from spending a week on holiday in a hotel like I did last time.

I needn’t have worried – I love it here. I’m staying in a lovely flat in a lovely area, about 15mins from town. DSCN4070Nuuk is like any other small town, really. What is different is, of course, the snow. Really everyone in Scotland should come here for winter driving lessons. The snow is just not an issue. Obviously winter tyres help. Snow doesn’t melt here, so there are enormous piles of it where streets have been cleared.DSCN4039 Pedestrian crossings are marked with gantries – zebra crossings ain’t helpful! Houses are built with the main floor above ground level so you can get through the door.

The weather was gorgeous over the weekend. I’ve bought cross-country skis and I skied myself ragged over the weekend. The trails go out to the coast with views of the mountain, Sermitsiaq. It is very, very beautiful. I’m not sure how cold it is because cold never bothers me, but my sweat did turn to ice inside my goretex yesterday!

Life gets busy over the weekend. I’m in the music school for several days. I have lots of ideas going round my head for a new piece, too, once I can tear myself away from my beautiful surroundings.

Back in Reykjavik

Well, here I am back in Reykjavik, 4 months after my last visit. This time I’m on my way to Greenland, but I’ve had time to do the museums and galleries today. The City Card is great value, offering many of the city’s museums, the bus network and the splendid geothermal pools within the city.

This afternoon I visited the Culture House. I particularly enjoyed the sections on how artists have interpreted the landscape and Iceland’s active geology. As a musician, I’m already aware of Jon Leif’s monumental Geysir and Hekla. They’d be fabulous pieces for the RSNO to play.

After that I saw the settlement exhibition, which deals with the earliest settlements on this site, sometime around 871AD. A fascinating exhibition. I loved how around the walls they had a panoramic 360 view of what Reykjavik might have been like then. Certainly more peaceful than it is now!

Next up, a swim and a soak in a hot tub, I think!

I’ll squeeze a couple more exhibitions out of my 24h card tomorrow and then it’s off to Greenland. As with Torshavn in September, it looks like I’m going to be very busy up at the music school. Really looking forward to it, as many of my most enjoyable moments in the last 6 months have been working with young people.