The Doune concert on 10th May was the first Nordic Viola concert since my sabbatical officially finished in March. Since the first concert in Kinbuck in August last year, the programme has obviously become much more personal. The countries I visited (Shetland, Faroes, Iceland and Greenland) hold very vivid and immediate memories for me. I have my own stories to tell alongside the many beautiful pieces of music and writing already out there.
I remember when I first set out on the project, I worried about finding enough repertoire; now I have so much to choose from in so many styles (traditional, classical, contemporary) that selecting a concert programme means leaving out music that I’m dying to perform to people! Each piece tells it’s own story of the weather, the wildlife, solitude or a simply a good old knees up on a dark winter’s evening!
One of the features of music-making in the Far North is using the means at your disposal and much of the repertoire is very flexible. I’ve performed with a flute/2 viola/bassoon quartet, solo, with Charles Ross and his huge variety of string instruments (viola, 12 string guitar and Siberian fiddle) and in a viola/cello/piano trio. Doune saw yet another combination: a 2 viola string quartet with Anne Bünemann (violin), David Martin and myself (violas) and Peter Hunt (cello). Lots of people commented on how warm the sound was with 2 violas and how it highlighted the violin sound more than a standard quartet.
Working with composers has been an amazing part of the experience. Kristian Blak taught me so much about Faroese music and he was a big influence on my improvised trio, Mjørkaflókar, which is based on a Faroese melody. He also introduced me to the music of William Heinesen with which I opened the Doune concert. In Iceland, Charles Ross, taught me a lot about improvisation. We share a love of timbre and instrumental colour and he gave me plenty of new ideas to play around with. In Shetland I worked with Lillie Harris. Her solo piece, AND, which I performed in Doune continues to develop each time I play it. There is so much potent material in it and you’d be hard pressed to find a more vivid evocation of a Shetland storm! Adrian Vernon Fish shares my love of both Shetland and Greenland and we performed Uyeasound Nocturne (Shetland) and part of his Trio, Sermitsiaq, named after the mountain that guards Greenland’s capital, Nuuk.
The more I travelled, the more fascinated I became with the links between these sea-faring, Viking inhabited islands. The Doune programme reflected that, too: the Faroes seen through the mists of Shetland, my Icelandic piece Tvisöngur, which started out as an improvisation in Iceland and was composed on Mykines in the Faroes, traditional Shetland tunes about Greenland dating back to the old whaling trips last century and Polkas brought by the Danes to Greenland.
As in Kinbuck, we filled the hall and took the audience on a journey round the North Atlantic. Be warned, this concert will induce wanderlust: as I speak, two friends are on their way to Iceland…
There’s still much more to come. On 1st October I join up with my original group of Helen Brew (flute), David and I on violas and Dave Hubbard on bassoon for a concert in Dunblane Cathedral. All being well, we’ll have a Greenlandic premiere to perform from the last composer I met on my travels, Arnannguaq Gerstrøm.